Secular Events

“Value Education” In School

I matriculated at a school in Chennai. Even today I look back at some memories, some more fondly than others and it strikes me that my disbelief in a greater entity (manifested in a myriad of mutable forms) started far more previously than I had anticipated. We had a stern old teacher with pepper colored hair and a voice that sounded as though she was down with a permanent case of rhinitis. Just typing that sentence gives me the shivers as it triggers the memory of her nasal, high pitched voice that cared not in the least for paying attention to inflection. She was our “value education” teacher. Yes, we had 40 minutes classes twice or thrice a week where we lazily opened out textbooks and read about the great king “Manu”- the beacon of wisdom and the progenitor of all mankind. We read that story where the prince wanted nothing but to sit in the lap of his father, and instead God (in one of his aforementioned forms) came down to Earth, scooped up the lad and quite literally (not metaphorically as that episode of How I Met Your Mother taught us) turned him into a ball of fire and gas in the distant night sky. Equally amusing or traumatizing is the story of a little boy who believed in the concept of God’ omnipresence and the fate of a rationalist who questioned and tested that hypothesis, only to have his chest ripped out; blood spraying everywhere, by a half-human, half-beast chimera. The fact that he was an evil man is almost too convenient in hushing up curious young children who wonder why being asked to prove God existence in everything needed punishment and not an honest reply.

After a few years of this, we advanced onto the Bhagavad Gita, where we were forced (I find no gentle synonym) by the curriculum, to memorize the various chapters every year. Needless to say, this tedious and by my rationale-often pointless exercise- needed constant chiding to be made by our teachers so that we followed instructions like good little sheep and didn’t ask any questions. Failure to recite the texts in the right intonation earned us an earful for not being competent enough to do so and strangely enough a hit to our second language test marks. I found the practice of holding a completely different subject ransom truly vulgar. I needed every mark I could muster to pass Tamil- and now a percentage of my “value education” marks count towards Tamil? I was literally blackmailed into learning these texts I had otherwise no intention of learning. And out of childish curiosity I read the translations of the texts I was memorizing. To my mind it appeared as nothing but megalomania by a self-established “god-head”. A God who possessed a supernatural awe-inducing form that was brighter than a thousand suns. So what is the rationale of the ancients who wrote this text to decide on a thousand? Why not a hundred thousand or a million or even a trillion? A supergiant star can be up to a million more times luminous than the sun. So is Krishna’s ultimate form outshone by a supergiant?

And here’s my qualm with the subject. What exactly are young children learning by being force fed philosophies and told that by worshipping a certain god of the Bhagavad Gita that they are freed from “the cycle of life and death”? Are we seriously teaching our children in schools of rationalistic thought, that an afterlife exists and the “laws” of dharma determine what happens in the “next” life? How is this text going to help me cope with my life, my job and my personal issues? It doesn’t. It just goes on to say that “believe in God and you will be saved”. That’s what all religions and faith based denominations do. You can teach this in school for two or more hours a week under a blanket term called culture or you can invest that time learning more about the diversity of life. Morals cannot be taught based on fanciful tales of no reasonable grounding. Kindness, evil, pity, empathy and the plethora of emotions that drive our existence today pre-dates all our “holy” texts. And as an atheist brought up in a liberal household, I can safely say that I don’t need any religious texts to justify my moral fiber.

So please put your holy texts away and teach your children about the wonders of the world we are living in. For when we realize that this is the only life we have to live, we tend to appreciate it and savour it. The children will thank you for it.

About the author

Nikhil

16 Comments

  • Yesterday I was on the panel for discussions on this on a local TV channel and vehemently opposed this concept of thrusting on religious text book down the throats of children.

  • Well put… I agree with your last remarks that it is totally unnecessary to believe in non-existent ‘God’ or ‘religion’ to lead a moral life. In fact it is the other way round. Being open minded gives us the perspectives which are rational towards this wonderful life which we can make for ourselves. Spirituality is very well achieved without religious means. Truly, children who are born non-conformists should be taught to blend and learn with the natural world around us with scientific inquisitiveness and compassion, love, trust are better developed this way.

  • Dear Nikhil

    “For when we realize that this is the only life we have to live, we tend to appreciate it and savour it” –

    Very true – and that is precisely the reason why they need to be taught the scriptures! In the next life we need not be human – we could be a plant, animal, insect, bird …even an unicell organism….How could these Jeevatmas at that time aim for liberation from the cycle of birth and death? IT is very difficult to get human birth – the odds are may be 1 in trillion or lower! Why waste this opportunity to achieve the highest possible ideal?

    Then you say, ” teach your children about the wonders of the world we are living in”…

    I can’t but laugh at this statement! If only you had listened well during your “value education” class, you would have understood this – He the Lord is everything, the world and its wonders, nay, the Universe and its wonders! When everything is HIM, you are anyway only learning about HIM whether you read the scriptures or about the wonders of the world! What is the big difference? It is He that pervades everything including you. You yourself are pervaded by HIM!

    Lastly, if you would have again listened to your value education teacher, you would have understood that He is the letter A of the alphabets – not merely in English, but every single language that exists! Now therefore, every spoken word in this world points to him – which includes the words – Atheist and Rationalism. If you are serious about saying that He does not exist, try a new alphabet without the sound of “A”. Not only that, everyone you use the sound of “A” embedded as part of any word, you are literally calling out the name of the God whom you called “megalomania by a self-established “god-head””! Good luck inventing the new alphabet!

    • Thanks Antonym for your comment. My rebuttal to the first paragraph of your reply- Show me the evidence; don’t cite Sanskrit, Hebrew or Arabic texts, but show me actual scientific evidence that reincarnation exists. No evidence, no deal. I would point you to the Russel’s Teapot analogy, where the onus of shouldering the responsibility of explaining supernatural claims lies with the claimant and not others. And you seem to be stuck on the ancient and debunked concept of Aristotle’s Ladder of Nature, where Man in all his glory is placed at the near top of the ladder, just a rung beneath god. I repeat myself, we humans, have no special purpose in life. It is the blind hand of natural selection and millions of years that we have evolved to the point that we are. And we seek to find some grander purpose, where there is none. We see patterns that aren’t there. That TOO is an evolutionary trait passed on to us (a safer than sorry policy to evade predators).
      And by the wonders of the world, I meant physics, biology and the various natural sciences that will help us shed such irrational beliefs in the supernatural. I encourage you to read Carl Sagan’s moving note on the photograph “Pale blue dot”. Read about evolution. Read about inflationary cosmology and the heat death of the Universe. The sheer enormity of the numbers will open your eyes to how insignificant we are in the vast expanses of the uncaring Universe (as opposed to a god who is interested in everything we do and convicts us of thought crime in our sleep) . It will open your eyes to a world of intrigue and beauty far greater than the revelations of the Abrahamic Trio or any other religion for that matter.

      There is a language that many of us use (myself included) called science. We hypothesize, test, verify and replicate the results. We are not content in living in a world dictated by religious texts that claim to know everything and presumes itself to be the superset of all creation. We cannot abide by a text that quells curiosity and forces unwanted philosophies onto the formative minds of young children. In the dictionary of science, god is not defined and does not exist. These children when grown up can make informed decisions about their belief system rather than conforming to that of their parents or their school.

    • Dear Synonym Antonym,
      I can’t even read your entire passage because it bores me so much. That people like you shamelessly keep ranting on and on about things that you have no way of knowing – things that you just cannot possibly know – and then try and teach that crap to the rest of the world, it is quite unbelievable. But then, to think of it, its not your fault. In our country, most of the families bring up the children by grinding them with Godly stories and misleading the young minds with impressions that following of religion is a virtue. So it is obvious that most will turn out believing like you do, even if you have to sacrifice your intellect.

      Let me ask a very simple question to you. You are talking about next life. Can you give me ONE – just ONE – example of anyone who died and was born again? Don’t talk about scripture, tell us something from contemporary history that shows that someone was born again. ANYONE!! Do you have a single example to share with us?

      If you don’t, then you have no right to preach your fantasies unless you are prepared to back them up with real solid evidence and not just appealing to emotions.

      Till you do come up with your answer (I hope not in your next life), please keep your fiction to yourself.

      Shitij

    • Looks like you don’t get it, the “he” you are talking about is nothing for us, which means that you can not tell us about not being a human being in our “next life”(what does it mean anyway :-\) and the “odds” you talk about!-ridiculous-Its as if you know exactly how “he” does it or you’ve been through it.

  • 2ooo years of brainwashing by VAIDIC– Purohits, of Hindus particularly women can never be Eraced by a few of us. We raise our hands in surrender and cry only God can save these Hindus.

    • I find your statement to be quite illegible and I must say that the gist of the article has escaped you completely. The author makes a case against ALL religions and not just Hinduism. It is equally wrong to preach morality from the Bible, the Qu’ran or any other religious text. The Bible itself contains many nausea inducing stories of rape, genocide and human abuse. The Qu’ran is not immune either; it contains passages that state the inequality of women and gives the right to men to treat them unjustly and harshly. And finally your appealing to a non-existent entity; born out of humankind’s need for answers and a sense of direction, to save us from our misguided need for answers and sense of direction in life is well…ridiculous.

  • sir, reading your work i am reminded of my daughter , when she was seven, once during a walk told me that “amma do you know that we are blessed to be born humans, we are in the last JANMA and should work towards moksha… also that for all our sins we might have been born as dogs, reptiles etc.. and whatever happens was due to “fate”.” I asked her how she came to know of this and she said she was taught all this in her value education class.

Leave a Comment