A house without books is like a room without windows

By Arushi Sharma. Arushi, 20, lives in Delhi, India. She studies commerce at the University of Delhi. Please read her article and leave your thoughts and comments below.

‘The whole purpose of education is to turn mirrors into windows.’ – Sydney J. Harris’A house without books is like a room without windows.’ – Horace Mann

Education enables a person to break free from dyed-­in­-the-­wool opinions, and to think critically and independently. It urges the mind to look outside of the sameness, for opportunities.

The first step of the process is developing the basic reading and writing proficiency, and cognizance of individual and civil rights. A large part of the world’s population lives in the shadow of obscurity, nescient of their basic human freedom. Acquisition of knowledge can fulfill one’s need for self-improvement, social interaction, economic employment, et al. After all, education is inherent in self-actualization – the most important need of the ladder. Just like a mirror reflects objects as they are, in an ordered community, all activities are predetermined and societal roles are preassigned. Education opens a window of possibilities; it lets a person explore opportunities and act on them.

‘At back of the dim class,

One unnoted, sweet and young: His eyes live in a dream,

Of squirrels’ game, in tree room, other than this.’ – Stephen Spender

Langston Hughes had said that life is a broken winged bird if dreams die. But for many, who are constantly bogged down by their state of poverty and the concomitant misery, dreams are unaffordable. Functional literacy can make them better off; educational achievements in disadvantaged groups can enhance the ability to resist oppression. Education empowers them, empowers them to dream.

‘Tell me and I forget. Teach me and I remember. Involve me and I learn.’ – Benjamin Franklin

Education is an act of learning, but the definition doesn’t end there. The second step is creating something by putting the knowledge and skills to use, which makes the nature of imparting knowledge essential. Being able to regurgitate facts in examinations is not the yardstick of one’s intellect. The focus should not be on mere replication of instructions, but on encouragement of innovative thinking. And innovation is about practical creativity – it is about making new ideas useful. When one can apply theoretical concepts to venture into new avenues, and aid progress, education comes to fruition.

Analogical to a Chinese landscape painting, education should capacitate one to tread the path of life freely. A Chinese painter does not choose a single viewpoint, and allows the viewer to travel in the artwork, to participate. Thus, the landscape is an inner one, a conceptual space. In a similar fashion, education should not pose limitations, but unlatch the doors of imagination.

Thirdly, it is not just the intrinsic value but also the distributive value of education that makes it fundamental. Thus, the aim of pedagogy and andragogy should be to develop creative thinkers and problem solvers who can become instruments of change. When that happens, it will not only work in favour of the one on the receiving end of learning, but will have an impact on various other lives through interpersonal connections. A community may benefit generally from the civic attention it receives through the educated activism of a particular group within that community.

The onus is on every one of us – and not only on the incumbent – to educate the deprived and unlettered in our personal capacity. When we understand this, when we learn to tolerate and contribute, all of us may have a chance at happiness. A sentient individual is one who is environmentally conscious, tolerant and respectful of others’ opinions, one who can truly be called ‘educated’. With awareness, debacles can be prevented. With erudition, the edifice of regressive beliefs can be crushed. By sharing, knowledge will only grow.

‘Let their tongues

Run naked into books the white and green leaves open

History theirs whose language is the sun.’ – Stephen Spender

A mirror can produce an image without even absorbing it, while a window provides access to a myriad other images – of swards awaiting foliage. Let us sculpt an education that unlocks this window, and coalesces that mirror room with the world outside.

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