Hierarchy of Knowledge

Hierarchy; ‘any system of persons or things ranked one above another’ is such a heavy word, no? The education system in India fits the definition and feels extremely hierarchical: Science, Commerce, Arts, you know the order.

The questions that bother me about our educational system are: how has it divided knowledge into narrow streams like these? How are the subjects taught only at a particular age in ones life? And then how is it assumed that knowledge about one particular subject is far better than the other? Being a doctor or an engineer are considered far better than being an Arts or a Commerce student. So much so that the common response anyone who has above 90 percent and has taken arts gets is “Why? Your marks are so good. Why didn’t you take Science?”

Around the time I completed my Xth grade, CBSE introduced the CCE system which was meant to assess a student in all areas so that the academic pressure is reduced and a student is marked on his/her own special set of skills but around a month back, they scrapped the entire system. It brought back boards and is now giving only 10% weightage for extra-curricular achievements which itself is vaguely defined. So, they’ve clearly said that it is only marks which counts and that the final exam is the only important goal of a student’s educational career and all that he/she has worked for in those years. Descriptive answers or the ability to look beyond the marks and the textual framework is diminished. Even if there is an opportunity to accommodate varied thought-structures, the exam system kills it all. Every student is expected to write an answer which must align to the marking scheme. This makes the imaginative power in students weak, and the ones who do write answers that don’t fit into the marking scheme, and do not get expected marks, feel like their own view is not as appreciated.

The importance of subjects like Math or Science is widely acknowledged. In today's multidisciplinary era, the concept of isolated ‘subjects’ have become redundant. If you can have areas like mathematical-biology, the entire traditional idea of ‘subjects’ breaks down. What is not talked about is how we need to be taught about so much more than just what is in the confined curriculum. Theatre, dance, history, psychology (mainly about the mental illnesses that affect majority of the population), and literature are majorly taught from a point of view which only appreciates the writing style and use of literary devices. Rarely is the pain and the emotions behind that piece discussed. That art has a history and scientific history is as important as theories remains largely unknown. We know Einstein’s theories, but we don’t know his life story. We skip their stories that are packed in small boxes in our textbooks. We literally ignore the entire life of a person whose work changed the way we look at the world today. This too creates a lack of empathy; how do you relate to a history which has no connection to you? So many of the writers whom we study committed suicide or faced depression, but we never study about their story.

Now this makes people who have never learnt the value of art or anything apart from the mainstream education highly insensitive towards such subjects; in turn making them not respect other students who pursue them. This is harmful not only to the people pursuing alternative subjects like art, but also society in general, because somehow a few who have never learnt it decide to ignore the importance or the immense impact they have in our daily lives. We do not know the beauty of looking at an artwork for hours and appreciate it. Art appreciation is taught in Thailand as one of the subjects in schools meant for gifted children in Science and Maths. Few Japanese schools rarely have janitors; the students clean the toilets themselves and this not only creates a sense of dignity of labour but also makes students realise what empathy truly is.

Learning about art makes us human. It helps us express. It helps us discover ourselves in amazingly unique ways. It makes us empathetic not only towards others, which is the need of the hour, but also our own selves. Art makes us want to look at things in an objective way. Think of both sides of the argument. Or as they say, actually walk in someone else’s shoes and then form our own opinions. I know this because in my first degree college’s Philosophy class, my teacher asked us a question, an extremely popular moral/ethical argument known as the Heinz's dilemma, wherein two sides of an argument are presented; one, of Heinz who has a terminally ill wife, who needs immediate medication, and the other of a chemist who has the drug to cure the condition. An argument is provided where the two sides are kept objectively in front of the students. This is what my entire degree education looked like: trying to empathize and understand both sides of the argument before passing any kinds of judgements. And that's what subjects like Philosophy, Psychology, Literature, Theatre, etc. teach. They compel everyone to look at the world through someone else’s lens and really understand every aspect of the story. It also teaches one to appreciate all the creative art forms like music, films, stories, poetry, etc. It teaches one to appreciate the amount of work that goes into it. God knows it’s difficult to come up with an idea, let alone execute it. This, in turn, teaches everyone to in the society to respect artists and their art form.

Now imagine if these basics were taught in school. To everyone. If children are taught a little more empathy in schools, that’ll benefit today’s society much more. Teaching them to look at life in a much broader sense, can change the moral ideals of societies to make the world a much better and a safer place to live in.

Archa Joshi