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Christian education: A tragedy of wasted opportunities 

By Valson Thampu

Too late in the day, I started a course, in March 2015, on citizenship enrichment. It was an experiment in academic and cultural outreach to the public; in this instance limited to the domiciles of Delhi. It turned out to be a resounding success.

The program was structured around a concept I had evolved on the analogy of Corporate Social Responsibility, or CSR. That concept was ISR, or Institutional Social Responsibility. Corporate houses have material resources. Colleges have intellectual resources. The latter is, if anything, more valuable for social engineering and nation building. But the problem is that we are sleeping over it.

Why did I undertake this novel enterprise?

It was done because of my considered conviction that agendas of aggression, inhumanity, injustice, and communal polarization can succeed only on the basis of the gullibility and mental darkness -the incapacity to think for oneself- of citizens.

The best antidote to communal aggression -at any rate the only feasible one for minority communities and well-meaning agents and individuals in the majority community- is to spread enlightenment. Light alone can dispel darkness. There is no point in sitting terrified by the onset of night. Get up, and light a candle, please! The candle I lighted was Citizenship Enrichment Programme (CEP) under ISR.

Over 300 candidates in the age group of 18 -80 enrolled for this year-long course. Network 18 volunteered to be the media partner. All lectures delivered were video-recorded and posted on Network 18 website, and were viewed nationally and globally.

The outcome was the generation of huge good will towards St. Stephen’s College. It also served as a strong embankment against the tsunamic spread of false propaganda against me.

Now consider this. We have over 40,000 colleges -of which about 5 percent (approx.) would be Christian, which makes it 2000. If all of them were to start a similar program, we could be bolstering a culture of truthfulness and fortifying 600,000 citizens against communal prejudices. And that, without the additional expense of a single rupee!

If our thousands of schools too were to do this, we could be influencing millions. But do we care?

Suppose all the 40,000 colleges were to practise Institutional Social Responsibility as I did, some 12 million could be influenced! Not a rupee is required extra for this purpose.

All through my career, I have been crying hoarse that the Christian involvement in education has lost its way and that we have become salt without its saltiness.

Perhaps it is not too late to sit up and take note even now?

The very first and most basic thing we need is a clear idea of what it is to educate. Education as preparing young people for job markets is no different, in principle, from education as preparing young people to be communal agents. In both cases, individuals are degraded into tools.

The purpose of education is not to promote human instrumentality, but to fortify individuals against this danger and the insult it implies!

During the time I served in the National Commission for Minority Educational Institutions (NCMEI) Govt. of India, I used to hear, wherever I went, stakeholders in Christian education crying on how they were being harassed by the system. After listening for a long time I’d ask, “Who educated these harassers?”

Visible embarrassment would be the response.

Truth talks to us in the idiom of suffering when we refuse to learn from experience. When we turn a deaf ear even to the language of pain, life rises up in indignation and deals the deathblow. False sentimentality should not prevent me from stating the truth.

Shouldn’t we ask?

-What have we achieved through our gigantic efforts in education over a century or more?
-What idea of education did we practise, and for how long?
-With what goals and purposes?
-What were the missing links in the chain of education we provided?
-Why did they go unnoticed or unattended for so long?
-What are the stereotypes that kept us blind in our mission to educate?
More constructively and purposefully-
-What do we learn from our experiences so far?
-What are the areas that call for correction as well as reinforcement?
-What are the values and strengths we need to promote through education?
-What should be the profile of the educated that should shape our practice of education?
-How do we prepare ourselves for this critically relevant and long over-due course correction?

One thing I can tell you for sure. If we go on like this, we will be reduced to serving on other people’s terms. That is only logical. There have to be some terms by which to serve. If you have no terms distinctive to yourself, you will have to accept terms set by others. There is no vacuum in life or in nature.

Then, don’t cry about freedom. Freedom exists – sorry for being a bit philosophical but you can take it, no? – in the interregnum between who we are in essence and what we are in existence. That essence is the spiritual vision of education.

If the essence is not there, or it is in a state of eternal sleep, freedom to educate Christianly cannot even begin to be active! The problem gets all the acute when we have no idea of the context in which we serve, or where we want to reach!

But we are hyper-sensitive and alertly protective of minority educational rights!

Pardon me, this is hypocritical. Hand on heart, I tell you this cannot be justified. Even if it can be justified, it cannot be honest or wholesome.

The least we must do is to initiate a rigorous spiritual audit of our practice of education, with the required open-mindedness to accept and implement the changes and corrections urgently required.

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