Dismantling the Power Structure and Enabling Free Speech in Classrooms: Part 3

Jamsheena’s Fellowship is made possible by the Rural India Supporting Trust.

Negotiating power and privilege in the education system is a burning topic of discussion. I have learned quite a bit about this during this past year as an AIF Clinton Fellow at Kattaikkuttu Gurukulam, and was further challenged by attending a conference on “Peace in Education” in May. There, I learned that we need to discuss about privilege and power. Having privilege is not a bad thing as such; it’s about how we use and articulate that privilege of power. We need pedagogy to dismantle the power structure, which deeply permeates the education system in India. Are we ready to repay what we borrowed from classrooms and society? Is anyone interested to go back to villages for service, or educate the underprivileged? We tend to forget our past and never look back. We have endless sympathy, but often lack empathy.

Chintan Modi, who spoke at the “Peace in Education” conference, defines peace as removal of barriers of human development [1]. We need to change the instrumental view of peace in education. Even food is a privilege and is connected to caste in Indian society. Language is another domain where power and privilege operate. There is a lack of various privileges and rights in the villages. Residential educational programs are important in these areas because of the uncomfortable ecosystem that prevails in villages. Communities fail to supplement, especially in the case of education for girls.

Rising together: hands-on group training.

In a discussion on “Can we synthesize a non-violent brain through education?” by Dr. Sriram Subramaniam, he pointed out that our historical baggage was conflict and violence oriented with prey-predator idea [1]. We have a history of abduction stories. He talked about anxiety among individuals, which holds a basis of violence. Two avenues to synthesize a non-violent brain are early childhood nurturing and mindful meditation. He discussed about current neurological and scientific interventions in measuring emotions, which were eye-opening for me. He suggested the need for a public health policy to promote the importance of maternal bonding of infant. We should also consider implementing mindful meditation in schools as part of the curriculum. Furthermore, Rinpoche talked about the need to secularize yoga and the ability to develop mindfulness to watch your own mind [1]. Mindfulness of body, mind, feelings and phenomena are important.

Choice for learning spaces: out in the open.

The quality in education is fragmented and often dehumanized. When a teacher is challenged, how do we respond? Do we have the courage to listen to children and integrate them to action? Open-mindedness comes from integration. Free speech is the manifestation of thinking and feeling our lives. As educators, we need to think about our inability to enhance linguistic competence of the children in the current education system. Teachers get more practice in speaking than children. When we talk about free speech, let’s just think about how free speech is working in staff rooms, censoring, classroom culture, caste and transparency.

What I’ve concluded is that we need to dismantle the power structure. Of course, that is a bold demand, much easier said than done!

But we can start with simple things. For example, in the Kattaikkutu Gurukulam, we don’t have a table nor a special chair for teachers. Teachers sit with the students, on eye-level. We don’t want our children to be “back-benchers” or “front-benchers”, so we sit in a circle of equal preference. While selecting teachers for schools, there should be a student representative in the interview panel. Let students ask questions and express what they expect from a teacher. We need to make changes to be a change maker. Overall, this was a great learning experience and a ray of hope for peace.



  1. “National Conference on Education: Peace in Education.” Vidya Vanam School, Anaikatti, 25-26 May 2018. Accessed at: https://www.meraevents.com/event/national-conference-on-education-peace-in-education-vidya-vanam.

Jamsheena was born and brought up in India at the outskirts of Kerala. She completed her Masters in English Language and Literature from the University of Kerala. Her academic experience has refined her skills in culture and gender studies and English language teaching. Jamsheena’s areas of interest are education, women empowerment and gender issues.

Jamsheena's Fellowship is made possible by the Rural India Supporting Trust.

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