As you know, I’ve had the joy and privilege of teaching your kids for many years now. I start working with them just before they enter their teens and remain their teacher till they almost become adults of voting age.
The adolescent years can be a strange time for them, with childhood not completely gone and adulthood not fully upon them. This in-between ‘liminal’ period of their lives can be quite disorienting.
The word ‘liminality’, incidentally, comes from a Latin word which means ‘threshold’ and is the quality of ambiguity or disorientation that occurs in the middle stage of a rite of passage, when participants no longer hold their original status but have not yet begun the transition to the status they will hold when the rite of passage is complete.
Frankly, I am finding myself in a liminal space as well.
‘Old India’, I am told, is on its way out after the Lok Sabha elections of 2019, and ‘New India’ has not yet fully arrived.
(By the way, as a teacher I have been often been asked why I bother my head with politics when my subject is applied psychology. At the great risk of sounding obvious, I have a couple of answers to that. First, education is interdisciplinary. No subject can be taught in a vacuum and if there are two subjects which are truly symbiotic, they are psychology and politics. Understanding politics has much to do with understanding how the human mind works, wouldn’t you agree? And second, I am a citizen in a democracy and it is my constitutionally mandated right and responsibility, just as it is yours, to be aware of the political and participate in it.)
Now, I realise that some of you voted for the BJP and some of you didn’t. Some of you are thrilled that Narendra Modi is back in power and some you are not. I’m writing this to all of you regardless of your political preferences, because you are parents.
Having just come out of a major election, the political temperature in the country is still quite high and there is still much discussion about the ideological battle between the Left and the Right. But if we step back just a bit, we see that in the long run and in the larger scheme of things, the real battle raging in India is not between the political left and the political right; it is between what is morally wrong and what is morally right.
Simplistic as that might sound, it really is that basic. Regardless of who got how many votes, I think you will agree with me that…
Hate is wrong.
Casteist and communal slurs are wrong.
Discrimination is wrong.
Demonising others is wrong.
Name-calling is wrong.
Violence is wrong.
Anyone who promotes any of that, tacitly or otherwise, is wrong. It is also good to remember that right is right, even if everyone is against it and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it.
My goal as a teacher is two-fold. It is to help your children understand the subject I am teaching them and to do well in it, but it is also to help them grow up to be good human beings. One of the hallmarks of a good human being is to have a functioning moral compass and to be able to tell the difference between wrong and right.
I know it’s a task for the long haul and it doesn’t happen overnight, but like many others in my profession, I too am committed to doing whatever I can to help your sons and daughters…
See each other as human beings worthy of respect.
Treat others with kindness and empathy.
Understand the dangers of discrimination and demonising.
Resolve conflicts peacefully.
Not succumb to negative peer pressure.
Have the humility to apologise when they go wrong.
Learn from their mistakes and go on to become better and wiser people.
Am I right in assuming that these are your goals for them as well?
Civilisation has always been a battle between civility and barbarity, and right now it looks like barbarity has the upper hand.
In the five days since the elections finished, there have been five separate incidents of communal hatred. One of the most recent ones involved the thrashing of a young man in Gurgaon simply because he is a Muslim.
Is this the India you want for your children? It’s certainly not the India I want for my students.
It has been said that it ‘takes a village to raise a child’, but at the moment it seems the ‘village’ has been overrun by those who are determined to demonise its weakest and most vulnerable residents. Our children are surrounded by hate. They are seeing it on TV, on social media, in the speeches of their leaders, and sadly, even in their schools and neighbourhoods.
The very least we can do as parents and teachers is it to tell our kids that we disagree with this hate and the violence without making excuses for it. We can stop saying derogatory things against members of minority communities, even in jest. We can guard ourselves from making racist and prejudiced comments in our conversations at home.
As I see it, the only way to save our children from the corrosive effects of this rising tide of prejudice and bigotry is to consciously live the values of decency and civility in our own lives, and do the right thing whether anyone else around us is doing it or not. We need to remember that what our kids will be the rest of their lives, they are already becoming. They are observing and following our personal example much more closely than we realise. We need to behave like the adults we want them to become.
The time will come when our children will no longer be children. In your case, dear parents, that time is just around the corner.
My question to you is – what kind of adults do you want them to be?
Rohit Kumar is an educator with a background in positive psychology and psychometrics. He works with high school students on emotional intelligence and adolescent issues to help make schools bullying-free zones.