The Parallels between Parenting & Education

The father makes a living out in the world and puts the food on the table. The mother ensures that everything is stable and comfortable at home. And the kids obediently follow every wish of the parents and follow their instructions and go on to fulfil the detailed plans that the parents have for them, regardless of their age. This is the archetypal traditional Indian family where everything is in place.

In this family the kids unconditionally submit to the parents’ whims and have no basis to deny them or possess will of their own. It is their duty to fulfil the wishes of the parents, regardless of their own wishes.

Our education culture is based on identical principles. Here, the boards of education are the father, the educators and administrators at schools are the mother, the students are the kids. The board decides the entire path and the destination for the students to follow. The educators are supposed to enforce the unilateral vision of the educational boards. The students ought to simply trace the path laid out by the board without a hint of agency or expression of their own. The purpose of the students here is to simply find their way into the predetermined moulds that the board has designed for them. After all, father knows best, what do the kids know, right?

What makes a healthy family?

In any healthy relationship, it is important that all the individuals involved feel respected and have their wishes respected and they are allowed to act with their own agency. Imagine a relationship between two individuals where one gets to choose what they wish to do and they also dictate each and every move of the other person. It would be a suffocating, toxic, exploitative and unstable relationship. The relationship between a parent and a child is challenging to view through this lens because in some ways the parent has to look out for the child and it may be wise to guard the child against ills they may not yet be able to understand. A certain level of disciplining is necessary. But barring developmental abnormalities in children, if a healthy child is growing up in a stable home, the relationship between the parent and the child would involve discussions where everyone has the freedom to express themselves and the freedom to channel the direction of discussions and the right to challenge the decisions that are made. And in cases where their wishes aren’t fulfilled, the right to have an explanation for why it has to be that way. The decisions that are made that impact the collective whole have to happen based on a certain level of mutual agreement. Maybe not everyone is happy, but at least everyone is heard and their voices find consideration.

A family that manages to achieve such a dynamic between the parent and the child, where the child is allowed to freely express themselves, to act with their own agency, to make mistakes, to speak their mind and have an impact on the course of the family’s decisions would be very different from a family where the parents have their way and the kids are just supposed to obediently follow instructions and fulfil the parents’ wishes. The former family would have the children grow up to be mature individuals who are capable of thinking for themselves and making their own decisions and have the confidence necessary to take risks and learn from their mistakes without feeling self-conscious. The kids in the latter however, may grow up yearning for independence in life but would be completely unprepared for that independence. Perhaps the parents of the latter had the best interests of the kids at heart and only made them do things that they knew would eventually be beneficial to them. But it doesn’t take away the fact that the child’s personal evolution is impacted as a consequence.

Healthy families for a healthy society

In many ways, our education culture and much of the environment in Indian households are like the unhealthy family. Kids rarely find the autonomy that they need to grow into healthy and independent adults. Right from the age that kids get into kindergartens and to the point where they graduate from college, everything about how they must conduct themselves and how they progress is dictated by the top-down structures. The paths and the destinations are predetermined by the powers at the top and the children have to grow up tracing that path to the destinations chosen for them by the makers of the educational machinery. There is very little room for agency or self-expression as the students grow up in this system. And the effects of this can be felt in our society where large numbers of graduates are known to lack the basic skills, the initiative and independent thinking necessary to operate comfortably in the professional world. It must not be surprising, for after all, you can’t expect someone to grow up never exercising their agency and self-expression to suddenly be able to comfortably exercise them fluidly.

One of the most fundamental changes that is needed in our approach to education is to let the students take the driver’s seat in paving the path to their destinies. Instead of having the educational boards draft the path for students and solely assume the responsibility of ensuring that everyone becomes useful units in the society and the economy, we must create a framework where children pursue paths that are more open-ended and provide autonomy. That is the necessary change that will take us away from the existing reality where education systematically produces stunted adults in large numbers and instead allow us to produce a society filled with highly evolved individuals capable of self-leadership and more.

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