Social justice and our education system
Social justice is not a self-contained institution but an effect of the whole social dispensation. The whole social structure rests on our beliefs, ideologies, values and assumptions. For this reason, our problem is rooted in our knowledge about the world. The knowledge we derive via our limited capacity and different modes of education, both formal and informal, does not equip us with the tools with the help of which we can think in terms of justice and moral questions underlining our social relations and, in the larger context, politics.
The problem, therefore, becomes structural. Ostensibly, we appear more fulfilled because we think that we have all the answers related to all the questions about life, politics, morality and justice; but immediately after we encounter a practical problem our knowledge fails. Our delusional preoccupations with ideal historical and religious models of justice system leave us vulnerable to the worst kind of abuse by social and political elites. Consequently, hypocrisy, megalomania, depression and class consciousness prevail.
Michael Sandel, a professor in philosophy at the Harvard University, has delivered a series of lectures on “Justice: What is the Right Thing to Do”, available on YouTube. His focus has been on the practical implications of justice in human affairs and politics. From Aristotle to Jeremy Bentham and from Jeremy Bentham to modern liberal and libertarian philosophers he critically evaluates the significance and implications of moral and social justice. After watching those lectures carefully, you learn nothing new, as he himself puts it.
You are merely estranged from what you already know; the world no longer appears the same to you and every problem of social and individual significance becomes a serious and real problem. The good point about those lectures is that they don’t tell you what the right thing is to do. They only make you think about it in a way you have never thought before. It’s always about thinking about a problem first. Structural set-up changes automatically once we begin thinking differently. Our vulnerability and gullibility gradually vanish when we start thinking about the origins of our actions, beliefs and convictions; we are not easy to be controlled then.
Sandel’s lectures could only be of help to those who already have background in philosophy. For social justice to prevail, the most crucial prerequisite is revamping our educational system along with syllabus. In our educational institutions, the departments of all those subjects that can help us become responsible thinkers have either been closed or are without students and faculty. Government colleges no longer offer courses in those subjects.
These subjects are literature, philosophy, history and liberal arts. Studying science has become just a way of getting a lucrative job in government or private sector by scoring as high as is required, in papers that ask for nothing but a superficial understanding of obsolete science. Almost every paper at lower levels includes a question related to the services done by Muslim philosopher scientists.
In such a scenario, there is little reason to blame common people. They will act like robots and do whatever command is given them. They are pitiable creatures who have no existence of their own. They are deprived of the inalienable right of thinking by themselves. They do not exist in their own bodies; the origins of their actions are elsewhere. They are told ‘what to think and not how to think’. The fault lies in their training.
The most serious problem is in our educational policies. The political system does not allow for a professional and effective approach towards policy-making. Colonial thinking still prevails among our policy-makers. Those who frame educational policies ought to be professional experts from every field of knowledge. But unfortunately the committees that we constitute for such purposes are headed by bureaucrats, who may have competed hard and studied a lot about ‘everything’ but their expertise doesn’t match the expertise of professional educationists and highly qualified Ph.D doctors (It is unfortunate that even Ph.Ds in Pakistan don’t much qualify for the degrees they have. However, the only possible solution is to find qualified experts).
There are no cognitive psychologists, highly qualified linguists, scientists and educationists in textbook committees and policy-making bodies, and if there are, they are subordinate to charlatans under whom you can’t even speak your mind, not to speak of making a suggestion.
Informal way of making people think is the responsible use of electronic and print media. Instead of wasting time with religious charlatans and empty-headed celebrities, there ought to be debates among scientists and social philosophers on TV of social and scientific significance, just like there are in developed countries. Instead of tweeting and posting about TJ, Afridi and Veena Malik, people will start tweeting and posting about issues of importance. That will pave way for drawing people’s attention to real problems, and real problems do not mean non-political problems. Critical thinking is more related to politics in the modern world than anything else.
This structural change can make us critical moral agents. Such agents make societies democratic, inclusive and just. They have respect for human emotions, human rights and human differences. They can at least think about the right thing to do. They don’t look elsewhere for justice and take responsibility for their actions. They learn from their history and understand that systems are contingent. They come to know that the best reason for freedom is there being no reason for its suppression. Such moral agents don’t become brutes and are not vulnerable to the whims of social and political elites.
The writer is an academic, poet and critic and has deep interest in literature, philosophy and history.