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All cultures and all lives matter: Musings on the art of teaching

As an educator of 33 years, I take this middle path in offering my students perspectives for them to grow with, rather than turn them into ideological beings ready to be used by political opportunists. I still see my role as a philosopher of ideas who will only offer more questions rather than provide any answer. I believe we ought to train the young how to be competent cultural beings able to navigate through the complexities of life, living, and learning.

Culture of Teaching

Educators need to master the art and science of teaching diversity and to integrate and infuse the themes of multiculturalism into the subject matter.

The young, of “Generation-C” or Gen-Covid need to be given guidance and offered humane and peaceful choices of what they are to do in life, in a world of such rapid and oftentimes violent changes that many of those restless will easily fall prey to those out to indoctrinate and turn the young into appendages and utilities of the powerful and egotistical interested in advanced destructive agenda.

Herein lies my continuing interest in guiding the young in managing culture, coming to terms with the impact of Covid-19, and feeling the changes of cultural hybrid in the self. Ultimately, I see culture as organic, dynamic, constantly evolving, construct-laden, with the foundation of spirituality and scientific reasoning keeping the self still sane.

I do not merely teach about the concepts of culture but how concepts inform the phenomenology of changes within the self, as experiences, signs, symbols, semiotics, sense-awareness of things around impact the psycho-physics aspects of the human mind, leading to personal cultural evolution — these as culture gets reproduced and take the trajectory of being abling and disabling, being constructive and destructive and in-between.

What is “culture” if not a system of variegated meaning: of the self undergoing constant reconstruction, of the tools we use to work and play, the artifacts we create to solve problems or to amuse or even abuse ourselves, the rituals we participate in whether meaningful or not, the gods we worship, the house we inhabit — all these as the still-evolving definition of “culture” as conceived and attempted to be defined by those studying it– from Boas to Malinowski, to Levi-Strauss, to Mead, to Merle-Ponty, to Geertz, to Rosaldo and many others.

Are we educators? Or indoctrinators?

I believe the essence of progress in education is good teaching and how to train the young to be practitioners and generalists. And to respect and appreciate diversity and social justice, of course.

Unfortunately, we have poor communicators in the universities and our educational institutions these days who are only interested in forcing the young mind how to submit to ideologies.

My recent experience in this difficult dialogue of BlackLivesMatter-AllLivesMatter with an outdated genre of academics revealed how much shallowness has pervaded the thinking of many of them who have stopped learning, yet wished to continue teaching, for economic-survival reasons. Slogans are what they feed on and they feed each other in joyous festivity. Life-long learning is abandoned.

Some of these people teach Anthropology, Critical Media Studies, Political Science, Creative Writing — from far away places such as Melbourne, Negeri Sembilan, Chicago, Bangi, Pantai Dalam, Penang and all. What was their dissertation defense about then?

So– it is a global network of one-dimensionalism, as the American Marxist Herbert Marcuse would term, of those who ought to be teaching their students how to respect diverse points of view, as Voltaire would enjoin. We can’t have our own “anthropological veto” on opinions we disagree if we are a teacher of Anthropology, we can’t be blind to the way media too has shaped our consciousness and render us hegemonized beyond repair, if we are a teacher of Critical Media Studies, or we cannot be teaching our students the dangers of the “One-Single-Story”, if we are a teacher of Creative Writing, if we fail to respect multiple genres of storytelling and narratives — all these are faulty thinking in what we, as progressive educators, do in our work, developing the human mind in all its complexity.

Else we will belong to the new class of educators called the Academic-Talibans. Hopefully we are not. We ought to read some of the work on the idea of thinking by the American pragmatist philosopher John Dewey for example, to have a sense of what teaching can and ought to be about.

Today, perhaps, those who have differing opinions are being ganged-up upon and against. Even though the world of academia is about promoting dialectical thinking: seeing the ideas synthesizing — from the actions of thesis and antithesis — until one arrives at the meaning, phenomenologically-speaking. Alas– the greatest enemy of knowledge is ignorance, if not the illusion of knowledge, let alone the belief that it is the truth and nothing but the truth though produced by some billionaire on Wall Street, or somewhere.

Logic bubbles that celebrate uninformed and uninvestigated ideologies backed by some rogue currency-trader are what these academics live in comfortably, knowingly or otherwise.

Our children in universities demand better instructors that would celebrate diversity in thinking rather than be stuck and presumably in awe in classrooms run like thought-control camps in some jungle in Baling, Kedah or Bentong, Selangor – in Malaysia. There is more to teaching than just this method. Because as an educator, all lives should matter. And all opinions should be respected and celebrated.

I enjoy all kinds of music: rock, jazz, classical, kronchong, dangdut, Rock Kapak Johor, rap, hip hop, and music that pleases my soul. I like works of art that give me keys, windows, doors, insights to the different period: Classical, Neoclassical, Baroque, Rococo, Impressionism, Dadaism, and even Cubism which is said to be inspired by Fascism of the Third Reich.

I respect those with differing ideologies as they bring merriment of idea to Humanity, as they bring to the often-times intense discussions in my classroom — be they Marxism, Capitalism, Progressivism, Essentialism, or whatever new “ism” that have emerged. I don’t cancel them out nor call the owners of the ideas unpleasant names just because they blurted out OpinionsThatMatter to them.

We do not and should not attempt to own the minds of the younger generation. Our job is to give them enough tools to master their destiny — based on the future in which the old would have died. Yes, the old will die with whatever ideology they have lived by.

I suggest these kinds of instructors take courses in how to teach — or not teach at all. By sanctioning, rationalizing, patronizing, and even lecturing on the virtues of violence in making radical social change, they do not deserve to be further employed by their institutions.

I wonder what they do in their classes. Do they fail students who give the opinion in class discussions that “all lives matter”? Troubling to imagine this idea of indoctrination, rather than “teaching.”

In conclusion

And so, herein lie my passion and my calling: to make people think. Because in the history of the development of ideas, and in the story of teaching, it is a noble act to teach as such. It is an act of cultural competency, philosophical fineness-ness, anti-ideological stand taken, and most importantly to honor the proposition I was taught when I was a child: that religion is not about recitation alone but about reflection on the beauty and ugliness of Life, and the Constructivist construction of metaphysical ideas to be brought closer to oneself. As such, it is a phenomenological and ecumenical act.

Teaching is a challenging act: of juggling opinions and nurturing cognition and building character. In a world in which all lives matter!

MY WRITINGS HERE: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/5751844.Azly_Rahman

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DR AZLY RAHMAN grew up in Johor Bahru, Malaysia and holds a Columbia University (New York City) doctorate in International Education Development and Masters degrees in six fields of study: Education, International Affairs, Peace Studies, Communication, Creative Non-Fiction, and Fiction Writing. He has written more than 350 analyses/essays on Malaysia. His 30 years of teaching experience in Malaysia and the United States spans over a wide range of subjects, from elementary to graduate education. He is a frequent contributor to scholarly online forums in Malaysia, the USA, Greece, and Montenegro.

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