Dear colleagues in HRE, I am Vasanthi Devi, Chairperson, Institute for Human Rights Education, head-quartered in the state of Tamil Nadu, India, presently involved in introducing human rights education in schools in 10 states across the country. I joined this position about a month ago. I am an educationist, was Vice-Chancellor of an University in the state of Tamil Nadu, India for 6 years; subsequently I was the Chair of the State Commission for Women in my state in India. I join the discussion on the first question, specifically on the rationale for offering HRE. In this mail I dwell on the ills of the present education system that provides the imperative for bringing HRE into schools. I propose to deal with other aspects of the same question in subsequent mails. I am aware that what I say is nothing original. All education, including technical and professional education, ought to be Human Rights Education in one way or the other. Education should, directly or indirectly, serve the interest of furthering human rights, not of select or privileged sections, but of every human being, irrespective of her nationality, class, caste, gender, race, ethnicity, religious or sexual orientation or physical or mental disability. Albert Einstein, the great scientist, once said, "The concern for Man and his destiny is the prime objective of all scientific and technical efforts. Never forget it in the midst of your diagrams and equations." The purpose of all education is to sensitise, to humanize, to take humanity to higher levels of knowledge, awareness, freedom and social responsibility. While the first, pursuit of knowledge is recognized as the purpose of education, the other three, awareness, freedom and social responsibility are not considered inherent to Project Education. If we lose the meaning of education in its wholesomeness, we will end up creating a world without human values or justice and ultimately, without progress, too. While we define education thus, we are all painfully aware that it is a distant vision. Education has never been the engine for furthering the human rights of every human being at any time in history. It has been a potent class instrument to discriminate, to deny, to dominate. Till recent times it had been the monopoly of the ruling, dominant classes and sections in society. In a country like India, from where I write, this monopoly had been strictly guarded by the inviolable iron frame of the caste system. Our Dharma ordained that education was the preserve of the twice-born. Our mythology has tales of ruthless punishment and brutal mutilation of the persons who dared transgress the 'divine order'. Other societies across the world had their own systems of monopoly of knowledge. Tolstoy once said "Education is a matter of enlightenment and no monarch in his senses would like to allow it." True education is a threat to power and privilege. While the modern society has moved far from traditional exclusions, it still practices subtle and none the less potent strategies for denying empowering, equalizing knowledge to vast sections of its citizenry. That is why Ivan Illyich had to call for a 'De-Schooling Society' and Paulo Freire had to seek an alternate education through a 'Pedagogy of the Oppressed'. The content of education and pedagogy have been designed, in most countries, to exclude, to mystify large sections of their populace and to co-opt the dissenters into the hierarchical systems. Education is, with exceptions, an alienating process. It alienates the student from the world around, from the society that gave birth to her and nurtured her. It alienates her from relating to and understanding the denials, deprivations, the struggles of large sections of community. Our schools, colleges, and our centers of research have raised high walls around them that cut them away from the community. There are no windows to let in invigorating, life giving winds from the world around. The education that alienates not only fails to further human rights, justice and equity. It also miserably fails in its ostentious pursuit of knowledge. With blinkers secured on his eyes to shut out the immediate world, the student sees only a fragmented reality. To know is to relate. If you do not relate to the harsh realities of your community, its right denials, the horrors of its wretched poverty, inhuman deprivation, heartless exploitation and discrimination then, the knowledge that you acquire is a partial knowledge, often distorted knowledge. No wonder, the rishis of ancient India who withdrew into dense forests or snow-clad peaks of the Himalayas to meditate and attain ultimate wisdom, ended up conjuring up imaginary worlds and preached that the world is Maya, an illusion. In the present age the alienating character of education has assumed grotesque proportions, in spite of the democratic pretensions of the modern state. Education today is an instrument for domination, for thought control, for dangerous manipulations, for what Walter Lippman once called ' the manufacturing of consent'. A powerful process of social engineering is operating through our education system to rationalize, justify and perpetuate the horrendous inequities, right denials, violations of the very right to life and dignity of millions of people across the world. Our schools and colleges, in developed as well as developing countries, are the recruiting grounds for soldiers to defend the imperialist system of global domination. The neo-liberal ideology that rules the world today is a product of our ivory towers, our celebrated centers of intellectual excellence. The Internet is, perhaps, the symbol par excellence of the era of global domination. (This is not to deny that the same Internet is also being used to build global solidarities to challenge hegemonistic systems.) What is happening to our students today? They are getting hooked on to the internet and float in cyberspace, relating to worlds and creatures, who could as well be from outer space. When our student is logged on, he gets logged off his immediate world, the world in flesh and blood that is around him, the world that brought him into existence and nurtured him. The virtual world is shutting out the real world. He becomes an apolitical, asocial being. The individual, fiercely alone is the ideal. The aggressive, fiercely competing, self-aggrandising student is the marketed model today. These are the virtues the management gurus glorify, the global corporations with their huge enticements look for in their on campus or off campus recruitment drives. Our campuses are depoli ticised today. There is nothing that neo-liberal globalisation fears as much as solidarities, collectivities. In such a dismal educational scenario today, the rationale for bringing human rights education into our schools is almost self-evident. It is to radicalize education as a whole, to make it truly an instrument for liberation, to break a million bondages. It is an antidote to the ills of the contemporary education system. It is the fruition of the search for alternate, liberating education that has been pursued for a long time by reformers, radicals, nation builders, dreamers. V.Vasanthi Devi, Chair, Institute for Human Rights Education, Tamil Nadu, India ======== Asia Pacific Human Rights Education listserv ======== Send mail intended for the list to < >. 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