Pervasive Pedagogical Paradigms -Yvette C. Rosser

Pervasive Pedagogical Paradigms

Yvette C. Rosser


Published in SAGAR, South Asian Graduate Research Journal  Vol . 3. 1, Spring 1996.

The evolution of education in India is characterized by opposing tensions. From Macaulay’s Minute in 1835 came the idea of producing a cadre of native administrators, the now infamous “nation of clerks,” who would be Indian by race, but English in tastes, morals and intellect. To cultivate this appreciation of English culture and customs, the colonial curriculum stressed English law and literature. This paradigm was designed to create a cultured elite, steeped in Western values and loyal to the crown. It produced, as well, nationalist political leaders, who incorporated Western ideas into their own philosophical and political perspectives, and then used these critical skills against the imperialist system that had hoped to co-opt them. Though these intellectual leaders of Indian nationalism and revivalism drew heavily from indigenous sources, most of the pedagogical models and the teleological imperatives were, ironically, superimposed from the colonial system.

The emphasis on elite English education, and its displacement from traditional instructional models, resulted in a break with the everyday experiences of the “illiterate masses,” and thus reified the gap between the classes. The educated elites’ perception of “the uneducated population as an object of moral improvement”[1] is mirrored in the Utilitarian, Evangelical, Victorian educational models. Though British rule was cast off with relish, the educational models inherited from the colonizers continue to create paradoxical curricular paradigms in post-independence India.

This paper surveys the origins of educational policies during the colonial period. It briefly traces their appropriation and application by the nationalist movement and the persistence of these pedagogical paradigms in post-independence India. This discussion is situated within a critique of textbook-centered instruction. At the end of this paper I discuss a controversy that arose in the representation of history and the production of textbooks during the Janata government in the late seventies. The central question driving the writing of this paper asks, ‘Can a modernizing, post-traditional, multi-ethnic politicized nation-state such as India, build a democratic entity through the schools, using textbooks as resources? This paper discusses the influences of colonialism and nationalism on curriculum design and textbook writing in India and offers a conclusion that raises more questions than answers.


Drawing from the educational theories and practices contemporary in eighteenth and nineteenth century England, education in colonial India was designed to reflect the post-Enlightenment belief in reason, humanism, and liberalism that stressed the creation of an ordered civil society which guarded the rights of property and capital and imparted moral values to the population, specifically the upper classes. These ideals were supported by a centralized curriculum that depended on predetermined textbooks for its dissemination. In order to understand the conditions that shaped educational conventions, the origins of the pedagogical paradigms need to be mentioned, and their application, in the Indian milieu historicized.

In seventeenth and eighteenth century Britain, when print technology merged with new imperatives for centralized education, the textbook became a “basic instrument for the organization of curricula and teaching in national school systems.”[2] By the middle of the nineteenth century, the content of curricular materials was by and large centralized. Debate had begun in earnest among the ruling elites regarding the need for mass elementary education as a method to make good citizens of the general population.[3]  As education became a tool for social engineering, theories for teacher training replaced the personalized, scholarship-based patterns of earlier centuries. The move to teach large numbers of students simultaneously, and the imperative to impart cultural norms, created the need for standardized textbooks.

Prior to the nineteenth century, “teachers worked with individuals or small groups. . . schools [had] collections of texts.  [T]eachers would use books adventitiously to organize programs of instruction for individual students.”[4] A parallel can be drawn between this classical European system of pedagogy and the educational practices in ancient India. Gandhi’s statement at Chatham House, October 1931, criticizes the effect of the English educational system on traditional learning, “India is more illiterate than it was fifty or a hundred years ago . . .because the British administrators, when they came to India, instead of taking hold of things as they were, began to root them out.”[5]  Gandhi accused his colonizers of destroying the “beautiful tree”, the indigenous system of village schools.  By digging up the roots and leaving them exposed, the British made education too expensive for the common man and usurped traditional village schoolmasters.

Education, in the course of the nineteenth century, acquired a pedagogical imperative focused on the civilizing project. The curriculum became more controlled and standardized, centered around a required text, usually outside the individual teacher’s power to decide. Simultaneous with the adoption of textbook-directed education was a decline in the status of the teacher.[6]  Textbook-driven models give the impression that schools can simply hand the prescribed materials to an adult, who will teach by rote and recitation, utilizing the questions at the back of each chapter, the answers to which are often included in a teacher’s guide. By definition, this presupposes that the subject can be encapsulated and thus taught by an arbitrary individual or untrained moderator.[7]  This under-valuation of the teaching profession in turn legitimates under-paying teachers who are considered to be on the same professional level as clerks, their jobs often seen as simply administering records, distributing textbooks, and monitoring tests.

Textbook-centered curriculum models present the subject matter from one point of view, suggesting there are no others. It assumes the process of teaching is mechanical, and suggests that students are all the same.  It places, as well, too much authority in the hands of ideologues, who want to ensure that the subject is presented from their point of view. Ironically, the orientation and representation of the materials tend to change according to the vagaries of current educational theory, which is often dictated by non-scholastic forces. Textbooks present themselves as ideologically and politically neutral, which they are not. This construct denies the teacher, let alone the students the power to choose what is appropriate for the particular class. The most sacredly enshrined component of the educational experience becomes the student’s ability to pass a standardized text. Often the teacher’s job security depends on how well the students can recall and reproduce strings of facts. If textbooks are the primary source from which all information pertinent to evaluation is obtained, the necessity for the teacher to “cover” all the prescribed material therein lends a twist to the emphasis on facts as received knowledge which can cover or obfuscate the learning experience.

This unsatisfactory model predominates not only in India, past and present, but remains the usual method of instruction in most contemporary schools, East and West. With the advent of mass education, textbooks were seen as a way to keep large roomfuls of students on-task. This, in turn, promoted the production of textbooks by a profit-motivated publishing industry or by government-funded agencies. Teacher training became a matter of classroom management. Along with the decline in the status of educators, the personalized instruction of the earlier periods was lost to mass, centrally-generated educational paradigms that have persisted through the centuries.

In India, as in the West, a bureaucratized system of education undermined the teacher’s authority over curricula.[8]  This model obliged teachers to keep large groups of children orderly and to maintain daily records of attendance, expenditures, and test results. As their status declined dramatically, teachers faced financial loss, particularly when student performance during inspection became a criterion for financial grants. Teachers, as a rule, made a salary ten times less than the often intimidating inspecting officers. By 1918, it was apparent that, “Authority, while ceasing to examine the pupil, [was] increasingly bent on examining the teacher.”[9]  Teaching had become the “maintaining of accurate registers and records [and] sticking to the given order of lessons [from] whichever textbook had been prescribed.”[10]

Even though this form of education, characterized by the teleology of modernity and so essential to the civilizing project, disrupted, or uprooted, the indigenous systems, it fell, paradoxically, on fertile soil.  In both Hindu and Muslim schools, the preferred method of learning was rote memorization. Since both religions believe their respective holy books to be the revealed word of God, the exact syllabic reproduction of the words is essential. Traditionally, students at Madrassahs and Islamic-centered educational institutions were made to memorize long passages from the Qu’ran and from Persian literature, little of which they could actually understand. Similarly, students in Brahmanical schools memorized Sanskrit texts verbatim as an integral component of the learning experience. This call-and-response technique was ubiquitous and firmly established in the pedagogical practices of the subcontinent prior to the arrival of the Raj.  W.D. Arnold, Director of Public Instruction in Punjab, 1857-58, found the local people agreed upon “what constituted education,” which was “to read fluently and if possible to say by heart a series of Persian works of which the meaning was not understood by the vast majority, and of which the meaning, when understood, was for the most part little calculated to edify the [general population].”[11]  Traditions of reverential recitations of hieratic literature provided a field in which rote learning experiences, using English literature, could flourish.

The colonial educational system was dramatically divorced from the realities of the Indian milieu. Indigenous knowledge came to be viewed as deficient; vis-a-vis the current depraved condition of the Indian people. Orientalists and Indologists saw Indic civilization as the cradle of Europe, but surmised that the rise of “superstitious and irrational” practices had caused India to stagnate and regress. English-style education was promoted by Utilitarians such as John Stuart Mill and his father James, who wanted to create a class of Indians, well-educated in western ideas and sentiment, who would spread their influence to all of India.[12]


As early as 1776, Adam Smith criticized the East India Company, arguing that the preservation of British interests in India had given rise to additional responsibilities.[13]  Krishna Kumar notes ironically:

A commercial institution was thus made to become a colonial state and to change its rhetoric from profit for itself into service for the empire. . . It implied the creation of a new order in the colony, a civil society among the natives. The ethos, the rules and the symbols of the new order had to be constructed, in a manner that would not disturb the ongoing commercial enterprise. . . Within it, coercion had to be replaced by socialization.[14]

A primary method employed to achieve this goal was education. Aristocrats viewed the uneducated lower classes as illiterate, irrational, poor, dangerous, and a possible threat to their economic dominance. Education was considered necessary to ensure civil order and guarantee the rights of property.[15]

This civilizing hypothesis in the colonial context did not go unchallenged. Edmund Burke, among others of the bourgeoisie, argued that the fierce American desire for independence would never have succeeded had it not “been led by a determined educated class.”[16]   Steeped in John Locke and post-Reformation Humanism, the Americans could not but rebel against their colonial masters. Many British feared the same from their Indians subjects, if provided with the tools of rationalism. Such was their faith in the power of contemporary English education. [17]

General Cornwallis, who had recently tasted defeat during the America revolution, took up his next assignment as India’s Governor-General, determined to consolidate the empire. Cornwallis’s famous predecessor, Warren Hastings, “who himself was fully conversant with Bengali and Persian languages, contributed his share to the progress of education.”[18]   Hastings, a product of the Orientalist tradition, was concerned with discovering the missing links of civilization, and respected Indian customs and traditions. He did not share the Evangelical and Utilitarian viewpoint that promoted a “glorious vision of English education as the grand medium of transmitting the civilization and culture of Europe to a decadent Asiatic Society like India.”[19]  Instead, Hastings worked to establish the Calcutta Madrassah in 1781, “based on the age-old Mohammedan system of teaching Arabic and Persian.”[20]

In 1792, an Orientalist scholar, Jonathan Duncan, founded the Sanskrit College of Benares. In a letter to Cornwallis, Duncan defended the school, stating that the purpose of the institution was the “preservation and cultivation of the [indigenous] Laws, Literature, and Religion . . .[in order to] endear our Government to the native Hindoos.”[21]  The mandate for Orientalist education was to use the languages of the elite to educate Hindus and Moslems in their own laws and traditions. Early colonialists such as Hastings, were “deeply interested in the civilization of the sub-continent. Wishing to govern in harmony with the tradition of the people, he recruited [Sir William Jones] the first of a long series of British scholars to study the ancient laws of India.”[22]   These scholars were more intent on bringing Indian learning to Europe than on bringing European learning to the subcontinent.

The first English school was established in Madras as early as 1673, though it was meant to serve the Anglo-Indian population and the educational needs of the Company’s employees.[23]   By the end of the eighteenth century, several institutes of higher learning had been established for the native populations in Bengal, Bombay and Benares and other locales. With the beginning of the nineteenth century, colonial networks were firmly entrenched and imperialists’ concerns centered around methods of maintaining British dominance. In 1811, the Governor General, Lord Minto, (Gilbert Elliot) wrote that the depraved and corrupt condition of the people of India was related to the lack of education, “Little doubt can be entertained that the prevalence of the crimes of perjury and forgery. . . is in a great measure ascribable, both in the Mohomedans and Hindoos, to the want of due instruction in the moral and religious tenets of their respective faiths.”[24]   When the Charter for the East India Company was renewed in 1813, “a modest provision was made for the expenditure on institutions of learning.”[25] The Euro-centric influence of Evangelists, such as Charles Grant and T.B. Macaulay, initially contrasted with the mandates of Utilitarians such as James Mill, whose History of British India, first published in 1818, was immensely influential.

“The Utilitarians were interested in teaching the sciences, history, and philosophy, not literature and poetry.” They were impatient with the Orientalists’ indigenized approach to education, which had been designed during the early years of England’s consolidation of power in order to avoid alienating the local inhabitants. Missionary work, in fact, had at times been discouraged because it caused distrust among the “natives.” Mill did not give much credence to “the wishy-washy theories of acculturation by an English literary cult, a view that was much favored by the Evangelists and Macaulayists.” Evangelism, which equated social progress with Christianity, espoused “European education in alliance with the doctrine of Christianity, [to communicate] to the colonies the superior morals and knowledge of Europe [in order to] destroy the basis of their old beliefs and pave the way for conversion to Christianity.” [26]   All of these theories of education for India stressed educating the propertied members of society. The laboring classes were not seen as individuals; they were simply the “mass” of undifferentiated laborers, in India as in England.

Orientalist scholarship gradually lost its sway over colonial policy-making and ideas of conserving indigenous traditions in India were replaced by the “imperial urge to govern them and ‘civilize’ them according to British ideas.”[27]  The push to educate elite Indians in English gradually gained momentum. The idea was to educate a select group of the landed class who would then translate English law, poetry and literature into the native tongues, creating a trickle-down educational effect. European learning could thereby be appreciated by the masses and assist in their acquiescence and submission to the rule of what they would undoubtedly recognize as a technologically and morally superior civilization.

The Charter Act of 1833 opened the way for Indians to join the civil service. “From then on, every student was assumed to be aspiring for civil services as the Indian Civil servant was perceived as the heart of the small civil society.”[28]  State spending on education was justified on these grounds. Education for the sake of learning was less important than as a source of ethical uplift and the creation of a cheap labor pool for the colonial administration. Regardless, many Indians who were educated in the British system, felt a “new and positive self-image.” The tiny fraction of educated elites, from whom loyalty and morality was supposed to trickle down to the masses, soon became nationalists with another vision for India.

By 1857, the Orientalist orientation had given ground to the Anglicized Utilitarian position that promoted the study of English literature and eschewed the use of indigenous texts and knowledge.[29]  In this way, “the cosmopolitan and intellectual curiosity of the eighteenth century Enlightenment [gave way to the] messianism of the nineteenth century.”[30]  Ironically, it was the “vast body of knowledge, [from the Orientalists] and the stereotypes emanating from it, that were used by the Anglicist to attack the native culture.” Ultimately, both orientations contributed to the colonial enterprise, which, by rejecting indigenous models, “created a deep conflict between education and knowledge.”[31]  The ironies inherent in the English educational program thus brought its validity into question. Aspiring parents who wanted to gain socially and financially under the prevailing conditions, sent their sons to English schools in hopes that they would secure employment with the burgeoning bureaucracy, yet they feared the very system that offered them promises of prestige, precisely because English education was seen as divorced from Indian mores. Walsh notes in her study of children in British India that “the greatest fear of parents, particularly in the early years of the nineteenth century, was that their children would convert to Christianity.”[32]

The worst fears of the imperialists, namely that English education would create a class of dissident intellectuals who would question the authority of their masters, gradually emerged and subverted the Anglicizing project. Though the British continued to look down on the intellectual abilities of the “brown babus” as imitative and superficial, and though most of those educated in the English system were in many ways disassociated from their indigenous milieu, the grand scheme of totalizing acculturation could not stem the nationalist tide. Modernist leaders such as Ram Mohan Roy whole-heartedly embraced the ideals of the Enlightenment, and, influenced by Unitarian thought, sought to implement social reform. Traditionalists like Dayananda Saraswati promoted orthodox Vedic concepts in response to those imposed by the colonizers, while utilizing their own pedagogical paradigms in promoting mass education. Saraswati founded the Arya Samaj in order to counteract evangelical missionary rhetoric and the perceived threat of continuing Islamic conversions; he utilized print technology and established educational institutions with a centrally mandated curriculum.

Educators among the Islamic elite such as the two main figures in the founding of the Deoband school, Muhammad Qasim Nanautawi and Rashid Ahmad Gangohi, also played important roles. In the academic institution they established in Deoband in 1867, they did away with the personalized “teaching style that had been used for centuries. Students enrolled in the school studied a defined curriculum with annual examinations.”  Though the hadiith was central to the educational content, the organizational form was “adopted from the English model of education.” [33]

Mahatma Gandhi[34] forced the imperialists’ hand, demanding that they live up to their own ideals of rationalism[35] and the rights of humans. Through populist appeal, he mobilized a mass movement. These intellectuals, disenchanted with the discrepancies between ideas inculcated from British education and their hypocritical, imperialist application in India, sought to educate their countrymen in hopes of creating an anti-colonial, nationalist mandate. [36]


In 1996 there are over a million primary schools in India. After fifty years of independence, the paradigms inherited from the colonial system persist. The “iceberg-like submergence of English education in the socio-cultural milieu of India”[37] continues to reflect the pedagogical imperatives of the colonial educational system. Whether education is conducted in English or in the vernaculars, the acculturating project predominates. The roots of this legacy are so firmly implanted in Indian education that uprooting them would “demolish many a native undergrowth nourished by the spreading roots of the flowering tree.” However, the tools are available to recreate the orchard without destroying it. The waters of objectivity can nourish an examination of the essentializing models upon which various interpretations of the past are based. Weeding out narrowly defined curriculum materials and colonially-derived methods and models will allow more light to shine onto the grassroots of the Indian educational system.

The complexities of Indian society preclude a simplistic solution. Unfortunately, the strict adherence to the history-as-fact approach has created an either/or perspective of the past that divides the country into opposing camps. The very notion that history can be represented from a uni-vocal perspective is the paradigm that needs to be uprooted. Long before independence, nationalists recognized that education was one of the primary tools for building national integration. Unfortunately, its implementation often created discontinuity and displacement.

Through a series of Five Year Plans, the government of India has developed schemes for directing social uplift through the educational system, which was “assigned a pivotal role in the development process.”[38]  The first Five Year Plan, instituted in 1951, emphasized the need for expanding universal elementary education as well as for the reform of institutes of higher education. The second Five Year Plan focused on secondary education whereas the third and fourth Five Year Plans emphasized the need to train manpower and the relevance of education in the socio-economic sphere. The fifth Five Year Plan (1974-7) floundered, disrupted by a change in the central government; the short lived rule of the Janata coalition created a controversy discussed in the following section of this paper. The other Five Year Plans, 1980 through 1997, emphasize life-long learning and “making available the educational services to the socially deprived sections of society.”[39]  A vocational orientation in secondary education was also stressed in the later Five Year Plans. Though many advances have been made since independence, these well-intentioned goals remain largely unsatisfied, as almost half the population of India, particularly in the rural settings, continues to lag behind in literacy. Political changes in recent years have given rise to much soul searching concerning the efficacy of education as a means to achieve national integration, social upliftment, and economic opportunity.


Authoritarian moves made by Indira Gandhi created disaffection within the democratic polity; she was thus roundly voted out of office in 1977. At the beginning of the Janata coalition government’s brief tenure, a controversy arose over the representation of the historical record in prescribed history textbooks. Historians, commissioned by the National Council of Educational Research and Training, had, since the sixties, written textbooks which were subsequently distributed from the center to the states. The new coalition government, however, in the process of contesting the policies of the Congress Party, questioned the content of the government-sponsored history curriculum.

Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph offer an in-depth analysis of the ensuing public debate in their article, “The Textbook Controversy in India, 1977-79.”[40]  They question the ad hoc process by which public policy is determined in India, claiming, “It is more of a loose aggregate of spontaneous decisions than a body of coherent doctrine expressing intent and subject to policy choice and guidance.”[41]  The most interesting point raised by the Rudolphs questions the very reasoning through which “both Congress and the Janata governments assumed they could and should intervene in a tutelary and patrimonial manner on behalf of their very different world-views and priorities.”[42]

A divide exists in modern India between the Marxist/secularists and the Hindu-oriented historians. The secularists, who for decades enjoyed the support of the ruling Congress party, considered their work as the legacy of Nehru’s secular cultural policy, which “denied the relevance of religion to a national political identity.” A strong mandate prevailed within the Congress party to promote an “aggressive left secularism in institutional arrangements, ideological formulations, and scholarship.”[43]  The establishment and support of Jawaharlal Nehru University reflected these perspectives. Historical texts produced during this period emphasized the socio-economic variables as central to their historical narrations. They down-played religious motivations, considering them to be communalistic[44] and divisive.

The Janata government, led by Morarji Desai, objected to this interpretation of “medieval” Indian history, often referred to as the “Muslim period.” They felt that the “pseudo-secularist” representation of history denigrated Indic civilization and whitewashed the Muslim record of a “thousand years of conquest.” Among the critics was R.C. Majumdar, a historian who held that religion was an essential element in the composition of India’s past and that Hindus and Muslims had always constituted separate communities.[45]  In his book, Glimpses of Bengal in the Nineteenth Century, Majumdar emphasizes the sharp divide that characterized inter-religious relationships:

A fundamental and basic difference between the two communities was apparent even to the casual observer. Religious and social ideas and institutions counted for more in men’s lives in those days than anything else; and in these two respects the two differed as poles asunder[46]. . . It is a strange phenomenon that although the Muslims and Hindus had lived together in Bengal for nearly six hundred years, the average people of each community knew so little of the other’s traditions.[47]

Majumdar, among others, was critical both of the widely distributed textbooks, written with what they considered to be a secular Marxist slant, and of the appropriation of the historical narrative to promote a particular agenda for national integration. They felt that these historical accounts of the Islamic interface with the indigenous Hindu population down-played the religious motivations and created the impression that “idol breakers” such as Mahmud of Ghazni and Aurangzeb were driven primarily by plunder and not religious fervor. They claimed that by glossing over the motivations of these historical figures, students were denied access to facts central to the medieval period. Five history textbooks were called into question, several were eventually recalled, and a lively public debate ensued.[48]

The memorandum critical of the books sent from the Prime Minister’s Office to the Education Minister was leaked to Romila Thapar, who went public with the information by sending a rebuttal to the press. In her published statement, Thapar accused the Janata government of meddling with the methods of historical scholarship.[49]  In an interview written by Maneesha Lal and published in the Spring 1995, South Asian Newsletter at the University of Pennsylvania, Thapar stated, “My position at the time was who is the Prime Minister to ban these books; he’s not a historian, they would never do that with a book on chemistry or physics but they think history is their birthright.” In the same interview, Thapar claims that “All history is contemporary history; you can’t get away from the politics around you.”[50]  Thapar’s critics would argue that she is also subject to the political orientation enshrined by the heritage of the Nehruvian social agenda.

The socialist/secular project and its application to the representation of the historical record was a hotly debated topic. Secularism as an expression of freedom of religion was not so much in question, but the twists and turns of political reinterpretation to which it had been subjected in the multicultural Indian setting led to uneven application. Scholars such as Ashis Nandy and T.N. Madan confronted the issue with open-mindedness, attempting to redefine the concept of secularism within the Indian context.

The textbook debate raged for months and was discussed in the Rajya Sabha, the upper house of the parliament. Liberal intellectuals, such as V.P. Dutt, testified that medieval Indian history could be used by “communal forces to divide the country, and . . . pleaded for history that promoted integration.”[51]  Nurul Hasan agreed, arguing that “medieval Indian societies, like all medieval societies, were exploitative. The religious beliefs of rulers and ruled were irrelevant.”[52]  He concluded that textbooks should “provide school children with a wholesome history.” Ironically, the method used to achieve this idealistic goal was the very source of the controversy: it centered around expunging the historical record of conflict and denying the religiosity of the medieval period in order to create a more harmonious retelling of the past. Ultimately, the Janata coalition government fell, and Indira Gandhi was returned to office. The textbooks brought under fire remained in circulation,[53] as does the furor among political factions concerning the representation of history.


The complexities of Indian society preclude a simplistic solution. Unfortunately, the strict adherence to the history-as-fact approach has created an either/or perspective of the past, which divides the country into opposing camps. The very notion that history can be represented from a uni-vocal perspective is the paradigm that needs to be uprooted. Long before independence, nationalists recognized that education was one of the primary tools for building national integration. Unfortunately, its implementation often created discontinuity and displacement.

The representation of the historical record is rarely free from reinterpretation by the currents of political interests. History textbooks are often the battleground of conflicting forces that appropriate the medium to promote history as it “should be viewed” in order to indoctrinate nationalism, patriotism or particular ideological perspectives. As Jim Loewen states, “[H]istory textbooks offer students no practice in applying their understanding of the past to present concerns, hence no basis for thinking rationally about anything in the future . . .Textbooks rarely present the various sides of historical controversies and almost never reveal to students the evidence on which each side bases its position.”[54]  Denial of aspects of the past creates a wall between the student’s experience of modern social problems and his or her ability to use the knowledge of the past to illuminate the present.

This topic is of pressing interest in light of continuing religious, economic and social tensions in the Subcontinent and is especially essential to modern India’s self-aware democratic institutions. Citizens are profoundly influenced by the social tools employed within educational paradigms which can be used to promote political or religious ideologies. Only a multiperspectival representation of Indian history, which examines documentation from a variety of sources, will empower students in contemporary India to confront the problems of the present, built upon a comprehensive understanding of their historical heritage. Students trained in critical analysis will have the intellectual tools capable of freeing them from dogmatic attachment to a particular discourse, which will enable them to investigate the complex inter-relationships within Indian society. If deprived of this intellectual opportunity, old wounds will continue to fester for the foreseeable future and communalism will continue to tear apart the fabric of this great and ancient land.

[1]Krishna Kumar, Political Agenda in Education: A Study of Colonialist and Nationalist Ideas, (New Delhi: Sage, 1991) 24.

[2] David L Elliott and Arthur Woodward, eds. Textbooks and Schooling in the United States: Eighty-nineth Yearbook of the National Society for the Study of Education ,Part I. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990) 4.

[3] It wasn’t until the mass education experiments of the twentieth century that non-elites had access to education. Prior to the modern era, education was the exclusive domain of the upper classes, in pre-modern England, ancient Greece and  Rome, colonial India, and the early years of the American Republic, and so on.

[4]David L Elliott and Arthur Woodward, eds. Textbooks and Schooling, 4.

[5] Dharampal, The Beautiful Tree: Indigenous Indian Education in the Eighteenth Century (New Delhi: Biblia Impex, 1983) vi.

[6]Gail Minault points out that a redirection of the sources of patronage from princely endowments to government funding influenced the kind of choices that were made.

[7]See Gloria Gannaway, Transforming Mind: A Critical Cognitive Activity. (Westport, CT: Bergin & Garvey, 1994).

[8]Krishna Kumar, Political Agenda of Education, 73.

[9]The India Review 11 (November 1918): 290.

[10]Krisha Kumar, Origins, of India’s Textbook Culture, Occasional Papers on History and Society No. 47 (New Delhi: Nehru Memorial Museum and Library, 1987) 13.

[11]Richey, J.A., (ed.), Selections from Educational Records, Part II 1840-1859, (New Delhi: Published for the National Archives of India by the Manager of Publications, 1965) 301.

[12]Sir Thomas Raleigh, Lord Curzon of India, (London: Macmillan, 1906) 316.

[13]See P.J. Marshall, Problems of Empire, (London: George Allen and Unwin, 1968).

[14]Krishna Kumar, Political Agenda of Education, 26.

[15]The same pedagogical imperative was applied to the population of England as well as to Indian subjects. In India, as in England, only the elites were deemed worthy of imbibing gifts that a western education would bestow, education of the working class was not considered cost-effective. Education was not offered to the urban poor in England until later. The poor were seen as a possible threat to social order that needed moral training more than intellectual development.

[16]Kalyan K. Chatterjee, English Education in India: Issues and Opinions, (New Delhi: Macmillan, 1976) 1.

[17] Gandhi drew his movement from Indic sources.

[18]P. L. Rawat, History of Indian Education, (Agra: Ram Prasad).

[19]Kalyan K. Chatterjee, English Education in India, 2.

[20]Ibid., 4.

[21]Henry Sharp, Selection from Educational Records, Pt I, (Calcutta:Superintendent of Government Printing, Calcutta, 1920) 137.

[22]Josselyn Hennessy, “British Education for an Elite in India,” in Governing Elites,, ed. Rupert Williams, (OUP, 1969), 136.

[23]P.L. Rawat, History of Indian Education, 128.

[24]A.N. Basu, ed., Indian Education in Parliamentary Papers, Part I, (Bombay: 1952)145.

[25]Krishna Kumar, Political Agenda of Education, 25.

[26]Kalyan K.Chatterjee, English Education , 10-11.

[27]Ibid., 15.

[28]Krishna Kumar, Political Agenda of Education, 30

[29]Some Utilitarians, such as Mills, advocated translating English literature into local languages.

[30]Chatterjee, 53.

[31]Kumar, Political Agenda in Education, 68.

[32]Judith Walsh, Growing Up in British India, (London: Holmes and Meier, 1983) 44.

[33]Kenneth Jones, The New Cambridge History of India, Socio-religious reform movements in British India. (New York: Cambridge University Press, 1989) 58.

[34]Gandhi’s educational theories–a skills based, small scale, village centered paradigm was not embraced by the Congress.

[35]It has been pointed out that logic, analyses of the processes of rational thought, are not exclusive products of post-Enlightenment Europe, but that these concepts also exist in classical Indian philosophy.

[36]It has also been pointed out that “nationalism” meant something quite different to a nineteenth century Indian than the concept of nationhood from a European perspective, more than race, ethnicity or language; it was instead, a civilizational concept.

[37]Chatterjee, English Education, 187.

[38]Aggarwal, Landmarks in the History of Modern Indian Education, (New Delhi: Vikas Publishing House, 1983) 406.


[40]See Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph, “The Textbook Controversy in India, 1977-79,” Public Affairs 56, no. 1 (spring 1983).

[41]I strongly question the implication that India is in isolation concerning the arbitrary implementation of public policy in view of the politically directed nature inherent in the creation of most textbooks, and particularly in light of the current political climate in the U.S. in which the National History Standards, the work of hundreds of historians and educators, was called into question by conservative politicians who forced a revision that more closely suited their interpretation of the past.

[42]Susanne and Lloyd Rudolph, “The Textbook Controversy in India, 1977-79,” 17.

[43]Ibid., 19.

[44]Communalism in the Indian context means something quite opposite than the common interpretation of the term.

[45]Ironically, this echoes the Pakistani version of historical fact and the inevitability of the Two Nation Theory.

[46]Many modern Hindu intellectuals would conversely argue that for centuries in Bengal, Hindus and Muslims had lived together quite seamlessly because the Muslims, who had been “plucked from their Hindu roots,” were “not totally Islamisized” and continued to operate within the social system. When the census of 1881 revealed a Muslim majority in Bengal, it came as a surprise to the colonial census takers and to the local inhabitants, because there had been a continuity of culture among the social groups, until forced by colonial classifications to declare their religious differentness.

[47]R.C. Majumdar, Glimpses of Bengal in the Nineteenth Century, ( Calcutta: 1960) 5-6.

[48]The books were: Medieval India (1967), by Romila Thapar; Modern India (1970), by Bipan Chandra; Freedom Struggle (1972) by Amales Tripathi, Barun De and Bipan Chandra; Communalism and the Writing of Indian History (1969), by Romila Thapar, Harbans Mukhia and Bipan Chandra; and Ancient India (1977), by R.S. Sharma.

[49]Ironically, a decade later, Thapar also falls into the same trap, by calling the scholarship and reputation of the well respected archeologist B.B. Lal into question, regarding his excavation and analysis at the Ram Janmabhumi/Babri Masjid site.

[50]A statement reminiscent of George Orwell in 1984: “Who controls the present controls the past.”

[51]Rudolphs, Textbook, 30.


[53] note: [2001 update]. These are the same textbooks that were targeted for replacement by the BJP government.

[54]Loewen, Lies, 265.

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This entry was posted on January 30, 2015 by .
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