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BW Businessworld

Analysis: Sleight Of Hand

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The idealism of education is not about having one’s head in the clouds but about being fully mindful of the goings-on in the larger society. Not supporting them, but just being aware.

The search for the truth, or the search for precision in whichever domain of study we undertake, ensures that we continue to evolve and reach higher rather than lower levels. If people become cynical about learning, then who will provide the engine for the future?

The belief that education must be moderated by a large dose of reality means only that our students need to be better informed about the legacies that are constantly in the making by opportunists and the short-sighted, and the price they are likely to pay in future.

There is a fundamental ‘sleight of hand’ involved in this story. Organisations can play around with their standard ‘tolerance ranges’. The idea that “schools should bring in reality” puts the entire blame on the so-called idealism of schools. The issue is not the school but the people in organisations who want to take short cuts to maximise their gains. If schools do not have ideals, how can the future be an advancement of the present?

We are all aware of how progressively standards can get eroded. Pieces of chicken falling on the floor to be picked up and used without a care or tweaking quality standards to pass sub-optimal products, or whatever else, over time results in a very different product with less defined standards than was perhaps envisaged at the start of the operation. 

The insinuation that the youth have their heads in the clouds or that those responsible for education are being unrealistic is getting the facts all wrong. Perhaps, the kids need to ‘tour’ the reality of the adult ‘sleight of hand’, the so-called grey zones, or rampant opportunism, as evidence of what is actually happening, and then perhaps reflect about what is appropriate and right.

Education, like the judiciary, needs to maintain its impartiality for the truth. A corrupted judiciary will result in the absence of safety and a degeneration that will go uncontrolled.  Over time there will be anarchy or the absence or disregard of the law. 

A corrupted education system will result in people who will have no standard for the truth at the heart of all disciplines. Anything will be considered right and acceptable. Where will we stand in the world stage?

It is not just about providing more and more mindless people as part of the workforce. This case study makes it appear as if those with falling standards in the world of work are trying to co-opt students to turn a blind eye to what is happening and appreciate the ‘grey’ as a necessity and not as a form of corrupt or unethical practices.

Take an instance from our not too distant past: Are we saying that the standards broken for the disastrous Commonwealth Games are really acceptable? That’s the reality of the world and we have to accept it? To hope for something aspirational, better, more vibrant, more inspiring is idealistic? Do we want our children to become cynical and taking short-cuts at every step of the way? What will this do for us as a nation?

Old Mr Kundu, Punya’s father (of Part 1), seems to think that his own helplessness as a professional should translate as moderating the idealism of students. Granted that he had a lot of reasons why he was helpless but to think that his constraints should be a lesson for education makes it sound as though he is displacing his anger away from where it really belongs. 

Idealism is about aspiration, growth and evolution. One cannot grow by not looking at the facts. Our leaders, with their failings or virtues, have to be seen as they are. The objective has to be of going beyond them, and not fitting into their definition of the game.

 Those in education who are truly promoting excellence through enquiry and reflection are the real heroes — they have the courage to do so inspite of a large group that treats the process like a factory for cogs in the proverbial wheel.

The author is a consultant at the Centre For Creative Leadership, Asia-Pac

(This story was published in BW | Businessworld Issue Dated 26-08-2013)

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