Sunday, April 22, 2012

self identity

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Tolerance, Self¡VIdentity, and Class Room Practices

The national education policy is a blueprint to foster inter-racial harmony and tolerance. The assumption is that if we can instil these values in the hearts and minds of the younger generation (most of whom are in the schools) than we can build a future society that will not self-destruct due to narrow self interest and prejudices. Once again, this responsibility is put on the shoulders of teachers. Instead of viewing it as an unwanted burden, teachers should feel honoured that the nation has categorically put the trust of ensuring the future of the country in their hands. This is indeed a powerful position to be in. The question is are teachers aware of this?

Although, tolerance and racial harmony should be inculcated from the very beginning of schooling, it actually becomes a serious issue only at the secondary level. At the primary level, children are just children. They play, fight and get back together. They seldom hold grudges. Their animosity, if one exists, does not last for long and unless consciously taught by irresponsible adults, they do not habour racial prejudices.

However, at the secondary level, students become more aware of their identity. Erik Erikson, the famous psychologist, said that we create our self identity at the adolescence stage. This is the time when one’s racial, cultural and linguistic identity becomes important in ones life. Adolescents like to think of themselves and everything associated with them as unique and superior compared to others. They find it difficult to accept the fact that other races and cultures too have their own uniqueness and claims of greatness. Hence, it is very easy for adolescents to withdraw into a false sense of racial/cultural exclusiveness because for them this is the only way to preserve their identity. This problem will take on a nasty dimension when undesirable elements from the society at large gain excess to their minds and hearts. The end result of this is we will have to deal with adolescents who are self centred, bigots and over zealous in exhibiting their racial and cultural identity.

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What can teachers do to enhance the development of students?positive self identity and at the same time instil tolerance and understanding among them ? First, teachers themselves must have developed a stable and healthy self identity. Many adults do not grow out of their adolescence ways and they carry this psychological baggage all through their lives. Second, teachers must not pretend that racial and cultural differences do not exists or that they are not important. In a multi racial classroom, teachers should talk about these differences. For example, they can discuss the taboos relating to food and drinks among the various races and the social and religious reasons behind it. They can discuss the major precepts of the various religions in this country. Even the so called controversial ones. The important thing is how it is discussed not what is being discussed. Third, teaching tolerance and building a healthy self identity must be viewed as a conscious effort. It does not take place automatically even in the most supportive environment. Fourth, teachers must ensure that students of various racial and cultural background feel that they are being treated fairly and equally. Nothing is more heart breaking than to hear students complaining of being sidelined due to their race or religion.

The classroom may become the battleground or the playground of our future generation. Teachers have the power to make that choice.

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