The anti-intellectual nation that we have become …

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In a recent opinion piece published few weeks ago by Yaqoob Khan Bangash in Express Tribune newspaper with a similar title, he asserted that Pakistan has become an anti-intellectual nation. His reference point was the conference that his university organized that neither the student nor several journalists and academics bothered or cared to join – even those who were invited. Well, I would be glad to inform the gentleman that I was one of the few students who did attend the conference and am of the same opinion. However, the point of this article is not to reiterate but rather to invite the gentleman to engage in a dialogue regarding why have we become an anti-intellectual nation and how can we change that culture?I will state few simple observations that the honorable gentleman can either agree with or can propose an alternative to discredit my claims. I fundamentally believe that the problem is simplified when we assert that since there wasn’t a selfie opportunity or the conference wasn’t ‘cool’ enough that’s why the student didn’t care to join the event. The problem I believe is more deeply rooted and structural than this conjectural riposte.

The problem can be divided into two categories, our education system, and our general culture. However, the entire categorization process fails to capture the tautological nature of our assumption – where one can’t be absolutely certain to what extend who is influencing whom. But to move forward with this dilemma, at least it can be presumed that both factors are intertwined. So for the sake of simplicity, I will begin with the education system. When I say education system, I mean primary and secondary first and tertiary education later. There is a reason for that, in Pakistan, too much importance is given to later years of education in middle and upper-class families as compared to primary and secondary education. I grew up in a culture, where my university education was the focus of attention of my teachers and my parents – whether I will become a doctor or an engineer or an employee in a multi-national – while the academic achievement and interests in early years were deemed in a minimalist, almost comic manner and was never taken seriously.

This poses a huge problem; the first is that since primary education and secondary are seen as just a phase toward more important things in life, the syllabus that is taught or who should teach the subjects are never given serious thought. We don’t want to satisfy the curiosity of a child rather we want to raise an obedient, conformist child whose focus should be to become a certain person that is already determined by the parents, teachers and the society – by everyone except for the child. In primary and secondary schools we have failed continually to instill a sense of wonder and a desire for knowledge. Additionally, the children are taught the same things – especially in the case of literature and history– that their forefathers learned in the same manner, year after year and then we have the audacity to raise this question that why aren’t there many Manto’s among us. I can go on about the problems, but the required length of the piece doesn’t allow that.

So I will begin my second point, and that is culture. Education surely has a significant effect on culture and for that reason, the lack of critical thinking skills that are absent because of the abysmal state of our primary and secondary education play a crucial role in producing a conformist mentality that is rarely an agent of change. Allow me to elaborate, we according to Lyotard – the renowned French philosopher –live in a ‘post-modernist condition,’ which means that the cultures underlining principle are consumption (capitalism). The representation is befitting, today’s Pakistani youth is self-obsessed, always confusing intellectual secularism with hedonism, selfie crazy, believes his/her every experience has to have a virtual life otherwise, it isn’t an experience at all, likes to attend ‘cool’ parties and would rather go to a concert or a food festival than attend an intellectual debate. However, this is the state of being of a great majority of youth across the globe because we truly live in a post-modernist condition. The problem isn’t the state of being but rather the conformism, the passive acceptance, the silent acknowledgment, the unconscious promotion of a way of life that ought to understand, confronted, discussed and critiqued. The problem is the lack of critical thinking that schools were supposed to inculcate; there is a reason why there aren’t any thinkers like Foucault, Derrida, Deleuze and Lyotard in Pakistan, because instead of teaching subjects like philosophy and world literature early on we would rather indoctrinate our children, make them obedient and conformist – we have always allowed a free hand to religious and political orthodoxies to do whatever they please instead of promulgating a curriculum that’s central focus ought to be critical thinking. Furthermore, schools early on suppress the right to free expression, freedom of thought and conscious, which effectively stifles debate and dialogue from the very beginning.

I’m clearly not suggesting that we shouldn’t blame the students rather I merely intend to assert that there are other factors to consider as well – like quality education from the beginning – which I hope the gentleman will take into consideration.

The writer is a freelancer employee for The Lahore Times Company. He can be reached at mustafahssn@hotmail.com

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Lahore Times.

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