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The march of the dead

  • Published at 11:51 am December 6th, 2018
A noose around each neck? MEHEDI HASAN

Your performance at school is not the end of the world

Education is not worth dying for. Tell that to your parents, and your friends who are parents and educators. 

Don’t tell that to the kids because they are merely the recipients of this destructive, violent, one-dimensional idea of success. We spend our lifetimes being measured by our academic success. In our culture, good student = good.

From parents to teachers to the aunties and uncles next door, since childhood, we have been consistently praised and shamed for our performance in school. The truth, however, is this: Education is not the end of the world. It really isn’t. You can fail and still have a life. You can be mediocre and still be brilliant. You can also be successful and be an undignified human being.

Your child can be perfectly ordinary but still be your child who is a whole, complete person, and not a tiny replica of you. Your child is not the blank slate you can pin all your hopes and dreams on. Your child is also not your do-over in life. Just because you couldn’t become x, y, or z in life, doesn’t mean you should bully your child into fulfilling that incomplete fantasy for you.

For the six years, I have been teaching, I have seen student after student miserably slogging through a degree they care nothing about because it will make someone else happy or because it will help him get a job. Yes, money matters, but what matters more is knowing who your own child is.

Not everyone is cut out the same way, not everyone can turn the other cheek to relentless insults or force themselves to study something they are not interested in. So what if not everyone goes to the top school or doesn’t get GPA 5? Know that your child is capable of leading a good life without a perfect score in all her exams.

And life is bigger than this. It has to be.

Know also that your students are capable of being successful without you bullying them, abusing them, shaming them for their performance in school. Our school teachers are not trained and many have zero empathy for their students. Some even get sadistic pleasure out of belittling their students.

Too many of us carry scars from all the taunts and insults hurled at us during our most vulnerable, formative years by men and women who were meant to guide, help, and nurture us. So many of us are also beyond fortunate to have had teachers who taught us to love learning, to live life. But as parents, guardians, and society as a whole, we need to stop putting such a high premium on “education” because it is killing our children.

We have to do better. 

How are we not ashamed as a people that each board exam results brings with it a new list of names of the dead -- young, vibrant kids who took their own lives because they were told they are not worthy of living because of one test result? Sometimes, it shocks me that not more of us died caught in this endless maze of competitive, single-issue obsession with grades and performance. Enough with this violence of education. Enough with the cultural obsession of perfection from young people when we are so far from perfect ourselves.

Enough also with all the finger-wagging -- “why did she cheat,” “why did she bring a phone,” “why did she have to kill herself,” etc. Why, you ask? Because this is much bigger than one exam, one cheat-sheet, one suicide -- this is our culture.

We bribe, con, lie, and cheat our way through life.

The same folks who are blaming the parents for not doing enough or wanting the institution’s metaphorical head on a stick, or worse, trying to blame a teenage girl for having emotions, are part of the system that perpetuates the monstrous need for perfection from its youth. 

And those who are shaming Aritri for killing herself, I hope you never know the kind of vulnerability that cripples you enough to contemplate and then successfully complete such an action. Have some empathy. Save your sanctimonious anger for the system that forces young children to take to the streets for safer roads or take their own lives. 

Nazia Manzoor is pursuing a PhD in English at the University at Albany, State University of New York

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