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The pathology of success

The prevalent system of education does not inspire the child; nor does it help her discover the possibilities she is endowed with. Instead, ...

Written by Avijit Pathak |
June 5, 2002

The prevalent system of education does not inspire the child; nor does it help her discover the possibilities she is endowed with. Instead, with examinations and associated classification of ‘success’ and ‘failure’, it processes, hierarchises, and eventually eliminates people. Not surprisingly, every year around this time — particularly after the Class X and XII Board examination results — many vibrant minds are told that they have failed, that they are incapable of pursuing life’s important projects.

Although we can hear fragments of this violence, manifesting in psychic disorder and suicide, society at large does not seem to be interested in listening to those who have failed. Because it condemns failure, it does not have the the courage to see the pathology of success.

Success is celebrated and glorified. Newspapers and television mythologise the narratives of success; schools want success stories to sell their products; and parents want the success of their children to establish their social superiority. Success assures instant entry into one of the IITs, eventual migration to the US, acquisition of a green card, smart spouse and limitless prosperity!

Indeed, the goal of education, it appears, is not the comprehension of the universe — its natural laws, its cultural complexities, its aesthetics and beauty. Instead, the goal is to achieve success that can be quantified, graded and packaged. Real knowledge requires patience — the ability to enquire, comprehend and analyse. But success requires merely a strategy — how to memorise, and write ‘objective’ answers in an allotted time, how to reduce, say, the principles of magnetism and electricity, Tagore’s poetry, Gandhi’s Dandi march, the glaciers in high mountains and the symmetry of geometry into a ‘course-material’, a CBSE puzzle to be solved within 150 words! No wonder, such an unimaginative form of learning kills the spirit of joy and rigour. Success, as a result, has no relationship with creativity.

It is difficult for those who have failed to speak of the hollowness of success. Because they have already been wounded; their self-confidence has been crippled. To fail is to be deprived of one’s language. To fail is to devalue one’s own worth. As a result, those who fail begin to accept the system, and relate their failure to their ‘innate deficiencies’.

But then, it is absolutely important that those have failed begin to rethink and act in an altogether different fashion. First, let them see the deeper meaning of failure. Failure is by no means the end of one’s life-project. Failure is a turning-point, a new beginning. Failure is a moment of rigorous self-introspection. Ironically, the privilege and arrogance of success makes it difficult for the ‘toppers’ to undergo such a self-reflexive exercise. Failure softens and humanises the person.

Second, failure is also the beginning of a quest for a new possibility. One has failed in the exam strategy; one has failed in what is being taught as physics, mathematics or history. But one has not failed in life. Because no young person can fail in life; life has just begun. One who has failed in the Board exam is possibly a good poet, a good singer, a good mechanic, a good nurse, a good farmer, a good social activist or a good worker. That is why, for all those who have failed, it is an opportunity to rediscover their hidden potential — something they have repressed because of the examination pressure, because of the social stereoptype that good guys are those who became either engineers or doctors.

Yes, those who have failed ought to be told that they have not really failed. But who would tell them this alternative story? The success-oriented/ middle class/ competitive/ consumerist society abhors failure. Yet, there are dissenting voices. Maybe, a true educationist is feeling restless, and trying to evolve an alternative pattern of learning. Maybe, a parent is waiting eagerly to find a companion who too has a similar quest for new education. Maybe, there are potential rebels even among those who have failed. Perhaps one day all of them would come together, and alter the prevalent system of life-negating education.

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