Comments from the final exam

One of the essays that my students had for their final was one wherein they had give suggestions to a princely state (Hindu ruled, Muslim majority) on the border of India and Pakistan in August of 1947. Basically they had to choose either India or Pakistan to join, keep down violence, easy the passage of refugees moving through the state and then find a way to prevent, or otherwise deal with violence against women. These were all issues dealt with in class and in the readings, but, to be fair, a lot of this was what actually happened and what failed.

There were some very, very good suggestions for these issues, both for people who supported joining India and for joining Pakistan. Leaving alone your typical misunderstandings like where Nepal is in comparison to the India-Pakistan border, What exactly a Christian nation is (hint: A Hindu ruled, Muslim majority country is in no way a peaceful, Christian nation), some of the suggestions were frightfully naive.

Note: some of this is my own worldview coming out, cynical as it sometimes is. I tend to see myself as a realist (check this), not eager to use force, but understanding that sometimes it is necessary. Further, I venture that there are times when an active response is better than a passive one. Due respect to Gandhi, but most people do not have that influence.

I was blown away how many people suggested that the best way to quell communal violence was for the Raja to go on the radio and give a moving speech about non-violence. On one hand I applaud the effort, and they are right, there should be some sort of communication pleading for an end to violence, and reminding people that they have more binding them than separating them, but even Gandhi was only able to quell the violence by starving himself nearly to death. Further, he was a beloved figure, and a well known advocate of free India–not a prince. In a void such as this question, Gandhi would have more influence and more capacity to influence people passively than would the prince. Note: no essay actually suggested the Raja attempt a hunger strike.

The second issue that shocked me was one essay which suggested the best way to prevent violence and deal with the refugees would be to create routes across the country, complete with pit stops where community women (guarded by the police) would volunteer to give out refreshments. “I truly believe that with this type of hospitality, travelers would be highly unlikely to become violent.”

And then there was the issue of education. I am fully in support of education. I think all people should be as well educated as they can, or want, to be. It should be affordable, and for at least high school it should be mandatory. But a large number of people on these essays wrote some combination of curfew, martial law and mandatory education. Granted, the curfew and martial law were to stop abductions, rapes and murders, and the mandatory education was to teach people that violence and intolerance is wrong, but what was actually being suggested was a benevolent totalitarian state. In the ideal world this is safe, and we would all live a happy-go-lucky existence. The reality, though is that a benevolent totalitarianism is only better than non-benevolent totalitarianism in the outcome and sometimes changing the message is easier than changing the government.

With the exception of the lemonade stand idea, these were issues suggested in multiple essays. Off the top of my head, I would say that these answers got poor grades, but more because it was the only idea suggested for that aspect of partition. If, instead of ‘the leader giving a speech will work’, they gave ‘speech and some other idea, I would have given them more credit.

For entirely unrelated reasons (I was doing laundry) this morning I was watching ABC kids. During one of the commercial breaks from The Mighty Morphin Power Rangers (an ABC kidified version rerun of the original series, which was most of the reason I was actually watching), there was one of these Disney stars who came on to talk about…something. TO be honest I wasn’t exactly listening, but I think it had to do with education or literacy or something. What I did catch reminded me a good deal of these essays with the message ‘if we just do this one little, easy thing, then the world will be made all better.’ This is not to say that ABC kids is to blame. I believe there is some deeper current in American culture which has perpetuated myths about voice and action. Some US foreign policy seems to work that way, the spectacles that are beauty pageants certainly do, ABC Kids does, and these essays certainly do. Faced with a situation which they don’t have a practical answer, but need to say something, they default to “be nice” (note: foreign policy language tends to be more forceful and more professional).

I realize that teaching our kids that the world is a terrible place and is out to get them isn’t the right solution, either, but at some age their horizons need to expand beyond Hollywood and TV. They need to learn about history and politics and other cultures. And that age should definitely come before college.

Ironically, after Power Rangers was a Cindy Crawford face-cream special infomercial.

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