Date(s) - 17/01/2022
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Dr. Budd Hall and Dr. Rajesh Tandon spoke at the Gandhi-King Lecture Series on 17 January, 2022 hosted by the West Virginia University Eberly College of Arts and Sciences, on ideas of Gandhi and Martin Luther King Jr as they relate to higher education and social justice.
Dr. Budd Hall began by acknowledging that he was privileged to live and speak from the lands of the Lekwungen-speaking peoples, the Songhees, Esquimalt and Saanich First Nations who have been on Vancouver Island where he lives, for over 12,000 years. With full awareness of the history of genocide and colonization which has taken place in both Canada and the USA and continues in some aspects today, he started with the words of Martin Luther King Jr
We, the disinherited of this land, we who have been oppressed so long, are tired of going through the long night of captivity. And now we are reaching out for the daybreak of freedom and justice and equality.
He was deeply honoured to have been invited to share some reflections on the ideas of Gandhi-ji and Martin Luther King Jr as they relate to higher education and social justice at a powerful time. A time of fear but also a time of hope.
While still attending Moorehouse college in Atlanta, Georgia, Martin Luther King Junior spoke of the function of education.
“The function of education, therefore, is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. But education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the person gifted with reason, but with no morals.”
Maroon Tiger (January-February 1947): 10.
He spoke about the work of two people that he has been working with over the past months and weeks. One person is a recent Doctoral student whose work he has been supervising. The other is Dr. Lorna Wanosts’7a Williams, an Indigenous Professor and Elder with whom he has been working on a number of UNESCO projects. Both of them in powerful ways have told him that universities, that higher education has not served people like them.
His doctoral student comes from a background of generational poverty. She has recently finished a PhD thesis that documents the struggles against erasure that persons like herself have experienced in university. Erasure of the knowledge which students of generational poverty bring to the academic world. Erasure of the meaning of daily struggles for survival to pay rent, dental care, buy academic materials, have transportation to class. Erasure of the concept of poverty class from the list of inequalities that universities take into account. Race, gender, sexuality, ableism and sometimes ageism are filters of inequality that are established. Class and generational poverty are absent.
According to Lorna Williams, higher education is “not working for Indigenous Peoples”. It does not provide them with the foundations of their own cultures, with respect for Indigenous ways of knowing, with a vision of how ecologies of knowledge where Indigenous and Western knowledge systems might support the moral university or what MLK might call the Beloved Kingdom. Higher Education systems continue in the types of erasures that Elaine speaks of within her context of generational poverty.
Is this what MLK Jr refers to when he says, “education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society”?
The pursuit of the moral universe is one of the things that draws the thinking of MLK and Gandhi-ji together. King organized, preached and exhorted people to work towards what he called the beloved kingdom. The beloved kingdom was that place where love prevailed over oppression and where all people were treated equally. This would also have been a kingdom where the spirit of the Gods of India and the God of the historic Black church of the USA would reign over all people.
Dr. Tandon began by greeting everyone (Namaste!). He stated that he grew up in a family on the banks of river Ganges where participating in freedom struggle at the call of Gandhiji was a family tradition. A family of four generations of teachers, his mother was the first woman to graduate in the city of Kanpur; his grand-father rose to be first Indian Principal of Christ Church College, and emphasised ‘compulsory’ sports for all students.
They grew up singing the song that Gandhiji always began his prayer, and political, meetings “Vaishnav Jan to….” (Short song clip played here).
For him, education was learning to become a good citizen; “Nai Taleem” (new education) model emphasised life-centred learning; learning from life, learning for life. He said”: universities do not need majestic buildings; they need intelligent backing of community public”.
Gandhi practiced his approach to education at his Ashrams, and also exhorted his disciples to do so. One of the features of such educational institutions was that students performed both intellectual and physical tasks ( like cleaning, water storage, etc.). His personal actions reflected his principles in practice.
Non-violence and equality were inter-linked for Gandhi; he championed both these causes in his political and service approaches.
What challenges is HE around the world facing in these times?
Dr. Hall spoke about decolonization of knowledge, curriculum, research and pedagogy and what implications it has on movements such as black lives matter, Indigenous ways of knowing, excluded knowledge workers, poets, organic intellectuals.
Dr. Tandon then spoke of contextual relevance of higher education– balancing the local and global – and Gandhi-ji’s ideas about education still have relevance in the face of today’s challenges.
Dr. Hall added that Martin Luther King, unlike Gandhi did not speak a lot about education, but we can infer from his life’s work what kind of higher education he would support: It would be based on the truth of the histories of slavery in the US, with colonial oppression in other parts of the world, with the inclusion of the voices of Black Americans, of the ideas of champions of freedom such as Gandhi, Nelson Mandela, Rosa Parks and the young leaders of Black Lives Matter. MLK would support a higher education based on values of justice for all and the building of collective capacity to change. In Appalachia, he would support the work of institutions such as the University of West Virginia and the on-going work of the Highlander Centre, the educational institution that played such an historical role in the US civil rights movement.
In bringing our conversation to a closing, Dr. Tandon shared some thoughts on the importance of global solidarity and the K4C Global Consortium.
Dr. Hall then closed the conversation with a clip of Martin Luther King Jr.s favourite civil rights song. This is one that he used often to open or close his speeches. Dr. Hall and Dr. Tandon’s team had added some images of higher education students around the world creating a new world that would have pleased both Martin Luther King Jr and Gandhi-ji. The song is called appropriately “People Get Ready”.
Dr. Hall then urged everyone to recall the MLK quote that inspired the title of this talk: “The Arc of the Moral Universe is Long, But it Bends Toward Justice.”
Find the event recording here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0neGurIwPXo