Be The Change

be the change you wish to see in this world

Free Hand

Posted by bethechange on March 23, 2006

Bog Berg. A very interesting person. Why?

When he was a freshman in college, he secured straight ‘A’s. So he went to the Dean of his university and told him that he wanted a transfer to another more challenging university. Who wants to lose a good student? The dean gave him a year in which to decide what he’d like to do. So bob went to many classes and at the end of the year, having sat through a variety of subjects, he drew up his own curriculum.

What fun. Imagine being given such a free hand. Imagine being able to choose. Imagine authorities treating you as reasoning beings capable of making decisions and taking responsibility for yourself. Imagine telling yourself: okay, so I love biology, history and music. And drawing up a curriculum. Getting it approved and choosing your guides. Setting yourself targets. And most important: not being bothered be all the weepers who ask, “But what job will you get?” [Tell them – certainly a better one than those who do only one subject with little idea of what use it will be either to themselves or the world at large]

I remember when I was in college. Although a literature honors student, I assiduously cultivated professors from other discipline and attended their lectures. Some of the best classes were those I attended out of the sheer joy of it. History was always a favorite, where a Mr. Siqueira linked past events to political situation of the day. Since he was a ‘socialist’, his treatment of American history was dripping with sarcasm. The real fun was in reading authors with opposite views and go back and argue with his theories. Then there was Mrs. Hiranandani who taught ancient cultures. She was very much in love with Greek culture. It was a pleasure to sit in her class. She passed on her love for her subject. And Mr. Mascarhanes’ Economics classes. [For all the freedom, I still could not break the arts/science barrier and walk in on science classes. Perhaps it was because of the inherited notion that arts students cannot possibly understand science. Excuse me?]

Can your students do that in college today? How about a movement on this issue? Student councils could possibly look into academics too, for a change! To take other related issues:

· Graduate level studies could open up and give students a greater variety to choose from

· Students be given special credits if they attend interdisciplinary classes other than their own subjects. That these credits be noted on certificates/transcripts.

· Higher credits may be awarded if a student submits a paper discussing the classes attended.

· Such classes may be on selection of topics rather than duration. This will force the academia to announce their course and time table well in advance so that students can actually prepare for the classes instead of merely ‘attending’ them.

· Only those students who elect interdisciplinary studies may teach at any level. You’d have more interesting, informed and aware people teaching you!

Long time ago Mumbai university had drawn up a programme called Foundation Course. The Idea was wonderful. It was meant to be a bridge that connected disciplines. The science students learnt the theory and humanities had to take a paper called ‘scientific enquiry’. The, suddenly, the inspiration was gone. Texts were written most unimaginatively. Guides followed and then the final killer. ‘Marks were not counted in total’. It became a sham with an ‘e’. Students made not the slightest attempt to understand the purpose. The attempt to tell students that all subjects are linked and that they are related to every aspect of life was felled. I do not know who mooted the Foundation Course idea. But am sure s/he is broken hearted. Let us see if we can resurrect it more effectively and with greater freedom.

Give yourselves a chance. Learn for the joy of learning. Often, what begins as a hobby becomes our life’s work. I shall be happy to start a dialogue with anyone interested in the idea or any other student issue.

The writer, Aruna Raghavan, can be contacted at: actrust@sancharnet.in

Source: Indian Express dated March 19, 2006 (The New Sunday Express)

Studying what you want, is studying well

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