To begin with…
I have always hated the linearity of school education. I find no justification for the mechanisation of learning. When I say these, I am referring to the division of courses into distinct units to be learned in set timeframes, the testing of subjects thus learned through sterile examination systems which reward retention powers more than expressive and creative talents and finally the preposterous yardstick of achievement called marks (or grades these days).
And harbouring such opinions seemed sinful and expressing them, unforgivable blasphemy, especially since I enjoyed good rapport with the system by securing excellent marks. And as such those were sentiments I shared with but only a few. Of course, such a sweeping indictment will require some, perhaps a lot of, qualification. However, I refuse to offer any for this post is not about the things that are wrong with our education system and also because such an exercise would consume an inordinately large part of this essay so as to belittle its whose purpose. But I will only comment that if you have ever attended school in Nagaland (and in most places elsewhere), you ought to know, even if you don’t agree with, what I am talking about.
Oh the Internet…
With that out of the way, for now at least, I come to the purpose of this post which is to share with you the wonderful therapeutic powers of the Internet (Yes, I spelled it with a capital ‘I’.). I could go on for a long time about why I love the Internet.
Yesterday (November 5, 2016) threw up a side of the Internet that I had known to exist yet had never experienced. It was an experience I could relate to in the most honest, personal and profound manner. It gave me courage and it gave me hope. It was a video! Yes, it was a TEDx talk!! And yes, it was delivered by John Green!!! (The video is embedded at the end. You can simply skip everything else and watch it. Thank you.)
John opens with how a cartographer’s imaginary town in New York, added solely for protecting copyright, became a real one simply because the town was there on the map and people kept on visiting it thinking it was a real town. This is an extremely powerful and inspiring metaphor for anyone pursuing something different. It tells you that it is not the world around that has to shape you but that you too can shape the world around you.
(T)he overall shape of the world is obviously going to affect our maps. But…the manner in which we map the world changes the world… The world is changed by our maps of the world.
He talks about how he thought “education was just a series of hurdles that had been erected before me” and how those hurdles seemed “completely arbitrary”. He mentions how he felt as a kid that people with the good jobs “literally put nooses on themselves” ever single morning. He explains how in high school, thanks to “people who celebrated intellectualism and engagement” and who treated his detachment as normal, he became a learner and learned stuff because learning was cool. He recalls very interesting stories behind some of the things he learned. He also describes how, at one point, he lost all that and how Ze Frank, through the Internet, helped him back to a learning community. He then goes on about how online spaces (YouTube for example where he and others host the highly regarded CrashCourse series) have become the learning communities for a new generation of learners.
It mattered to me…
All of these resonate deeply with me. I fail to see much use in the education system of today where, to quote the immortal words of Ranchod Das Chanchad, har sal gadhe manufacture hota hain. I cannot see anything personally exciting about the usual jobs that many of us and most of our parents seem to revere. I am tired of being treated as a specimen, a wonder who holds with him the fortunes of the family and the community. I am disgusted when I am told — and this has happened quite often — that whatever I learn should be determined by whether that might help me in clearing the Civil Services. The attitudes towards learning that I internally rant against are so pervasive that they are like the air we breathe — taken for granted without question.
This was exhausting, mentally and emotionally. I could not seek comfort in the places I normally would because those very places were the cause of my discomfort. And this is where the Internet stepped in. Yes, the Internet. Apart from being an endless source of rad memes and cat gifs and top ten lists and scandalous ads; besides being my teacher-in-chief, my prime facilitator in an endeavour I hold dear — natural unforced learning; the Internet turned out also to be a source of solace and courage. This is something I cannot say about anything else. Maybe you could find too! Maybe you already have! Maybe this could be it! In any case, happy surfing.
1. You probably know TED. If not, what the hell have you been doing on the Internet?[^]
2. You might probably not know John Green. But you have seen the movie The Fault In Our Stars. Or perhaps the CrashCourse series on YouTube. No? Well, he wrote the book and created the series. But damn, what the hell have you been doing on the Internet?[^]
3. Of course, you don’t know him. Oh you do? Sorry. Ze is awesome. Check out this surprisingly solemn talk, or this hilarious true facts clip, or this creepily cute teddy video. [^]