AFTER teaching for almost two decades at a public university, I have decided to ask for forgiveness from my students those whom I advised relentlessly to study hard. Studying hard to become a good and sound academician is not something you download from the world wide web. This has to come from the one’s heart. ‘Always listen to your heart, because even though it’s on your left side but it is always right’ (Sparks, 2018).
Students whose hearts say to study hard, they just follow Robert Frost (1916), ‘I took the one less travelled by, And that has made all the difference’. They have faith that one day they will make a good teacher if they study hard. Some students (not all) just grab the right books from the library, roam around the small shacks of Nilkhet to find classical books and chase their teachers around to get to know some more information. By definition, they are good students. We have never told them that studying hard and receiving good grades do not guarantee a secure job at the university level.
We keep them in a dark, isolated place parallel to a utopian world where ideal is the norm; nothing goes to different directions beyond our expectation. We, teachers, mentor students to become good academicians, but we do create a new subaltern class with no secure future. In contrast, other students value their practical needs, running after a teaching job is not their passion. They rather prefer some public service jobs that required going through rigorous study materials. By definition, they too value basic ethos of studying hard but in a different direction. Since they make an informed choice where the process is transparent, by definition, they do not add up as a new category of a subaltern class of good students.
Transparent is a word critically used when a context defines the word itself. This statement needs a clarification with a sociological perspective. Dramaturgy proposed by Erving Goffman fits well for this clarification. This perspective delves deep into how social life can be compared with a theatrical performance. We need participants to carry out this performance. For this, three places play a critical role: front stage, back stage, and off stage. Logically speaking, when others are watching us we show our best performance. This is our front stage behaviour. For example, when a student applies for a teaching position, they come to us: we reply to them the way the teachers should be. ‘You are a good student; you have performed well throughout your student life and prepare yourself for the selection board’. Front stage behaviours are societal expectations that come from justifying norms and values of a society.
Backstage behaviours come alive when no one is watching us. This behaviour does not require one to act according to societal expectation. We do not reject this behaviour; it is just a manifestation of presence of others in the society. Let us consider a day before teacher’s selection at the entry level. The department that will recruit teachers, a tense air blows all around. Current teachers form small groups to share their opinions. They reach out for the teachers selected to be part of the selection board. Comparing with a drama, this is getting prepared for the day when curtain will be opened for the show. Some students may be well aware of the situation (you know who they are); some practically have no clue about the situation (you know who they are too). Even teachers get excited hearing who will be selected tomorrow and who will not.
Most teachers wished to recruit good students as they prove themselves good before. Qualifying to be a good student has different connotations to different groups. Some teachers might argue result is one indicator, but, a critical indicator we presume. When this goes on, some says performance is all that matters, result is not at all important. We know the meaning well enough after serving more than a decade as teachers. We wish to recruit someone whose result is not good enough to compete with the real good students. They are indispensable for the department. Once, these teachers were good students too! Subaltern good students do not know the process how we make the final decisions. Quoting a colleague in this instance, ‘All these students could see injustice. But those people can’t. All they care about is cursing our forefathers and now repeating their techniques.’
Off-stage behaviours come handy explaining the last thread of dramaturgy. An agent who acts upon offstage behaviours plays the perfect role of ‘Invisible Man’. No one sees them but their invisible hands reach out everywhere, God knows where. They make all the critical decisions to stage the final drama when the curtain opens for the show. Night before the selection is when these agents started working who will be the teacher and who will not. These invisible men make it sure that their performers perform well by providing all the tips how to make an excellent impression on the board. Please go figure how they do it. You do not need a nitty-gritty details; the statement is self-explanatory. Knowing what is going to happen, received a message from a colleague stating (received permission before quoting), ‘I seriously think at this time of the night that is the main concern, not who is getting selected rather how many!’ In brief, the esteem colleague indicates subtly that the selection process might be over well before the actual selection begins.
If we would have acted upon our front stage behaviour, we may not get a message from a heartbroken student (took permission before quoting), ‘Always, I wanted to be a good human being. That is the reason, I avoided all sorts of politics as a man of… (the word is dropped intentionally). Even I have given preferences of my passion of becoming a teacher at… rather than my father’s dream (BCS cadre). But now I am feeling that I should not appear before the viva board as no one would be sympathetic about me.… Please pray for me so that I may commit to… (the word is dropped intentionally) as well as society wherever I remain.’ Same student writes again, ‘I can use my… (the word is dropped intentionally) channels to make the selection worst but I did not do that because I fought with my conscience’. We have no response to such a moral appeal. Another wrote, even though prefer not to participate this fierce race, ‘This is not just. A mistake. The… (the word is dropped intentionally) has deprived the righteous candidates’ (received permission before quoting). Hearing about the process, a colleague wrote, ‘They have numerous examples in front of their eyes within the department, still they choose to ignore rational suggestions. I just pray we do not get humiliated as a department after this board, because the floodgate is open and I am not sure who has the strength or willpower to shut it at the right time’.
The most appealing alternative to make this apparently transparent but not-so-transparent to a transparent process is to stop recruitment at the entry level. The next logical question would be who will do all the works needed to be performed by the junior teachers. Answer to that question lies to recruit teaching assistants with no promise of making the job permanent unless they go abroad and get some more education. For getting that job position, job-seeking candidates will have to deliver demonstration lectures in front of the current students and teachers on the issues they choose. Some universities do practice it close enough to the process described above; say for example Bangladesh University of Engineering and Technology, Open University, and many more. If they are successful convincing the students and the teachers that they could teach; only those candidates will face the interview board. Please do remember they will be teaching assistants but not full-fledged teachers. If they wish to be a teacher, we will require you to pursue advanced studies abroad, and then come to us, you will be bestowed upon a profession for the rest of your life (like many countries).
If we aspire not to modify the system, our country will miss an entire generation of bright, brilliant, and honest teachers. If we aspire not to choose the right people for the right job, the bones will hurt more than good smell. Once the flower named ‘Togor’ caught sight of Rabindranath’s eyes in Baldha Garden, he asked around to find out the name of the flower. He received a response that this flower tree is full of bones, it hurts when anyone wants to pick up the flowers. He named the flower tree as Togor and wrote a poem instantly, ‘Kantate amar oporadh ache, dosh nahi mor phule’. If we have bones all over, we have to disregard the bones but have to pick the right flowers, the way Tagore says. If we do not pick the right flowers, it will hurt our entire education system for not giving a rightful justice to those who deserved. This country will fail to see flowers like Abdur Razzaque, Rangalal Sen, Jamal Nazrul Islam, and many more. Choice is yours honorable teachers whether you choose Abdur Razzaque vs. many who deserved not to be teachers at the first place. If you choose the later, no doubt, we will add a new category to a subaltern class and responsibility lies on your shoulder. Perhaps you will fathom the pain of the students when your kids will be denied job at the universities they wish to teach for apparently no known cause.
Once again, our sincere apology goes to the students whom we pushed hard so far for studying hard to excel. We will never give you a reading list. We will never ask you to read books. We will never advice you to watch a movie that fits well with the topic of our interest. You are hurt, so are we. In future, we do not want to get a message, ‘I know how it hurts’ (received permission for quoting). And I desire to share two lines for you all: ‘Aj e barshar dine je jekhane acho, bhalo theko. “Bhalo Theko” chara spashta kono mangal kamana orthohin (Quoting from ‘Badhir’ by Shorotkumar Mukhopodhay).’ Live well, dear students!
Dr Mahmuda Khatun is professor of sociology at the University of Dhaka.
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