Related to the Greek notion of educere, education is to bring forth or cultivate potential. Education is a process of inviting truth and possibility. Schools are therefore an embodiment of our singular and collective commitment to the ideal of education.
Although not optimal, schools provide a social and physical environment in which hopeful and respectful nurturing of human potential can happen. Schools have a unique, and unequaled capacity to enable formation that comes through knowledge, ideas, beliefs, concepts and visions of society, culture and civilization.
I like to think about schools as hallowed places. But the recent epidemic of school fires in Kenya is perhaps an emphatic demonstration that my view is not shared, especially, by the students who have set ablaze over 100 schools in 2016. Learning for thousands of students is now disrupted. The loss in property and damage to school infrastructure runs into billions of shillings. How did we get here?
Just like any society, we have faced our dark moments. In December 2007 we pushed our country to the precipice of Armageddon. The social and political foundations of this country were shattered, the country nearly fell apart and we lost our innocence. Since the post-election violence, our aspiration for national unity and common purpose has never been more hollow and doubtful.
But I think this epidemic of school infernos is our darkest hour. These fires implicate two things that are at the core, the essence of the present and future of our society; education and youth. In my view no amount of provocation can justify reckless evil at such a scale. Maybe I am wrong because as Phillip Zimbardo in his seminal book, The Lucifer Effect: How Good People Turn Evil, demonstrates that it is possible, given under certain situational factors for good people to become perpetrators of evil.
I believe that our children are not innately evil or nihilist. According to Cabinet Secretary Fred Matiangi, the high priests of the lucrative exam cheating business are fighting back and inciting students and teachers to burn schools. Former President Mwai Kibaki and President Kenyatta have suggested that pressure to excel in national examination could explain unrest and arson in public schools.
That young people aged 13-17years would resort to such evil and lethal violence is deeply disconcerting. Something is gravely wrong with how we have socialized our children. As was shown by the survey conducted by the Aga Khan University, the youth of this country are really like the adults. Over 30 percent would take or give a bribe. About 47 percent admire those who make money through hook or crook.
As Irish philosopher Edmund Burke said, “Tell me what are the prevailing sentiments that occupy the minds of your young men, and I will tell you what is to be the character of the next generation”.
To redeem the future we must look no further than the person in the mirror in front of us. Change starts with the adults.