This is in response to an article by ex-South pointers who have celebrated the school. The objective of my response is to expose the regressive/reactionary philosophical underpinnings behind such celebration and also certain outright factual errors.
I hate institutional pride. Those who share this vice may have Daniel Bell’s blessings, but it sucks, big time. First of all, it is just the same as provincialism or communalism. Institutional rivalry is of terrible proportions already in Kolkata. It is astoundingly difficult to believe that those who ostensibly believe in some form of socialism as a better alternative can actually think that it is not only okay but even “cool” to engage in such institutional competitiveness.
I remember in my own South Point days how comparisons would regularly be made with other schools, whether in the context of academic or extracurricular activities. It is not that I have anything particularly against the elitism surrounding South Point – such mentality is manifested by students from a wide range of schools and colleges. It hasn’t changed one bit from the time I used to be in school and from my experience so far with the “radical” student organizers, they don’t do one bit other than to encourage this regressive mindset even more (hence the even more pressing need for this response), presumably as part of the plethora of populist tactics they employ on a routine basis to increase cadre base. As for South Point, the lesser I speak of it the better it is. It was a school which had only one motto – to make each student another brick in the wall, another cog in the machine and make them ready for the market.
There were hypocritical teachers who used to give lecture after lecture in class about how private tuition is ruining the education system and yet used to do the same themselves. But hey, they used to do it “only for money”. What an excuse! Hello, why do you think others did it? For fun?
I remember some terrifying experiences in the junior school where I was abused by staff members. I am sure others were too. The “great” school did not take any action regarding the same. In fact, quite contrary to what the article is suggesting, it was impossible to feel welcome. The entire atmosphere was intimidating all the time.
The teachers were extremely strict and would give punishments on the slightest pretext at times, often without even caring to know which party was “guilty”. [And I am not even getting into the intricacies of the problems of the technologies of “disciplining” that are embedded in school education]
Because of the highly competitive atmosphere, anybody who did not feel part of the “elite group of toppers” would be immediately be ostracized. True, this is hardly unique to South Point, but then what is so special about this school? I distinctly remember some teachers making remarks like “what kind of background do you come from?”, especially to those students who were from economically weak backgrounds. The general culture [which extended to the “responsible” monitors who are eulogized in the concerned article] was to constantly demean and demoralize those who could not score good marks. Ultimately though, it all boiled down to getting into the right tuitions – which was often a costly affair and not affordable by many. The result was just what is usually the case – those who fell behind in the rat race, kept falling behind further. [“behind” being used in the mainstream sense]
There is some boasting in the article about questions in exams coming from outside the syllabus. Alright, so this is a pile of horse shit. “Syllabus”, as anybody and everybody knows, is defined not by what is printed in the official syllabus given by the school but actually by what is taught in the tuitions. There were rumors galore about how certain questions were leaked by certain teachers who didn’t teach the stuff in class but used to give those lessons in their private tuitions.
Does it mean that there were no teachers or staff members who were good human beings? Surely there were. Does it mean that I too don’t have some fond memories. I do. But it is not a question of degree – it is not that I did not have a happy enough experience at the school that makes me hold negative opinions about the school. That would indeed make this analysis no different from the selfish individualistic approach in the article I am addressing. The authors may pretend they are speaking for all those who have been students of this school in the past, but quite certainly they are not. Or else they would have taken into account the woes of the casualties of the systemic problems that are present in the structure of education on the whole of which South Point is a part.
Basically, why is South Point famous?
- It mastered the art of education based on rote learning better than many other schools – for which its students generally end up doing well in the 10th and 12th standard exams or other “competitive exams” for which, contrary to pretensions, an even greater degree of rote learning is required.
- Some famous people happened to have passed out from the school [which is hardly a parameter worth judging a school by, given the weightage should be given to how students from marginalized sections like those from poor or dalit backgrounds etc. are doing]. In fact from my batch [and as far as I know, it isn’t very different in any batch, given the structural orientation of the school remains the same] a certain section of ex-students have only gone on to become rich or successful, i.e. they have tasted the benefits of the neo liberal capitalist order. Serving the capitalist system loyally has been their social or political contribution. If we are to celebrate that, then let us also celebrate the fact that certain highly paid white collar employees of MNCs are doing really well [in terms of income, standard of living etc.]
A truly progressive idea about education would involve the following:
- Not endorsing or encouraging competition but cooperation
- Not finding the best among many but trying to get the best out of everyone
- Imparting knowledge about a wide array of subjects that will be commensurate with the goal of building a society based on libertarian socialistic principles
I don’t see South Point [or any other famous school for that matter] fulfilling any of these criteria and hence no reason to eulogize it as well.