Being back in WCC

College is one of the most important milestones in one’s career trajectory- it is your first taste of the “real” world.

College was a very, very forgettable experience for me. Never fitting in. Too afraid to stand out. When blending in was suffocating, I could not wait to get out.

I have noticed boys are more forgiving. Girls can be mean bitches. And when you are in a women’s college; one misstep is all it takes to land yourself in the bottom of the pit, gasping for air.

I visited WCC last week, it was an official visit, from work. Walking into campus caused memories to rise up my throat like bile. The smell of the pine trees, the clearly demarcated cohorts of students. The race up the stairs of the science block, the pungent smell of the laboratories.

And then I spy the girl dressed like an oddball- she is wearing a thin t-shirt and the wrong bra. Her hair is not conditioned; her eyebrows have not been shaped ever. A classmate would eventually show her how using eyeliner would do wonders to her face, yet another would offer her some strawberry lip balm, which would prompt her to buy some of her own. She walks by herself, yawning, because she spent all night unsuccessfully trying to finish Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. She is contemplating if she should skip her Human Genetics class to read what happens next.

Me.

Sometimes I wish college had not been so bad. But then I am grateful I had a chance to make all those mistakes before I hit those (they progressively became more troubled) 20’s. And I got wiser in the process.

WCC taught me that it was futile to change things you cannot- and it is wiser to channelize energies in other productive ways.

She gave me teachers I could look up to. And examples of girls I would never want to turn into.

WCC taught me how mere words had the power to crumble a person to dust.  It taught me that a pack of women can get more vicious than one made up of wolves. And that it is not necessary at all to be a part of one.

She taught me that letting go was key to being happy. There was nothing to be gained by holding on to angst. And time heals, makes you wiser, and gives you a chance to prove yourself- to yourself, again.

WCC gave me a total of 2 friendships that I will carry to my grave. One of these two fine ladies is kept busy by motherhood. The other, I watched La La Land with today, giggling like mad caps, and eventually lapsing into melancholic silence as the movie concluded.

WCC taught me how transient every detail of life is. Our definitions of success have changed, our dreams are different today, as are our priorities compared to what they were ten years ago.

And when friends I have today reminisce about their college lives, I withdraw into my little shell- not different from the one I used to habit in college. I have a little smile and nod my head, clenching my drink tighter.

Then I catch my reflection’s eye on the mirror, and she gives me a reassuring smile. Undeniably, WCC’s made me what I am today, you’ve got to give her that.

Teacher-less Tomorrow?

Recently, I came across this immensely successful experiment called ‘Hole in the Wall’. It was proposed by Professor Sugata Mitra, who then, was the Chief Scientist with NIIT. The experiment itself swims around the philosophy of ‘Minimally Invasive Education’ (MIE). It involves setting up unsupervised, freely accessible computers near slums- otherwise inaccessible, under normal circumstances.

What the research concluded, every single time it was repeated was that children who came up to the terminals and tried to use the computers taught themselves enough English to use e-mail and instant messengers. Their English pronunciations improved on their own. Their math and science grades had a marked change. Such kids were able to form independent opinions and their social interaction skills showed tremendous improvement.

But they did not stop there. According to the theory behind MIE, ‘learning is a process you do, not something that is done to you’. It suggests that sometimes, most times- students fare better without the ‘intervention of teaching’- by teaching themselves. Everybody has a different pace of learning; no two learning graphs can be same. It is the management and teachers who do not understand this- and instead brand a child who lags a little behind the rest as someone with a ‘learning disability’.

It is a scary proposition, but can any of us imagine education without a teacher? I will be very, very apprehensive about sending my child to a school where he is asked to learn on his own. Yes, he will learn to read and write. He will learn to speak as good as the rest of the kids. He will score great grades, I know, for certain. But. Is that what learning and education is all about?

I read one of Malcom Gladwell’s theories about why the standard of education has been significantly dropping over the years. He said that once upon a time, women had only two choices when it came to occupation. They could either serve as nurses, or they could teach. All the dedicated, best minds went into teaching- and that was when schools offered their 200%. Slowly avenues opened for women, they had choices- they could enter the until-then-closed portals of law, medicine, engineering and research. Gladwell claims that with this, all the best minds and dedication flowed into this vaccum, leaving only the mediocre for the previously competitive field of teaching. And with that began the decline.

I wouldn’t entirely agree with the findings of this research- personally, I have had some of the best teachers a kid could ever have. My mother is a teacher, and I know firsthand, have heard and still hear kids raving about her. A lot of what I remember about these teachers is not the math or biology or literature that they taught me. I remember being told off for walking with my feet out, ‘un-lady-like’. The first time I used a swear word in school (how cool can one get?), I got the dressing down of my life- I still think twice before I swear. My teachers used to command respect. When I started college, out of habit, I used to wish professors when I ran into them in corridors, their eyebrows would raise in surprise, and they would immediately ask, ‘Which school are you from, child?’ I remember my teacher from class five laying a book on the ground and teaching us the ‘lady-like’ way of picking it up- not ‘bending down and showing the world what you are wearing beneath your skirt’.

We learnt to be polite. We learnt to say ‘excuse me’ and ‘thank you’ and ‘please’. Today I work in an organization where I am flabbergasted by seeing some managers- and senior managers avoid these words. We learnt to respect one another, we were taken to the lake called religion, and given a choice. We were raised with the fear that ‘God is always watching’, and how better off we were without lying or cheating.

Now imagine- being raised without a foundation as such.

Recently I had read a piece of writing by somebody who was educated, working as a software engineer- in Bangalore. Look at that- a total of eighteen years of education. The author almost as good as justified how women being assaulted/ raped- fully asked for what they got. The first reactions after the Delhi gang rape incident was posted in newspapers online were- ‘she asked for it’ – educated people, computer literate people, typing sexist comments- in English.

The role played by a teacher in shaping a child’s life is immeasurable. A child spends a greater part of his formative years in school than home. Why, to most of us, even today, more than one teacher is always retained in memory as a role model. But yes, today I also do know that teaching-in general it is not as great as how it used to be. We had more fun and better teachers- they never owned mobile phones, for one. My brother tells me tales of professors- who teach at engineering colleges, swearing in Tamil and calling students names. Not nice at all.

I am fishing for an (abrupt) apt conclusion and have just realized that I have tried stringing together more than I can handle. I think in the end, it all boils down to how one was raised, and what role models one had. MIE sounds great, computers do wonders- but without the channeling that only a teacher can provide, we would only produce a generation of sleek, uncaring, impolite and disrespectful men and women who can probably curse better in English. Nothing else.