Monday, May 14, 2012

Perhaps, Mr Yogendra Yadav and Mr Suhas Palshikar were just smart-alecky


Unfortunately, one got to hear Mr Yogendra Yadav, part of the two-member adviser team for the NCERT textbooks on political science for classes 9, 10 and 11, on NDTV, to which I am unfortunately habituated to, a channel that is wonderfully hollow and pretentious, much like Mr Yadav and Mr Palshikar. Mr Yadav said the "textbook revolution ushered between 2005 and 2008" is in danger of being rolled back. There are some very interesting assumptions here. First, Mr Yadav seems to believe that the textbooks he and his friend and the like-minded team have created are really good. This is a judgment that should have been made by others, the teachers, the parents, the students, and even society at large, including the politicians. The issue goes beyond just the use of cartoons in a school textbook. Mr Palshikar's argument that he was worried because not enough students showed interest in studying political science at college level, and he found it necessary to make political science interesting at school so that there will be political science students at college. And Mr Palshikar thinks that using cartoons is the best way of holding the attention of students. The assumptions are naive, need to be debated, questioned and if found wanting need to be thrown into the dust bin. So far, the NDTV types, Mr Yadav and Mr Palshikar types have not offered interesting arguments in defense of their pedagogical strategy. All that they are asking is what is wrong if we show cartoons that reveal the corruption in the system. For the moment we can leave out the Ambedkar-Nehru-snail-whip cartoon. But even as they explained the elements and the inherent meaning and the context it was clear that it was not a good example of a cartoon, which is an interesting cartoon comment in itself for the student of the making of the Indian Constitution, comes across a little too ambivalent and ambiguous content for school students. No one is objecting to the cartoon. People like Kancha Ilaiah are insulting the stature of an Ambedkar by describing it as derogatory of Ambedkar. But he has made a relevant point whether a cartoon about Mahatma Gandhi would be taken in the same spirit. It is more likely that it would not be. So this business of using cartoons is a complex one. It is not a simple one of liberals like the NDTV, Messrs Yadav, Palshikar on the one side, and the illiberal politicians on the other. The liberals can pretend, as Mr Yadav does, that they are hurt and pained by the unthinking political class.

But this bunch of textbook writers led by Messrs Yadav, Palshikar have an ideological bias which they want to pass off as being enlightened and objective. We have had problems with these claims when R.S.Sharma, Romila Thapar, Irfan Habib et al wrote certain kind of textbooks in the 1970s, and when BJP's Murli Manohar Joshi led crass right-wingers wanted to do their own bit of 'objective'history in the late 1990s and the early 2000s. It has to be admitted right away that left wing partisans had good scholarship, however biased. The right-wingers under Joshi were not intellectually competent. The BJP cannot help. It does not have reasonably educated people in its ranks. Messrs Yadav, Palshikar cannot claim immunity from ideological biases. They do not have the intellectual courage and honesty to admit that they have biases and that in humanities and in social sciences total objectivity are not possible.
The best thing then that needs to be done with textbooks is to keep them as factual as possible, hint at differences of opinion -- and when a cartoon is used, the point of view has to be explained; for example, if there is a cartoon on the Emergency then it will have to be stated that those Emergency had their arguments too -- and let it stand there. The claim that the purpose of using cartoons is to make students reason and think, question and debate is nothing but hogwash. This is the mindless American way of teaching students at school who are not equipped to reason because they do not have enough facts at their command to evaluate and assess. At the school level, there is need to provide information in a simple and fair manner.
Marxists, Hindutva brigade and now the textbook revolutionaries would argue that there is no such thing objectivity in humanities and social sciences and that their biases are more objective than that of the rivals. This denial that there is no objective information to be imparted in the humanities and the social sciences is the biggest lie which needs to be nailed.
Messrs Yadav, Palshikar were simply too clever by half. They thought that they could indulge in social engineering of their kind and not be found out. Had they been simple textbook writers and avoided being smart, they would have done the students greater good. Politics is exciting if the issues are highlighted. For example, Emergency can be explained by showing the anarchic conditions that muddle-headed Jayaprakash Narayan created on the streets in June 1975 after the Allahabad high court judgment and how Indira Gandhi reacted in a mindless fashion. There is no need to use the adjectives that I have used in this context, 'muddle-headed', 'anarchic' in the case of Jayaprakash Narayan, and "mindless fashion"in the case of Indira Gandhi. There is need for fairness and objectivity and it can be achieved. Messrs Yadav and Palshikar have shown that they are incompetent on this count.

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