Archive for July 31st, 2009

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English and Social Science

July 31, 2009
She had not always wanted to become a teacher. When she was young she wanted to become so many things – Astronaut, Doctor, Miss Universe and what not! But as she grew up, the other options looked less enticing. Partly because of the skill sets required and partly because of the time that need to be invested in them. Like everyone else, she too chose this profession by elimination – the technique of analysing all the possible options and rejecting them one by one.

Not that she was not happy with her job, as this was like any other job in this world having its share of fun, learning, politics and helplessness. The last one – helplessness was bothering her the most. Especially when there was no one to help with her helplessness!

Like any other teacher, she too had to counsel the kids who failed in their exams, or did very badly. Generally she was the person who was in-charge, in these counselling sessions. The kids spoke very less or did not speak at all! She used all the techniques – advising, suggesting, threatening and everything else except reasoning. And her helplessness was evident when one of the kids used it.

“You have scored good marks in Maths and English. Why not score like that in Social Science? Is anything wrong with the teaching or you don’t like the subject?”

“I don’t want to memorize stuff like others. I think it is too boring, and at the end of the day defeats the purpose of learning”

“Who said you need to memorize everything? Understand what you are reading, put it down in points, remember that and write it in your exams”

“Remembering all the points in the exact order is called memorizing”

“You are just giving an excuse to justify your laziness”

“Laziness comes when I want to do something, but don’t do it. Here, I don’t even want to touch the books except on the day before exams”

“That is the point. If you had started learning earlier, you would have scored better. Good that you said it from your own mouth”

“I agree that if I had started to memorize earlier, I would have scored marks. But I don’t want to get in to the habit of memorizing things. It is a very bad habit to develop”

“If you go on speaking like this, then all your friends will pass out and get good jobs in big software companies. You would feel for all this, then”

“One correction. All my friends will get jobs in big BPO companies. You cannot have people memorize stuff and expect them to program computers. Coding is a different ball game all together. It’s more about syntax and logic than about memorizing all the lines of a computer program. You might pass an exam like that but never become a good software engineer by memorizing code. Most of the software companies are in to outsourcing simpler jobs anyway, so that should not bother them. In fact, BPO companies would love to hire such ‘talents’ who have been doing nothing but memorizing all their lives”

What could a teacher say to that? She always wondered why the kids never shared her enthusiasm for the subject. History, Geography, Civics, Economics were all interesting even to her at this age, and she  spent a lot of time reading informative material outside her syllabus to satisfy her curiosity. It was about learning new things, and that was what the students were expected to do at this age. At least, that’s all they had to do!

“There is no point in just complaining. You ought to come up with some solution to problems, that’s more important”

“Simple. Have you seen the English syllabus? Have you noticed that in English, there are more extrapolative questions asked in the examination, than descriptive ones? Even if someone memorizes the whole book in English, they cannot score marks in the examination because, the questions even in prose, are like what would you have done if you were in that character’s position in that story. You need very good understanding of that character in that story to answer that question. Extrapolative questions not only test your understanding of the situation and the story, but indirectly test your ability to express your thoughts/opinions in the language. Forget prose, take the grammatical questions. They give a sentence and ask the students to indicate what is wrong with that sentence, if at all there is anything wrong. They don’t ask us to memorize and re-produce all the grammatical types and rules in the examination. But to indicate what is wrong in a sentence for example, you need to know the rules and have a sufficient working knowledge in the language, anyway”

“How can that be applied to Social Science”

“If you are testing the students in History, for example, Instead of asking them to describe Aurangzeb’s war of succession, which implies that the students are expected to reproduce what is there in the text book, ask them to analyse the situation. Analyse the way in which Aurangzeb came to power by killing his brothers and imprisoning his father – whether it was right or wrong, whether he had any other options in the political scenario at that time, strategic blunders done by his brothers or just a question like what would you have done if you were in Aurangzeb’s place. To answer such questions, which are essentially out of the syllabus, the students need to have a good understanding of the syllabus. And their understanding of the subject is tested in this case, than their ability to reproduce whole or part of the text books. And wouldn’t it suffice to refer that Aurangzeb’s war of succession happened in the mid-seventeenth century, than expecting the students to remember the exact dates like 1658?”

Though she found the reasoning a bit interesting, she thought it was too impractical an idea to be implemented, and she was helpless about it anyway. So she thought there was no point in encouraging this attitude, though it was right. All that the teachers, parents and the students themselves were interested were marks. No one seemed to be bothered how they get them, as long as they do. So she told the most ‘practical’ thing that can be said by a teacher in that situation.

“You people are fit to be in LKG or UKG only. You people need to be shown pictures along with the names in order to make you understand even simple things. I don’t want to listen to any more excuses. Now off to your class, and I don’t want you to fail once again for philosophical reasons. Is that clear?”

Destination Infinity

PS: Ok, since Vimmuuu has found out, I need to clarify: The last sentence (highlighted in bold) is true and I was told as much by my Engg. college professor, not in school. I used to fail in almost all the local unit tests conducted by my college except for a few of my favorite subjects, but I never once failed in the University exams – I think they liked my hand writing 🙂  But the context was totally different, and as you might expect I did not speak so much, but said some thing like I can’t study (memorize) a subject that I didn’t understand. This post was to avenge that incident. I know it is silly, but…  😀

You can read more such articles in the Concepts and Ideas section of this blog.