How’s College Life Treating You? I Can’t Wait For Mine To Get Over

When every other ‘liberal arts’ student begins to have the same goal, we get T S Eliot’s ‘The Hollow Men’.

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What unsettles me the most is that an  orthodox system is in charge of deciding the self-esteem and future of thousands of vulnerable students in our country.  (Photo: iStock)

It is that time of the year again. You ‘sold your soul’ to clear the obnoxiously high cut-offs set by the Delhi University colleges. After all, you were always told that once you get into a decent college, it’ll all be sunshine and roses.

At the dawn of my last academic year at DU, I cannot help but look back and reflect upon my student life. I managed to comfortably enroll in one of the ‘dignified’ courses at a college in the north campus of the University.

Yet, I find myself wanting to leave.

Cut-off Criteria: Stupids & Geniuses

During the initial months of college, I was of the view that it was preposterous to feel anything but lucky for having cleared the cut-off. The selection criteria constitutes of a process that glorifies the prescribed rote learning and is miserably dependent on the standardised test scores for almost everyone. This is not only a hollow concept but also a determinant for one’s level of achievement among their peers.

What unsettles me the most is that the same orthodox system — that has succeeded in labeling so many of us as ‘stupid’ — is in charge of deciding the self-esteem and future of thousands of vulnerable students in our country. Being dyslexic as a kid, I have experienced the brute impact that it can have on someone by constantly reminding them of their incompetence.

Interestingly, I have been on the other side of the fence too — by topping the board exams in my school. I have been labeled as both — a stupid and a genius. Slapped and patted, despised and cherished. All by the same educational structure. But did I really get smarter during my final years at school? Or did I merely remodel myself to turn into an ideal fit for our profligate education system?

University & The Myth of Enlightenment

While — traditionally — school is a place that demands you to be obedient and comply with the whims and fancies of those in authority, the elite north campus colleges of Delhi University profess to be just the place where you can unlearn such orthodoxies that you’ve been spoon-fed. They pretend that their liberal arts open up the possibilities for you to quash the preconceived notions that you cherish.

Democratisation of democracy would begin not with the constitution but with the liberal arts syllabus.
Shiv Visvanathan, a professor at the Jindal Global Law School

What Do Liberal Arts At DU Really Offer?

Vidhi Jain, an activist, did an art workshop with 30 children in Udaipur. 26 out of the 30 went to traditional schools while the other 4 had, probably, never stepped inside a school campus. When the workshop ended, she observed that all of the 26 school-going students had drawn exactly the same things — trees, mountains, river, etc.

I remember sketching similar standard landscapes every time I was asked to draw in school. The other four students, on the other hand, had drawn different things like an auto rickshaw driver, their house kitchen, etc. She concluded that we kill the creativity of school children at the age of five.

A similar but mature manifestation of this is prevalent in the colleges that offer liberal arts as a course with the majority of students obsessed with finding ‘hacks’ to clear the UPSC exam. Evidence of this obsession is not difficult to trace. One only needs to look at what students scribble on college tables during the lectures.

It is easy to make fun of these illustrations and dismiss them as mindless doodles. However, when every other ‘liberal arts’ student begins to have the same goal, I am reminded of T S Eliot’s famous poem, ‘The Hollow Men’.

“It’s Expected of You”

It’s bizarre to acknowledge that so many of us go through long years of schooling without actually learning much about ourselves. Instead, we are taught how to present the ‘data’ about ourselves in a manner that pleases the university admission examiners and job interviewers. All that is required of you is to collect certificates, join college societies, do as many internships as possible, and of course, score well!

There is no time to be vulnerable or to question the conformist wisdom that is so powerfully shaping our personalities. If, somehow, you gather the courage to make an effort to cure the ‘diploma disease’, you fall short. You become a failure.

(Anirudh Shukla is a theatre activist and the playwright of ‘21st century. This is a ReadersBlog and the views expressed above are the author’s own. The Quint neither endorses nor is responsible for the same.)

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