Life has a way of coming back to you full circle!!
Twenty years ago, I remember being asked again and again why did I have to go to Bombay to study “Social work”? And yes, did “Social work” actually qualify as a study stream? While in Bombay peers at the same institution doing Personnel Management often made sarcastic remarks about those of us in the social work department. It was annoying but considering that there were over sixty of us in the Social work department one did not have to deal with it alone.
Today the circle was completed. My daughter came home from school seething in anger! A 12th standard student ,she is one of the two in her class who has taken an elective course in English Literature. She has two tests coming up on Thursday – History and Literature. When she told a classmate that Tuesday and Wednesday were going to be difficult days trying to study for two tests coming up on Thursday, the girl asked her if Literature actually needed any ‘studying’!!!
I think she handled this quip better than how I might have handled it at her age. She explained calmly to this girl that Literature is not just about reading “story books” . One had to understand , analyze and interpret it in one’s own way, making references to other interpretations!! But the anger was there bubbling just below the surface! I realize that came from the fact that the question had not come from a science student but from a fellow student in the Humanities class!! I guess this is something that she has to come to terms with if she is going to major in English Literature as she plans. A lot of people are going to tell her that she is “wasting her time” or worse !
I think one of the problems with our education system is the way it assigns value to courses. Students doing certain courses are considered to be “brighter” than others. In the assigned hierarchy of courses within the Indian school system, Humanities and social sciences get the lower rank. Subjects like Literature probably have the distinction of being the lowest among the low rated courses. It is not something that we can change. But I think what this experience has taught her is to stand by what she believes in and explain her stand.
It is sad that a country like ours that has such a rich literary heritage, should think that the subject means nothing!! Children only reflect what they hear adults speak. My daughter’s school is a very progressive one where each child is encouraged to explore and express their talents. But despite the open mindedness of the school, there are biases that a child is exposed to in the home front which they imbibe. As parents we do that often – consciously or unconsciously! There are stereotypes arising out of our own incomplete knowledge, which we perpetuate. Analytical thinking for example, is not unique to science. It extends to literary works. Analyzing a poem from various perspectives is something that requires as much learning as does solving of a quadratic equation. Actually, as a student who studied mathematics until my under graduate level I would say solving mathematical problems is easier once you work out the logic. Literature on the other hand requires considerable interpretation of intangibles that is sometimes beyond a sixteen year old’s capacity to grasp! A good teacher ( like my daughter’s) helps the student develop that. Few people understand this! Literature is not just about writing good English. It is like saying that a student who knows her formulae and tables should be the topper at Maths. These are but aids .
One of the challenges within our education system is that we are unable to help our learners understand and appreciate what I would call “shades of grey”!!! It is easier to process something as black and white. Children are taught to look for “right” or “wrong” in their answers. But subjects like “Literature” unfortunately do not have a “right” or “wrong” answer. It is like being an “artist” – your ability to interpret and express. But I realize now, that Literature does not get even quite the same recognition as art in the education system. A student who is studying “art” is seen as “talented” while the Literature student is seen as someone who wants to have an easy way through higher education!!!
But like I told my daughter, ultimately it not about what others think of you but what you think about yourself that matters. For a sixteen year old searching for her identity, I suppose it can be difficult. But I am glad that I see an emerging person who is confident and not easily swayed by anyone’s opinion ! I am also happy that she is not succumbing to peer pressure when it comes to expressing what she thinks. I can almost see life coming full circle and….. meeting myself….. but not quite…. ! This young lady has a lot more diplomacy in tempering her expressions! A pragmatic approach that tells me that she is using her head as much as her heart!