Sisi Afrika

There were things I did when I was a teacher I am not proud of, and one of them is shaming kids who weren’t so bright.

I’d teach as patiently as possible and if you still wouldn’t get it,

I’d be annoyed!

However, I RARELY beat. It’s rare that I beat my students and one of the few cases would be a male child cursing me to my face, and even at that, it wasn’t justified. That wasn’t the “therapy” the child needed. He was only practising the misogyny he’d seen adults do.

I wish I could see those kids one by one and apologize, really apologize for shaming  them. It’s totally wrong to shame children for not catching on. Those kids are actually bright in their own ways. It is what I was told to teach them that is irrelevant to their existential realities and make them look like they were not bright. Asides the fact that most of the curriculum is irrelevant to their existential reality, these irrelevant knowledge is also taught in an alienating and abstract manner.

There is a school in front of where I live and there is this teacher who came into the class one morning and asked a question on the topic she taught them the last time, and asked a particular pupil to answer. I reckon the pupil didn’t know the answer and she asked the whole class to say SHAME! And all of them gleefully said SHAAAAMME!

I can only imagine how embarrassed I could have been if I was in that pupil’s shoes. I remember the fear of being shamed wouldn’t let me answer questions in class up to the university level, even in cases when I knew those answers. I’d rather keep quiet, listening to others answer questions, questions I could have maybe answered better.

Yes, this idea of shaming people when they don’t know the answers to questions goes up to the university level too. I remember the first class I attended in the Psychology department of my University and this professor asked for us to define “exclamation” as related to grammar. That’s simple enough right? Especially for University students. But this professor had a terrible reputation of someone who wouldn’t waste time in tearing your self-esteem to the barest minimum if you couldn’t answer his questions. It’s funny that he’s also the one we’re supposed to go to for counseling as psychology students.

Anyway? He pointed to this person, whom I’d known for some minutes and was a very nice person and asked her to stand up and answer. (First of all, scrap that idea of asking people to stand up to answer questions, it’s derogatory. We should choose whether to stand up or not. You’re my teacher and not my master. You’re not supposedly “above” your students. Safe to say this boss-inferior kind of relationship between lecturers/teachers and students hasn’t ever helped anyone get effectively educated. It stunts the flow of interaction in the class between the teacher and the students, and reinforces ageist traditions of ‘respect’. It’s supposed to be a back and forth, and there’s supposed to be effective communication before learning can occur. How can there be effective learning when you’re at the risk of getting sexually harassed by teachers and lecturers? How can there be effective learning when you don’t even have control over what you wear on your own body? How can there be effective learning when schools and universities treat youths like educated slaves and modern versions of slaves who “apes obey?” So much so that if you as much as protest for being treated like crap, you’ll get suspended? How can you learn in an environment where it feels like you’re constantly walking on eggshells? How could a student die in a university like OAU and the next thing was for the VC to close down the school and ask the students who protested that death to apologize?)

So this person stood up, obviously shaken and terrified.

Her voice was shaking and she described “exclamation” as “something like oooh and aaahhh.” I could swear she knew the best way to phrase that, she was just afraid!

And this professor didn’t waste time to pounce on her. He said “as old as you are” and then went ahead to really insult her. I was so embarrassed you’d think I was the one being stood up and tongue-lashed. I think if I was the one I might have asked the professor to shut it! I would be livid.

Students should be able to say “I’ll pass” when asked questions in class. They’re not supposed to know everything.

I think there’s a connection to how we’re treated in class by our teachers and how we grow up to be adults who never want to admit they don’t know something. We’d rather die than admit that. We’d rather stubbornly hold on to our views even when we’ve been proven wrong, we find it difficult to admit that we don’t know something and that someone has successfully educated us. Capitalism represses knowledge by making it competitive, rather than cooperative. Since we’re told teachers are above us, we’re hostile to learning from others because that can put them above us.  Something that’s supposed to be just a learning process becomes a battle of egos instead.

We should start normalising “oh, I don’t know much about this topic for now and I’ll like to do more research on it so I’ll pass on that question.”

Even if I’m getting interviewed live, I would not hesitate to admit I don’t know the answer to a question. It’s healthy and more effective than walking on a tightrope of “I must never be tongue tied, I must always have something to say else I’d be shamed for not being smart after all.”

It’s natural that we don’t know it all, it’s not something to be ashamed about and I hope teachers and lecturers start doing better. Education should be to empower children to think about the world around them in order to change it, and it should not be a social status of success that their worth as individuals will be measured on.

Children can be dyslexic. There was this pupil in my class, her name was Bukola. She couldn’t even write her own name and after many weeks of mandating her to know how to at least spell her name, she’d come up with “bukyla.” She couldn’t read, she couldn’t do anything and I was frustrated. I took it out on her, and by jove, I am so sorry! I was a teacher, but I was so ignorant myself! And this is only proving the fact that we don’t know it all.

If one teacher can’t effectively handle, know and teach all subjects, why are students mandated to know everything in ALL subjects and not just their own areas of interest?

On a large scale, this could be blamed on privatizing something that should be free and of great quality, like education. Education is a social need.

Schools would employ people who are even still kids themselves. I mean I was 17 when I first started teaching. Of course I was brilliant, but would I be mentally and emotionally ready to groom kids academically too? But to save costs and make more profits, schools won’t employ qualified and trained teachers. They’d rather employ Secondary school leavers and give them the barest minimum wage; less cost, more profit. This is what privatisation of education does.

A lot of people go into teaching just to put food on the table, and there’s no passion and interest in teaching in them. It’s obvious in the way teachers and lecturers do their thing. It’s on a stage where teachers in Nigeria are beating their students to death!

Capitalism doesn’t allow anyone to explore their passions anyway? We are made too hungry to follow our passions, in a world of abundant resources, so we venture into terrains we shouldn’t have any business venturing into, and we get frustrated and unfulfilled. We live to just eat, wear nice clothes, have shelters and survive.

Teachers are not supposed to just be educationally certified to be fit enough to teach, they should also be mentally certified. That’s a short-term solution.

The long-term solution is making things free and not setting it up just to make profits, especially something as important as education.

Between that, we all need to teach children with the orientation that education is a social need and a social goal, not an individual property to be bought and sold and that not having it brings shame.

Albert Einstein said in Why Socialism? that:

 “This crippling of individuals I consider the worst evil of capitalism. Our whole educational system suffers from this evil. An exaggerated competitive attitude is inculcated into the student, who is trained to worship acquisitive success as a preparation for his future career… I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy, accompanied by an educational system which would be oriented towards social goals.”


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here