Thursday, September 22, 2011

Nationalism in Schools


For at least seven years during my stay at my boarding school, I have spent almost every morning with the Indian national pledge – “India is my country and all Indians are my brothers and sisters. I love my country and I am proud of its rich and varied heritage. I shall always strive to be worthy of it. I shall give respect to my parents, teachers and elders and treat everyone with courtesy. To my country and my people, I pledge my devotion. In their well being and prosperity alone, lies my happiness.”

Like this I had to indulge in many school level programmes that directly or indirectly enforced a feeling of nationalism/ patriotism in me. I must admit I did (and to a good extent, still) subscribe to them. I feel proud when I sing Indian national anthem or talk about my country in forums where national anthem fits in appropriately. Its so much in me that I was so shocked to learn that one of the municipal schools that I am working with doesn’t call their students for Independence day celebrations due to “lack of assembly space” that I went on the theme my Art classes for a week on “Independence day”. However, I shall not prejudice my exploration in this paper with any such feelings I have held in most of my formative years of life. Today I wonder – Did I place my pride in the “rich and varied heritage” only after knowing what they were and evaluating if they were worthy of my pride? Why only Indians are being called my brothers and sisters? Why not a Palestinian or a Nepali or a Japanese? Why is there no mention of other living beings – the animals, the birds in our national pledge? Does my national identity contribute towards my development as a human being? Does it contribute towards any scientific invention that I may lead to? Does it, for that matter, contribute towards my exploration and placement of nationalism within school curriculum/ agenda in this paper?

Intrigued by these and similar other questions, I intend to explore the basic question “does nationalism holds a place within school curriculum agenda?” In this effort, let’s first understand “nationalism” and some related ideas (in differentiation section) before we can study the position it may (or may not) behold within the education premises (in integration section).


The below three concepts are often discussed, and at times used, interchangeably. Due to this, it’s important to understand the fine conceptual differences between these three:


Nationalism is a political ideology that involves a strong identification of a group of individuals with a political entity defined in national terms, i.e. a nation. (Source: http:// wiki/ Nationalism). Nationalism, by many, is understood as an extreme form of patriotism marked by a feeling of superiority over other countries. Like religion, and many other social identities, nationalism too thrives on “us against the other”, defining a group of people as one unit by rejecting/ dishonoring (in some cases) the “others”. It is interesting to note the inception of the term and its placement in the era of French Revolution, and catastrophe of world wars that it is suspected it did lead to.


Excluding differences caused by the dependencies of the term's meaning upon context, geography and philosophy, patriotism is a devotion to one's country. In a generalized sense applicable to all countries and peoples, patriotism is a devotion to one's country (Source: http:// This basically is devoid of the concept of “us against the other”.


Citizenship is understood as the state of being a citizen of a particular social, political, national, or human resource community. Citizenship status, under social contract theory, carries with it both rights and responsibilities. "Active citizenship" is the philosophy that citizens should work towards the betterment of their community through economic participation, public, volunteer work, and other such efforts to improve life for all citizens. This concept asks for participation in activities of the countries we live in.

From above explanations, it would be interesting to understand what motivates the people supporting or opposing Anna Hazare in his “movement against corruption”.


Including the creation of social identity would be required if our aim is to prepare our pupil to deal with the matters in society as-is (which is fragmented by various social identities – religious, cultural, national and so on). However, if the aim of education is to move towards the concept of “one world”, would it be really important to discuss “nationalism” or other social identities? What is our education’s aim and what should be?

Education is purposed at what?

I personally believe the primary purpose of education is to assist in identification and further development of the natural talent of a child, and leading to the enablement of his/her rational, logical and emotional quotient. Education should be such that it enables a child to be able to express his/her idea and apply his/her knowledge. Rest would all be a byproduct of this process; be it the profession a child would choose, the success that shall follow or for that matter social identity he/she creates for himself/herself.

“Mera Bharat mahaan”: a nationalist, patriotic or citizenry construct?

‘Mahaan’, or ‘great’, by itself has a comparative tone to it. Having its roots in the colonial period, the slogan and all such similar ones (Vande Matram, etc) behold the feeling me “us against them – the British”. That was then when a group of people were fighting for their independence from a foreign body and needed various ways to keep themselves united by a single social construct (in this case the nation – India). But today, if a child says “Mera bharat Mahaan”, it becomes important to understand where he/he is picking it from and what meaning /value is he/she attaching to it. If such feelings are mere emulation of the beliefs held by his/her favorite teacher or a response to a social behavior (everyone in morning assembly does that), I offer caution. It may move from the domains of “influence” to conditioning and even indoctrination. I ask, how different is the person who believes his/her religion is great against the one who believes India is great and can go to any extreme to prove that point?

Should education aim at influencing love for one’s country in its pupils? I am not very sure of this. Education may best introduce the concept of love and facilitate its pupil to reason and then bestow upon their love and respect on things, people and ideas they would find worthy of. And if their nation or country befits their logical conclusions of assigning love, they can very well institute their pride in it. Otherwise, “Mera Bharat Mahaan” remains a transferred nationalist pride only.

Such hollow love for one’s country (or for that matter anything) would lead to one very important issue – one’s blindness towards the faults in our beloved. And nationalism in our schools has the capacity to reduce the responsibilities a person would hold in questioning his/her own nation, when the actions by the leaders/government doesn’t fit into his/her logical debates. Could that be a reason, why “Mera Bharat Mahaan” is so vociferously practiced in Indian schools (80% of Indian schools are govt. run/aided institutions)? And does our unquestioning (or at least over-accepting) attitude to whatever is happening in the national/public systems roots from there? Does the song “sau me se assi baimaan, fir bhi mera bharat mahaan / Eighty out of hundred are thugs, still India is great” hints at our inaction as citizens?

The identity and related discussion

Why is a nationalist identity, or for that matter, any such social identity, important for us? Does it address any of the existential issues? I am not sure if it helps in my development directly, but I can certainly say that it offers a sense of security which lets my development happen in a freer environment. For instance, if I am playing and I know that there’s my “family” who will take care of me if I am hurt, I am more open to experiment with my play. Such security also enables me to take a stand against issues, as it did to our freedom fighters against British (We have read of many stories on how Kasturaba supported Mahatma Gandhi) .

Another important thing this identity may breed is, competition. I am not sure if “my attitude towards my scientific invention” would be enhanced by my nationalist views. However, as a collective national entity, we definitely try to fuel our “growth” (now this is really subject how we define “growth”) by the competition backed by nationalism. The only thing is if it’s intertwined with insecurity, we compete for nuclear bombs; if with excellence, we may compete for alternate energy sources.

The present or the future?

However, the issues discussed in above section of identity and related discussions arise only in “as-is” situation; the world of today, where we are dealing with the issues of survival against other “nations”. When someone is dealing with issues of survival, it becomes easy for him/her to find solace/company in people who may subscribe to similar ideologies/identity (nation, state, religion, caste, class, gender, sexuality and so on). But if the focus is the future, curriculum for schools worldwide, as also discussed in Radhika Herzberger’s paper “Education and Indian Nationalism”, should focus on the world and not only the nations.

The competition bred by nationalism may not give the best results, but the one cultivated by the teachings of citizenry may very well do. When we move away from nationalism to citizenship, we are actually moving from ignorance to intellectual dialogue. If a student understands his/her role in a national set up, and is enabled to express his/her idea (with respect to his/her nation) and apply his/her knowledge (in betterment of the lives of his/her fellow human beings, and not only the fellow countrymen), the results that will be produced will be, I think, far greater than it would be in an institution thriving on nationalism. I think, to build a future, and not only survive the struggles of the present, we need to engage in the debates and discussions where we allow our students to question the concept of nationhood, it’s history, the national myths, the current setup and the scope of improvisation. In the ever globalizing world today, it’s very important to move away from “us against them” construct and develop a global outlook, the one which teaches patience and tolerance toward variety of social identities which may differ from our own. Nationalism, by its philosophy, doesn’t offer that, and hence should not find a place in our schools. What would be important is to initiate a discussion on citizenship and its value in an individual’s and subsequently a country’s development.

In this light, I think, It is very important to move away from the songs we sang in first half of twentieth sanctuary (In fact a teacher in Japan stood against the government in resistance to sing the national song as to many it signified the country’s militaristic past). It’s very important that we discuss Gandhi in our schools as a leader (with his ideological merits and demerits) and not just read him as a messiah of independence struggle. It’s very important to understand the role of Hindus in creation of Pakistan as opposed to that only of Muslims we have been reading in our books. And now, It’s very important to ask our students “why?”, when they say “Mera Bharat Mahan!”

Note: This term paper was submitted for "Philosophy of Education" course as part of my M.A. in Education (Elementary) at TATA Institute of Social Sciences.