Harsha Bhogle, they say, has been taken off the 2016 commentary because he said something that did not please the powers that be. Not just his bosses, but others, who really had little knowledge of his business – the business of commentating – had opinions. And influence. However uninformed their views happened to be, it was enough for the management to ride upon and action.

How many times before have we seen this happen in offices and other workspaces? And even before that in our schoolrooms? The irony screams out at us – we stamp out honest, free and professional responses in the classroom and then at the end of twelve years of suppression we claim that the students are not capable of employment, that they do know what they have learnt by rote but no more. But that is what they were taught! They were taught that a ‘good’ student merely repeats what is taught. A good student does not go beyond the syllabus and the words noted in the books. A good student does not think for himself or herself, lest we – horror of horrors – contradict the teacher, and worse, prove the teacher wrong! Imagine the upset, the whole world will collapse if the student steps beyond the narrow world of ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ answers into the land of ‘what if’ and actually begins to explore, discover and apply knowledge.

Sure, there are a few teachers who will allow that, but to be fair, in India, there is little scope for any independent thinking. Which means there is little scope for independent speaking. And therefore no scope for building any professional employable skills other than sucking up to to the boss or the teacher. Which is why it floats in a sea of mediocrity. If you want to go forward, leave the country – as many did. Here, there is no scope beyond the blinkered world of the boss. If you displease them, even if you are right and the powerful ones are ignorant, you are the one who is supposed to suffer. Allow this in schools, offices and worse – government decisions, and all you will have is incompetent yes men drowning the system in bad decision making. What is worse, they will do it with the force of a bully, using received power to push through – and to what end? Further hot air to their ego balloon. We have seen this in classes, where children have time and again asked intelligent questions and have merely received a power-play response from a teacher -‘that is not in the syllabus’.

Why is this bullying? Why is this wrong? “This is not in the syllabus” is factually true. The teacher is using the power of the syllabus to avoid answering and to shut up the child’s learning and growth – this is bullying. Not their own competence – for a competent teacher could have deflected it in many ways that were kinder and more constructive. They could have set it as optional homework for the class. They could have pointed the child towards the library and other resources. They could have asked the child to speak to them in zero period or other times. They could even have postponed the question. So many ways to maintain your pride as a teacher without roughly bullying a child into silence. This child learns to be bullied in class, and carries through this baggage into the workplace. The scars do not heal, and one ends up with a generation who has little to contribute other than – ‘yes sir, we will do it your way, however limited and ineffectual’. Time to stop chiming ‘yes boss’ and time to stand up for what you truly believe. Time for all of us to do this, so that we change the destructive norm.

Teachers of course, should ideally engage with the question – as should work facilitators engage with different perspectives. A good teacher would have acknowledged the question and quickly dealt with it, even if they did not have the time to fully engage the whole class in that particular byway. A better teacher would have used it as a learning opportunity for all, and identified new learning pathways for the whole class. A teacher who did not know how to answer the question – but surely knew how to teach – could have respected the question and promised to find out and answer it at the next available opportunity. This teaches all the power of mutual respect, the primacy of learning, puts personal growth at the centre of the process and genuinely working with the syllabus content at the core of everything done in the classroom. It also shows students how to build accountability and reliability when the teacher actually engages with the question at the next opportunity. Keeping your word, being responsible, solving problems in non-prescribed ways and so much more that is valuable as a 21st century skill.

Classes need to change to professionalise workplaces because classes are the training grounds for work. Bring good quality workplace values into the classroom to work towards real skills that are valued by employers today. To get caught up in personal ego battles, in industrial age hierarchies and petty gatekeeping is a sure path to destruction of quality and growth. If we cannot abandon past monsters and embrace respect for professionalism, then there is little hope of success in India.

One thought on “Respect in the Classroom

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