Every now and then a few stars collide in your hemisphere and you’re left making sense of it all. Today is one of those days for me…
Yesterday I was at an audience with Aung San Suu Kyi, organised by the British Council.
Tomorrow I will have half an hour with Michael Gove on behalf of the Democratic Life campaign: advocating for Citizenship Education in the Curriculum.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s theme was education. In particular the degradation of education in Burma as a consequence of totalitarian rule.
She told us that the population has lost the ability to ask questions, as questions were not permissible in their political climate. She looked forward to educationalists teaching their students to ask questions again. She had some wonderful short sayings, such as ‘the greatest glory of a teacher is a student who outshines them’… and also reflected on how a pre-determinant of anyone who asks searching questions is the humility to recognise that they don’t know everything. This seemed in short supply in her Burma when the main way to maintain power was to portray yourself as all-knowing (therefore all-trustable).
Reflecting on this and tomorrow’s meeting, I’m not so much struck by the difference in the players as the vast difference between our countries. That a radical politician in one setting would do anything she could to get the country questioning again, and to get them to recognise that politics is in everything, and ultimately can close everything down. And in our setting the radical politician appears as yet uncertain as to whether or not putting politics in the curriculum would be of any value.
From the outside the issue in this country seems to be one of ‘space’… not taking up valuable academic curriculum time with second-level applications of knowledge such as politics and the law. Michael Gove’s presentations on the purpose of education all underline its value in opening up the many avenues of cultural and intellectual inheritance that we have at our behest – once we first develop the basic tools to unlock their content and thence value. He portrays these as the basics of language and science.
Aung San Suu Kyi sees a closer link between the permission (and indeed encouragement) to ask questions and the recognition that the politics of the day needs your capability in order to exert and maintain the freedom of the people. You may be a towering Russell Group academic but if you can’t ask questions of the state (or of your own inherited values) then your education has been self-serving and system-perpetuating…
Actually I have little doubt that Michael Gove’s position is reasonable… that the confidence of many students to learn and grow needs the educational basics that develop self-determination in thought accompanied by cultural curiosity and competence to reckon with all the data that comes your way.
What I think Aung San Suu Kyi would add to that is a bedrock of ‘implication’ – what it all amounts to and who is in charge of the context; of the bounds of our thinking and the extent of our possibilities.
All of these need a coherent introduction to politics in which the individual is a producer, not a consumer of the state.