March 30, 2009

Teacher - the revolutionary ( Part 1)

Human Being's recent post, "I'm not a Thief..." compelled me to revisit and re post this three-part essay on ' the teacher and the taught' that I posted a few years ago:

I came across this interesting article by A. Dee Williams titled 'Teaching as an Act of Love:Towards a Revolutionary Vision of Teacher Quality'. The article talks about what it takes to be a teacher. The author lays out a three fold relationship between teacher and student that makes for real learning. Here's the first fold:

"A teacher is a revolutionary. A revolution is a change in the way things are organized. As we teach we create revolution because we change patterns of thought. Cognitive psychology and developmental psychology tell us that the adolescent locks in on the first possible solution to a problem and once equipped with this possible solution, will not explore new possibilities. (Myers, 1999) The role of a teacher is to re-open the evaluation process and have the students begin to practice exploring different options, and when faced with different viable alternative solutions, use critical analysis and reflection to choose the direction of their life. As William Ayres writes, a teacher calls students to look beyond the reality of the moment "you can change your life. Whoever you are, wherever you have been, whatever you have done, [I] invite you to a second chance, another round, perhaps a different conclusion. [I] posit possibility, openness, and alternative; [I] point to what could be, but is not yet. [I] beckon you to change your path"."
.... to be continued

March 29, 2009

...Teacher - the activist ( Part 2)

A teacher is an activist, and has to lead by example. Students have to see you fight injustice around you, even if it's about dealing with the structural inequities of the school itself, especially ones that relate to the students. They must see you take on their cause and fight for it. If the students can see you fighting for them, they will better be able to address the inequities and injustice in their own lives. Furthermore it also makes them cognizant of your love for them. A teacher is in fact an advocate of love; not the feeling , but the love that manifests itself in action.

Bell Hooks talks about love as "the will to extend oneself for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth." The ways in which the teacher opens the curriculum up to a student or a group of students is the first way that she can express her love to a student. As a teacher, she can empower the student to leave his comfort zone and venture into areas thus far challenging or even unexplored. Then, by encouraging the student to 'feel comfortable being uncomfortable' the teacher plants and fosters risk taking abilities in the student. A skill that'll forever come handy to the student when going down untrodden paths or etching out new ones! be continued

March 28, 2009

...Teacher - a friend ( Part 3)

A teacher is a friend. "a friend of my mind...the pieces I am. She gathers them and gives them back to me in all the right order"(Toni Morrison). As Ayers says this bond of 'friendship does not end the last day of school' because 'a teacher affects eternity, he never knows when his influence stops'(Mitch Albom). Lessons learned and shared with a teacher can come back years later to help make important decisions, not very different from a best friend who is forever there when you need him. A teacher can be a lifelong friend from whom you have nothing to hide because he's been with you through the thick and thins of your early years. Much like a revolutionary , a teacher has the courage to hold up a mirror to your world and you, have the patience to listen to your endless excuses, have the resilience of an activist to be by you in your numerous failed ventures, and finally, much like a true friend, she has a unique love for you which always translates into meaningful action that'll always take up your cause in some way or the other.
If one day, one of my students looks back and remembers something they learned while in my presence, if they hear my voice when confronting a problem, if their thought patterns are forever evolving to adapt to a newer reality, then I will have left a footprint. I will have been a teacher.

March 17, 2009

Pedro Almodovar's "Hable Con Ella" or "Talk to Her"

Communicating with another being alleviates loneliness; that is a well known fact, but if the other being happens to be comatose...what then? Pedro Almodovar's movie "Talk to Her" addresses this 'what then' situation in a plot that flits between the past and the present; yet, has the audience flowing along with the fluidity and ease of a participant.

Two men nursing two comatose women; both claim to love the woman they are nursing , but their ways of caring are vastly different. There is one who 'talks' to his beloved constantly and keeps her current on all that interests her in the outside world: the movies/ the musicals she loves and which he watches only to give her a feedback on them. He is a selfless caregiver who worships his lovers body by tending to it as a mother would. On the other hand we have the other man, a writer, caring for his bull fighter beloved with a distant and stoic silence that isolates him from the audience and perhaps also from his comatose beloved; something he has to be made aware of. Both men face the harsh reality that their beloved may never regain consciousness, and yet they continue to be there in the medical facility with their loved one every waking moment. The two men meet while at the facility and establish a unique bond that outlasts their roles as care givers.

The two comatose women are just as disparate as are their circumstances and basically serve to bring out some strong emotions from the men who love them. The women come across as predefined characters who are very physical and hardly develop during the course of the movie. It is the two men with their loyalty and passion that make for the pace of the movie. Almodovar in and through this movie seems to be seeking an answer to a primal question about whether love is really a need, and whether loyalty is in fact what is labeled as love. In finding his answers Almodovar creates a tragedy that has at its center a character who we can't sympathize with, yet, we come out of the movie hall with a complete understanding of why he did what he did. There is a repugnance for the act he commits, yet there is empathy for the rationale behind the act. A movie maker who can tear the soul of his audience so, has to be master artist, and Almodovar certainly is.

There are sexually explicit scenes in the movie that might shock and even drive away a conservative viewer. In this Spanish movie (has English subtitles), Almodovar explores the boundaries of physicality almost to the verge of near absurdity, but the scenes have an artistic ethos about them, as they raise philosophical questions such as whether love is but lust in genial disguise, and whether loyalty is neediness camouflaged. Admittedly, both my brain and my heart were on overdrive throughout the movie, and I'm still not certain I was entertained as much as I was challenged by Almodovar's creation.

"Hable Con Ella" is a movie that entertains as it intrigues, and it is not for an audience with predefined sensibilities.

March 13, 2009

Aravind Adiga's "The White Tiger" - Drawing Parrallels with Danny Boyle's "Slumdog Millionaire"?

I would not have read this novel, "The White Tiger", had I not seen the movie "Slumdog Millionaire'. The parallels between Aravind Adiga's novel "The White Tiger" and Danny Boyle's movie "Slumdog Millionaire" are uncanny: they are both set in the current day India with it's booming economy; both have a poor young Indian male as the protagonist who becomes incredibly rich in record time and in the most unique way imaginable; both reveal the class based ethos of India in a nonchalant narrative of two incredible storylines.

Adiga's book is definitely a page turner as it took me a few hours over a weekend to get through it. Though a simple tale, but Adiga manages to make it intriguing because of his colorful and unpredictable protagonist Balaram Halwai whose reactions to events and situations make the reader hold his breath and wonder. Halwai, though similiar to Boyle's 'Slumdog' Jamal in his socio economic status, lacks the straightforwardness of Jamal. Halwai is not waiting for love as was Jamal in the movie, and neither is Halwai content with his lot as Jamal was until he entered the Game Show. Unlike Jamal, Halwai wants to change his have-not status; he knows that he has to grab life wherever and whenever he can find it, and in the book he makes the ultimate grab for it in the most bizzare way possible which I think you will want to find out on your own when you read The White Tiger.

Aravind Adiga beat Salman Rushdie, Joseph O'Neill, and some other well known authors to get the Booker Prize in 2008, and I wonder why. No doubt, the novel has an intensity in that it keeps the reader at edge wanting to know what Halwai would do next, but that is not enough for this novel to have gotten this prestigious recognition. Apparently Adiga's book prevailed "because the judges felt that it shocked and entertained in equal measure." This comment made me think about another novel I had read a few years ago, "A Fine Balance" by Rohinton Mistry; a long and arduous read of some 600+ pages that shares its theme and setting with "The White Tiger". Mistry's "A Fine Balance" created waves in the literary world then, but not on the scale that Adiga's book did, and I think that was so because it lacked in its ability to 'entertain while shocking'; something that Adiga manages to do with uncanny ease in his "White Tiger".

Whether Adiga's "White Tiger" got lucky and rode the wave of world interest in India, or whether it truly deserved the Booker Prize, is for each individual reader to decide. However, I can safely vouch for the novel's ability to keep the reader engrossed until the very last page.

March 04, 2009

Stephen Daldry's "The Reader" - Exploring the Ramifications of Illiteracy in Post War Germany?

The curse of illiteracy haunts Hanna, the female protagonist in the movie "The Reader", and it is a curse she is not ready to disclose to the world, not even to her 15 year old paramour Michael, with whom she establishes a relationship defying all social norms of the day. The fact that the movie depicts a post war Germany is important in so far as it gives a context to the heinous crime Hanna commits after she disappears from young Michael's life.

The relationship between Hanna, a forty year old illiterate bus conductor in Germany during the 1950s, and Michael, a 15 year old school boy, is driven by passion. However, the nature of their passion differs at both ends. For Michael, the teenager, it is about wanting to experience and explore his sexuality, and for Hanna, who is illiterate, it is about wanting to hear what is in those books and novels that she is incapable of reading. Both have different expectations from the relationship, and yet it flowers because of the intensity of their individual passions. I think Daldry, the director, deliberately introduced those torrid love making scenes between the two for the reader to sense how the passion burned within them. Since Daldry could not visually depict the cerebral passion that drove Hanna, he hoped the viewer would be able to gauge it by looking at what Hanna was prepared to do, to sexually gratify a 'kid', in order to live out her own passion for stories. Does that mean that Hanna was completely uninvolved with the 'kid' as she always refers to him? That's a question you'll have to figure out when you watch this movie based on Bernard Schlink's novel published in German in 1995.

The film maker and the writer have been accused of trying to assuage the guilt of Germans who lived during or immediately after the Holocaust. However, I am not so sure the Holocaust was the real focus of the film; it is illiteracy that seems to take center stage: its far reaching effects, and what it can do to a life. What ultimately happens to Hanna in the story is self explanatory; there is no condoning the Holocaust or Hanna's part in it, but there is an implicit pointer embedded in the film telling us that Hanna's role could have been different had she had the ability to make informed decisions. Alas, it was her shame and misfortune to be illiterate and thus uninformed, and that cost her not just her own life, but also the lives of 300 others!

All through the movie Hanna is consumed by her shame of being illiterate, something which Michael is able to transform into passion at two separate times in Hanna's life. The first time he does it inadvertently while satiating his own juvenile sexual fantasies, but the second time he does it with the awareness of a friend who knows how much stories, and reading them, mean to Hanna.

Clearly, the writer wants to send a message here that reading adds new dimension to human awareness and is therefore crucial to our decision making ability. It is particularly important to those of us who live alone, or who are private/reserved by nature and share little with the world, except vicariously through books and other multimedia productions. In some of our 'developed nations' we often take literacy for granted, and this movie, "The Reader", takes us back in time to show us a horrific impact of illiteracy in Hanna's world of post war Germany. Illiteracy is definitely the villain in the story since it holds potential to bring untold shame and horror to those who house it; like it did to Hanna and the other prison guards in "The Reader".

I may have looked too long and too deep into this movie so you may want to watch it simply because Kate Winslet gives an amazing performance in this movie as a reluctant seductress, a heartless guard, and a confused war criminal with an indescribable passion for books.

March 03, 2009

Cricket Under Seige in Cricket-Loving Pakistan?

Pakistan is no longer safe ground for cricket and it definitely isn't the "Mecca of Cricket" as it once used to be called! Indeed, it is a very sad day both for Cricket and for Pakistan which prides itself for being a cricket-loving nation. A nation that has produced amazing cricketing talent like Imran Khan, Miandad, and Shoaib Akhtar, and is to co host the next Cricket World Cup in 2011. Now the fate of Pakistani Cricket stands on very shaky ground after what happened yesterday.

The visiting Sri Lankan Cricket Team became a terrorist target in the city of Lahore when some eight or more armed terrorist opened fire on the bus carrying the Sri Lankan Team to the Gaddafi Stadium in the very heart of the city at about 9 AM yesterday. The attack left eight people dead and two Sri Lankan players injured. The Sri Lankan Goverment sent a special flight to bring its team home within a few hours of the incident. The terrorist are at large while the police network is doing all it can to gather intelligence on the incident and there is a major man hunt to apprehend the terrorist who walked away into the crowds quite like the terrorists in the Mumbai blasts did.

Of the two Sri Lankan players who are injured, one of them apparently may not be able to play the game again because of the nature of his injuries. Shameful as it is, yet the predominant emotion I feel is one of sheer disbelief at what happened; it is appalling that even Cricket is not spared in the onslaught of extremism.

Why am I reminded of this speech of Antony at Caesar's funeral:

"If you have tears, prepare to shed them now......."