As a teacher and a human being, I struggle to be hopeful about the future. But I am close to giving up. I am beginning to think this insistence that teachers need to be hopeful is also a red herring. Teachers need to be truthful above all, but I find it difficult to be hopeful and truthful at the same time.
And here’s what I have noticed about myself: I have lost the capacity to be surprised by anything in politics any more. Each change appears to be for the worse, in absolutely predictable or explicable ways. What does surprise me is the occasional good news: the growing sense that there is a crisis (accompanied by the bad news that no one has any faith in any solutions any more). Ordinary people – as I discovered on a trip home to an India still recovering from the terrorist attacks in Mumbai – are still surprisingly capable of responding with compassion and empathy, although a disconcertingly large proportion of them still continue to wish for death and destruction on Pakistan, Muslims, Christians, tribals, dalits...and anyone who dissents from their dominant self-image of a resurgent, powerful India.
Post-communism and post-modernism have left us unable to deal with a post-capitalist wreckage and construct something worthwhile from it, except in small groups. The World Social Forum has lost its way, if it was ever on the way to anything at all. It’s passé to say that there is no left left any more. But do right and left matter any more? Liberal democracy, feeling itself threatened by a terror that it has itself helped create, has quite simply now become the new fascism..."O Liberty! What crimes are committed in thy name!" cried Madame Roland as she passed a statue of liberty on the way to the guillotine during the Jacobin terror. That's an exclamation that has rung like a death knell around the world since the end of the 20th century.
We are facing a catastrophe as a species, and the most urgent task for us humans is to find a way to survive. I am not quite sure whether we would be good for the earth if we do, but that’s another argument. I am trying to move towards constructing an inventory of ideas that can help us as a species to survive the coming catastrophe. The new test for ideas or ways of living could be: does this help our survival as a species or does it doom us to collapse? For some ideas, the choice seems clear. But for others, how can we be certain in advance? The Green Revolution was once touted as an idea that would prevent hunger for all who suffered from it; now some suspect it may have made hunger worse for some while assuaging it in others. Education - in the sense of schooling - is beginning to look like another idea whose time has gone, except for those, fewer in number every year, for whom it remains a passport to upward social mobility.
I think the only sensible thing left to do is to prepare – culturally, cognitively, emotionally, materially – for the great cull of the human species that the world is likely to see in the 21st century and the next. Gather together traces of lost knowledge and ways of being and doing that may help us weather the oncoming tragedy, devise creative ways of surviving when we are hit by catastrophe, create repositories of wisdom from whatever we still have access to, pass them on to our children. Education (not schooling) now takes on a more urgent purpose than ever before: the survival of the human species, and the preservation of the impulses that helped us survive and flourish. The question is whether these impulses can be separated neatly from those that propel us towards self-destruction.
Teaching needs to be de-professionalized, so that every one can be a teacher and learner at the same time. The usual modes of education, which served us well to teach us silence in the face of suffering and obedience to the needs of power, need to be firmly abandoned. Schools as we know them now will either die off into irrelevance or be radically re-structured. But don’t expect our leaders or our existing institutions to lead us in this, because they are part of the problem.