Politics in the English Classroom
Louis KAMPF AND PAUL LAUTER (EDS), THE POLITICS OF LITERATURE : DISSENTING ESSAYS ON THE TEACHING OF ENGLISH,
Vintage Books, New York 1973.
IT IS high time that the teachers of literature in our country did some hard collective thinking about the purpose and mode of their dignified but ineffective intellectual exercises. To judge by the reading habits of our 'educated9 readers, the teaching of the finest specimens of English and Indian writing has no impact on their sensibility. A minority of dedicated and persevering students manage to survive the mill of literature teaching with their literary taste and sensibility comparatively unscathed. But students in general lose all interest in serious literature the moment they hand over their examination answer-books. They seldom read poetry after that momentous ceremony; and the kind of fiction they read makes it plain that they have not learned how to receive what the great novels aim at giving. The tragedy is that many of these become teachers of literature in their turn. Even a random statistical survey will disclose that the majority of the teachers of literature have strayed into the profession prompted more by the compulsions of personal economics than by a sense of dedication to transmit ^humane" values. It must be a most disturbing thought, at least to some, that the teaching of literature which has much potential for radicalizing our consciousness in our conflict-ridden society is done in a spirit of social indifference and political irrelevance.
Till recently, the teachers of Indian literatures were discriminated against as inferior academics, were paid less. and, to add insult to injury, were derogatorily called munshis or pandits. If you call a group of people pandits for a fairly long time you should not be surprised if they develop some typical characteristics of that species: obscurantism in matters of ideas and a near-total insensitivity to the question of the relevance of what they teach to the pulsating variegated life around them.