Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Devdutt Pattanaik: Business Sutra... for Education - Week 1 A

As a summer project, I am going to be re-reading Devdutt Pattanaik's Business Sutra in order to create some reading guides for my students (I'll be posting those notes at the Reading Guides site for my Indian Epics class), but also to take some notes for myself about the ways in which Pattanaik's book applies to education. Over the past few years, I've been finding so much useful information from the business world (Harvard Business Review is great, for example), and this book is a perfect example I think of how something written with business in mind has so much to offer the world of education! So, these are my education notes for the Week 1 - Reading A portion of the book!

Week 1 - A. Introduction

See also the notes I made for my students: Reading Guide. That Reading Guide post is where I provide links for the Sanskrit terms and Indian context.

What I will be doing here is excerpting quotes and passages that I think are most relevant to the topic of education. Want to join in? More about the book here: Business Sutra Overview. I'm tweeting links to my posts with #SummerBizSutra.

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The book opens with this wild drawing by Pattanaik that lists many of the binaries he will be working with in this book. Binaries are sometimes useful for understanding a situation, and sometimes not (to be binary about it, ha ha), and this chart of binaries captures a lot of what I value in education: the kind of teaching I want to do is very much on the belief... trust... infinity... imagination side of the chart, and I despair about education that is going in the opposite direction (the Siren song of Big Data).

The idea of BELIEF is central to the book (and so it appears at the top of the list), and one of the problems DP sees in the business world is the gap between belief and behavior... which is a huge problem in schooling too! "Respect (intangible belief ) may manifest in politeness (tangible behaviour), but politeness may not always reflect respect."

To illustrate the shifting position of belief in the modern and postmodern intellectual landscape, DP provides a helpful chart (I really like the visual effect of this particular drawing)... it is very awkward when all four perspectives come into play at the same time, as they often do in both the business world and in the world of schooling:
Premodern lens: Belief is truth. [i.e. My belief, not yours, is the truth.]
Modern lens: Belief is falsehood; only the rational is real.
Postmodern lens: All ideas are subjective and can be interpreted in any way.
Post-postmodern lens: Belief must be understood in the context of the believers.

Objective Truths v. Human Imagination

The conflicting truths and truth-claims of the business world are also a source of huge conflict in education (and for "compensation" here, just substitute "grades"): "Modern management systems were more focused on an objective institutional truth, or the owner’s truth, rather than individual truths. People were seen as resources, to be managed through compensation and motivation. [...] But humans cannot be treated as mere instruments. They imagine. They have beliefs that demand acknowledgment. They imagine themselves as heroes, villains and martyrs. They yearn for power and identity. Their needs will not go away simply by being dismissed as irrational, unscientific or unnecessary."

Specifically, that dismissal takes the form of behavior modification... which is just as prevalent in schooling as in business management: "Since changing beliefs is difficult, perhaps even impossible, the attention shifts to behavioural modification through rationality, righteousness, rules, reward and reproach. [...] Great value is given to ‘habits’, which is essentially conditioning and a lack of mindfulness."

DP contends that this type of behavior modification is actually in conflict with some fundamental dimensions of Indian culture: "The Indian economic, political and education systems are also rooted in Western beliefs, but Indians themselves are not."

And here is how DP characterizes the diversity of Indian culture with its plurality of its beliefs, and for more about diversity in Indian culture, see DP's TED talk - India is Not Chaotic (embedded below): "The notion of conversion is alien to Indian faiths. Greater value is given to changing oneself, than the world. Belief in India is not something you have; it is what makes you who you are. It shapes your personality. Different people have different personalities because they believe in different things. Every belief, every personality is valid. Energy has to be invested in accommodating people rather than judging their beliefs. That is why there is so much diversity. We may not want to change our beliefs, but we can always expand our mind to accommodate other people’s beliefs. Doing so, not only benefits the other, it benefits us too, for it makes us wiser, reveals the patterns of the universe. [...] Such ideas thrive in beliefs rooted in many lives, and religions that value many gods."

So, this book is written for the Indian business community, but it also has a strong message for educators. Pattanaik's books on Indian mythology are already an incredibly important resource for my Indian Epics class, and I am really excited about how this book will be of interest to my students who are business majors, while also being a book I can use to think about education from a new perspective. :-)

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