Wednesday, September 07, 2005

International Literacy Day

    Recently the perspective of a "clash of civilizations" (promoted by a great many commentators, including intellectuals as well as political leaders) has gained much currency, and what is most immediately divisive in this outlook is not the idea of the inevitability of a clash (that too, but it comes later), but the prior insistence on seeing human beings in terms of one dimension only: as a member of one civilization or another. As it happens, every human being has many identities, related to nationality, language, location, class, religion, occupation, political beliefs, and so on. To ignore everything other than some single, allegedly profound, way of classifying people is to set them up into warring camps. The best hope for peace in the world lies in the simple but far-reaching recognition that we all have many different associations and affiliations, and we need not see ourselves as being rigidly divided by a single categorization of hardened groups, which confront each other.

    While we celebrate the power of literacy, we have reason to think also about the content of education and the way literacy can facilitate - rather than endanger - peace and security. The importance of non-sectarian and non-parochial curricula that expand, rather than reduce, the reach of reason can be hard to exaggerate.

    To conclude, we must go on fighting for basic education for all, but also emphasize the importance of the content of education. We have to make sure that sectarian schooling does not convert education into a prison, rather than being a passport to the wide world.

Amartya Sen.

Update: Uma has a great Literacy Day post: Postcard to Akka. Magical, as a comment over there put it.


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