Thursday, November 9, 2017

Ryan murder case and dreaded everydayness: Foucault bites back

Can anyone remember the last major reform in the performance appraisal of the students, or mechanisms of measurement of merit in the education system? Frankly there isn't any! There are instances of development of reform like trends, such as, making learning more informative - the advent of surface learning by making students to mug up information - which in my opinion is meaningless because now we have google to do that! There seems to be increasing emphasis on 'training' rather than education. Yes, the coming generation are trained to do certain precise things which is at per with the increasing mechanisation of the nature of work force. Hence, as a student you are supposed to know a hell lot of things. You are supposed to memorise them and reproduce them like a computer without virus capable of giving prints to a billion flawless copies.

What if that computer fails? Yes, we look for potential 'problems' that stops the machine to do what is expected from it. If it can be fixed it is fine, if not it adds to the huge lump of electronic waste! What if a child fails in a similar way? Yes, we become equally frustrated add extra private tutor (like adding an additional RAM) and compare them with others who are performing better. If the child is failing repeatedly to perform as expected, what we do is finely shown in the movie Taare Zameen Par. See the clipping below.

Repeated failure and there is a chance of a complete disaster. There is hardly any space left where the child can vent out her/his accumulated frustrations. Their natural games are also been replaced because of lack of playground and too many engagements and tuitions. In one of my earlier post I wrote extensively on this. It is a fact that while in many urban centers there is a vanishing space for children to play, in rural places there is vanishing number of playmates hence the picture is gloomy everywhere (click here). The little games they are allowed to play is under strict supervision of the coach - which is not much different from the ways they are supposed to study. In art school they are supposed to paint according to the art teacher who (usually) only guides them to colour within the countour of the drawing and anything that goes beyond the boundary is considered mistake. Similarly, those who swim are frustrated with their coaches because before they could love water and their body within it, the coach is asking them to rectify the butterfly strokes! Come'on not everyone is going to become Sachin, nor everyone is going to be a Olympic swimmer. We are thankful Vincent or Leonardo didn't have a coach to 'discipline' them.

The murder of a 7-year-old child allegedly by a class XI student perhaps shows all the symptoms of an outcome of present everydayness of late capital child rearing practices. The class XI student wanted to delay the examination because he was ill prepared. I remember whenever there were some examinations approached that too of serious ones I used to pray to make some kind of natural calamity (rainfall or storm) so that the exam gets deferred and so that I can prepare! These were wishful thoughts but then I used to think okay, whatever! There will always be another exam where I can do well. My friends from school (apart from the consistent first ten ranking students or so) more or less used to have similar thought pattern. Our parents demanded us to secure qualifying marks in subjects where we were weak. For the rest, above 50% would have been sufficient for us to satisfy them. They would only say "okay, perform better next time, play less and concentrate." That's it, everything remained the same. This, dear readers, have changed a lot. I knew a few of my friends who used to score top marks and then failed to do so had faced hardship from their parents. They had set the expectations and their parents reciprocated. I guess, these forms of expectations like conspicuous consumption have percolated everywhere. Now, even the bottom most pupil are facing similar pressure that the top one of his/her class faces.

For Foucault let me begin by quoting him from his monumental "Discipline and Punish" (read the book here). Foucault (1975) writes :

"Historically, the process by which the bourgeoisie became in the course of the eighteenth century the politically dominant class was masked by the establishment of an explicit, coded and formally egalitarian juridical framework, made possible by the organization of a parliamentary, representative regime. But the development and generalization of disciplinary mechanisms constituted the other, dark side of these processes. The general juridical form that guaranteed a system of rights that were egalitarian in principle was supported by these tiny, everyday, physical mechanisms, by all those systems of micro-power that are essentially non-egalitarian and asymmetrical that we call the disciplines."" (222)

Now extend the idea of "formally egalitarian judicial framework" a little further to see the egalitarianism and supposed equal opportunities among the pupils of an institutions. The basic logic is that each student's performance is now measured in some supposedly objective measure through gradation (it is even more objective with Multiple Choice Questions), hence, a student's performance will indicate her/his position. The mechanisms of 'discipline' demands to "follow what coaches ask!" "...these tiny, everyday, physical mechanisms, by all those systems of micro-power that are essentially non-egalitarian and asymmetrical..."

What happens when you cannot cope with the 'Coach' or the disciplining practices! You know what is waiting for you at domestics. You have no playground to vent out emotions, and you are surrounded by a number of threat perceptions!

No one knows "how many deaths will it take 'til he knows/ That too many people have died?" The system will remain the same be it gradation, judgement of merit or potential. On the top of which there will be pressures for 'disciplining' because that is what suits the late capital utility maximisation. There will be blood! More cases like Ryan murder and Foucault will keep on shouting from a distant past!

For the detailed case - click here

Pic Courtesy: NDTV.


  1. Comment from Tathagata Bandyopadhyay who couldn't comment here. Sent via whatsapp.

    Interesting reading of the case.
    Here's another murder committed by children (they were not even teenagers):

    It isn't just children. It's the species. Human cruelty is unlimited. See here (or don't; I just read the headline, didn't have the stomach to watch the video):

  2. Very well put!! the issue of 'panoptican gaze' is omnipresent....and dangers underpinning it keep showing up in such incidences now and then.

  3. the above two comments have made almost all the points. I would like to mention that we are really afraid of the situation in which we are heading. Some might say its not that gloomy or this is at per with the kind of 'change' that is happening since time immemorial. However, I am not that positive spirited. I do believe that the things which are happening now is ontologically different and unprecidental. These are not quantitatively different but these differ in quality.