When I’m not moonlighting as a slapdash writer, I teach brilliant young kids to form opinions about all things afflicting this world. It’s a fancy way of describing the curriculum of this particular subject, which aims at teaching children to think out of the box about issues that affect them. One day I had a particularly stimulating conversation on comparative religion with the children and I was sharing the discussion with a dear friend who happens to be a non-Pakistani. He posed an excellent question that really got me thinking, “I’m surprised at the depth of the conversation you’re having with relatively young children, and they’re lucky to be receiving this quality of education. But doesn’t it baffle you that you’re not producing any great leaders out of this educated bunch? Where do these kids go after they grow up? Why doesn’t Pakistan have educated, brilliant leaders to change the system?”

I tried to come up with a sound argument to explain to him why the common man has no hope in politics. The upper class doesn’t have enough money to run an election; educated people move abroad and want nothing to do with politics etc. But none of the reasons resonated inside. What is it really that we are doing wrong? Why aren’t we creating leaders and thinkers of tomorrow?

Between Math, Science, English, History and Geography, the students are learning concepts that they are supposed to learn. It’s been this way for centuries. You have to learn algebra and grammar that is after all the foundation of your education. We never questioned it when we went through sixteen years of education and we’re not questioning it now when our children are going through the same pattern of learning. But what happens when you realize that in the quest of learning how volcanoes work, we’ve completely neglected the things that actually matter, like tolerance, peace and respect for people of other faith? What good is learning that Tutankhamun was mummified in a tomb not worthy of his stature, when the children do not understand what minority rights are and how they affect people in Pakistan?

In one particularly enlightening discussion, which has prompted me to question the entirety of the education system in Pakistan, I posed a question to my students regarding the rights of Hindus in Pakistan. I relayed a piece of news that popped up in the newspaper a couple of weeks ago, regarding a Muslim cleric who illegally occupied a Hindu burial site near Lahore. The cleric in question was asked to serve before the court in the case of the occupied land, which had been closed shut by him for the last two years, depriving the Hindus of the community a designated place to carry out their burial rituals. The man had insisted that he would not allow the Hindus to carry out their worship or rituals here, as they would “disturb” the Muslim residents of the area. I posed the question to my students asking them, is it a fair argument on the clerics part? And while you and I would assume that such a simple and straightforward case leaves no room for confusion of who deserves justice, some of my students answered, “Yes.”

So imagine my shock and horror, that in this day and age, with the quality of education that we aim to provide these bright young children, we have failed utterly and miserably to force them to think for themselves at a young age. It is of no fault of their own that they feel that “Indians are killing our people at borders, why should we let the Hindus observe their rights.” Others felt that the cleric had a valid point because we are the majority, why should we let them disturb the ‘peace’ of the community, as they might influence Muslim children with their rituals? Why aren’t we teaching these children that these Hindus that they so painstakingly attach with India, are in fact Pakistanis just like them? They were born here, raised here; this is their home and everything they know to be true. Then why shouldn’t they be allowed to bury their loved ones in the manner that their religion demands? What does this have to do with shelling across the border by people they have no affiliation with whatsoever. Where is the tolerance, where is the message of acceptance of faith and people slightly different than us?

This discussion has moved me to think of all that we are not doing right in the current state of education. We leave the “controversial” discussion for universities to tackle. And that too not all universities will do the favour for you, just a select few. We need to have the difficult discussions with our children. We need to stop shielding them in a tiny bubble of math, science and history. We need to allow them to think, feel, experience life outside in the real world. We as educators are failing at our jobs when our children post comments on posts of Humans of New York, depicting the difficulties that Pakistan faces, stating things like, “Thank you Brandon for showing us a side of Pakistan that I never knew existed.” If we shield them from the harsh realities of this country, they will never grow up to be effective leaders. We need to give each and every child an equal opportunity to think out of the box, to seek solutions for the difficult conversations we mistakenly refuse to have with them.