Student Mobs. J.B.Priestley Essay Reintroduced By P.S.Remesh Chandran.
Editor, Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum.
Disciplined students under strict masters have created empires and dynasties in this world. The lone Chandragupta captivated by the severe Chaanakya Gupta founded the famous Maurya Empire inNorth Indiaand the twaine created classical political theories the world still reveres. Alexander found his master in Aristotle and the pair was responsible for the greatest changes in the political and cultural structure of the world. This article is homage to those good old days of studentship.
Simplicity, humbleness and discipline were the characteristic distinguishing marks of a student in the ancient times.
We have the ancient belief that ‘a school is an assembly of teachers and a class is an assembly of students.’ In many countries this conviction is changing fast. Before Plato came, instituted his Academy and founded the academic system of education where teachers and students would come to and be assembled at the same place and lessons were taught according to a pre-determined syllabus, students had to search far and wide for a teacher’s house, perhaps miles and miles away or sometimes in other states where he had to go and reside, do all kinds of manual labour in the master’s house, please him somewhat and secure a bit of knowledge if the master so consented to. But this system no doubt produced great teachers, scholars, poets and playwrights. Simplicity, humbleness and discipline were characteristics and distinguishing marks of a student in those times. Not one unruly student could complete his education with a master.
When Britain speaks, all England listens.
One of the books written by the famous writer John Boynton Priestley was aptly titled ‘Britain Speaks’ and another ‘All England Listens’. It was true; when this great British orator spoke the whole world listened. Here he is analyzing the reasons for the unrest and violence among students. His finding is that students delight in destruction for destruction’s sake. He expects students to behave as true guardians of society and provide support to the families they come from. Any dutiful student will have to agree with his arguments against unruly behaviour.
They should be learning books, not burning them.
Priestley joined college after a few years of soldiery in the First World War. Therefore it was no wonder he was irritated by the irresponsibility he found common among the student community in general. Irresponsible students, in their craze for establishing an identity, form mobs, take to destruction and behave like vandalists. ‘They should be learning books, not burning them.’ Peasants in the villages are losing much, particularly their favourite meals and good clothes, to send their sons to colleges. So these sons should have a manly responsibility towards them and shall not join howling destructive mobs. Priestley is of the opinion that stupid, ignorant and irresponsible students should summarily be sent out and shall not be given higher education at the expense of the community. They are wasting everyone’s time, money and energy. This right attitude towards students, which could be adopted by all members of the community, shall not be interpreted as prejudice against students.
When we see a student mob demonstration we will wonder whether those brute faces are our own sons’.
Most often, angry student mobs demonstrate through streets with banners, slogans and mindless grinning faces, breaking windows and smashing cars, burning books and furniture, terrifying children and women on their way, reducing laws and customs to chaos. Such demonstrations shall not be shown on the T.V. If it continues to be shown, the whole fabric of civilization, which is the work of centuries, shall be torn apart by students.
They will pass with honours B.A. in Window Smashing, Furniture Firing and Car Overturning.
Sometimes these demonstrations would be against governments but at times the governments themselves would be organizing them secretly on a rent-a-mob basis. Many governments play a leading role in the antics of student mobs. When two official policies clash, embassies are instantly surrounded by students and attacked as if in a political circus. Priestley here gives society a severe warning: ‘The time may come when ambassadors will have to move around in tanks. In the universities, students on admission will be given machine guns and flame throwers. They will pass with honours the B.A. in Window Smashing, Furniture Firing and Car Overturning. They may be weak in the sciences and the arts, the medicine and the law but they would have first-rate skills in Hooliganism.’ He wonders what type of doctors, lawyers, engineers, chemists and teachers of language they will make.
Kids are now not kids but creatures come from other planets, putting things on the railway lines for derailing expresses.
That students delight in destruction is a universal truth. ‘Soon there may appear in college campuses those huge iron balls of the demolition squads with whichNew Yorksky scrapers are crumbled down.’ Such massive, mobile and deep-seated would become the desire for destruction in students. ‘Whether they grow under capitalism or socialism, our children will certainly care about vandalism.’ They will take special trains to foot ball matches and burn them on their way back. Full-fed and well-paid youths are the most destructive. An old school teacher once remarked that ‘kids are now not kids but creatures come from other planets, putting things on the railway lines for derailing expresses.’
Some among us don’t seem to belong to human race.
Priestley feels the contrast between the rough life led by him as a boy in his native village and the excessive student violence in the present times. In Priestley’s boyhood also there were fights in schools. Players and spectators of football both behaved roughly. But there were no heartlessness or hatred of life. There indeed were fights between equals but helpless people were never harmed. Now the young arrives eager to destroy, not to create. Some among us don’t seem to belong to human race. They set fire on society and purposefully discredit the techniques and apparatus of a world civilization. ‘Threats of violence rise like puffs of steam in New York city streets at night’ (in his times), he observes.
Newsreel films please show me students making something, not breaking something.
There are many reasons for this turbulence among students in their tender ages-hydrogen bomb, bad homes, no religion, irresponsible parents, boring environment and the like, all contribute. Also there are those other modern day factors as the thirst of political parties and misled organizations for young martyrs and maimed victims to pivot them to political and administrative power. And there is some unknown factor, a vast ‘X’ in the dark. Priestley prays, news reels in films in theatres show him students making something, instead of breaking something; like some scene of students marching to build a house, not to knock one down.
Dedicated to those girl scholars who rise up early, go to fields and forests to cut grass for cattle, and walk kilometers away to colleges.
Many girl students in some districts in Kerala, especially in the Quilon district, studying for post graduate courses, will rise up early in the morning and go to fields and forests to cut grass for their cattle. Carrying this heavy load of fodder on their heads they rush back to their houses, wash and breakfast and walk kilometers away to their colleges. In the evenings they walk back, go to the forests with their books, collect firewood for their kitchen and a few green twigs for their goats and carrying this burden return home in the dusk and complete the household chores. They pass their examinations with first class and gold medals and become college lecturers and school teachers. That is what education and studentship is. Dutiful work cleanses the soul and prepares one as a diligent learner. My nation’s future is safe in their hands. This article is dedicated to those hard working diligent girl scholars, a few of whom I was fortunate enough to teach.
(Originally written in April 1995)
Pictures Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons.
There are many pictures of students rioting and breaking things
in almost all nations. But we respect the vision and wishes of Priestley and so chose pictures accordingly.
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Translations of this article in French, German, Spanish and Italian published in Knol.com can be read by clicking here. BLOOM BOOKS TRANSLATIONS.
Appreciations, Articles, British Authors, British Writers, English Literature, Essays, J B Priestley, John Boynton Priestley, P S Remesh Chandran, Reintroductions, Reviews, Sahyadri Books Bloom Books Trivandrum, Student Agitations, Student Mobs, Student Strikes, Student Unrest, Student Violence
Meet the author
Editor of Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum. Author of several books in English and in Malayalam. And also author of ‘Swan, The Intelligent Picture Book’.
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