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The Nutty Professor
Sabhanaz Rashid Diya
At university, I have a professor in Economics who very passionately believes that every economic theory, apart from his own, is incorrect and misdirected, and every Nobel Prize winner in the field is nothing, but a product of rigorous political lobbying. Over the past thirty five years of his life, he has researched on the classical theories and used calculus to prove them wrong, and at our three hundred level course, makes a genuine effort at teaching us his new theories. Predictably, most students do not particularly like him. It is difficult learning economics as it is in 40,000 textbooks across the globe, and with some old man teaching us his own principles written in his own books- well, that is an obligation one can live without.
However, this piece is not about my ardent admiration towards my Economics professor, or for that matter, about dotty teachers with their own eccentricities. It is about our profound faith in systems unfamiliar to ourselves, yet hailed as innovative, creative and nothing short of sheer genius.
I remember a friend who started with me at university, but now studies in the UK. Back then, she would grumble, rant and get extremely angry if anything outside of the prescribed textbook was discussed in class. She would complain, announce the teacher as unprofessional and anything outside the ordinary as unnecessary, if not insanity. I was catching up with her the other day, and she was excitedly telling me how she was incredibly overwhelmed by her Sociology professor who, apparently has the guts to challenge every sociological theory prescribed by the developed world about the developing world. I tried to mention very vaguely how one of the junior lecturers in Sociology at our university in Bangladesh somewhat mentioned the same things, but anyway, that conversation did not really go too far. As writers, we tend to notice minute details, and her attitude on the matter really got me thinking. Are we, as a nation ready for sheer genius? What is in fact, genius in our eyes?
The contrasts are interesting because they are invariably dependent on context. If a professor at Dhaka University or International University Bangladesh challenges norms, establishes his own thoughts and dances on a table, we brand him/her as insane, and avoid all courses offered under his/her belt. If the same professor teaching the same students were in Illinois or Zurich and did the exact same things, these very students would call him/her genius and fight to take his/her classes. What happens between Dhaka and Illinois that creates such a striking difference?
Most people would go back to history and bring learning theories in the picture. Some would draw reference on education policies and cultural differences. Some would say our students are not taught to think outside the box, while some others would just drag politics. Is it true that we are not groomed for unconventional thinking? Or, is it because of our downward spiralling economy that we rarely have time to think unconventionally? Maybe it is just the States or the notion of abroad. What we would not accept here as our own is something we would happily subscribe to if it were foreign.
Perhaps, it is just an attitude problem. Our LDC (Least Developed Countries)-branded discourse makes us automatically appreciate everything that happens in the West, be it awful TV shows with excellent post-production or the nutty professor who is just as insane as anyone in Dhaka. We grew up reading, watching and experiencing the miracles of the Wild Wild West, where wild became the universally accepted synonym for innovation, creativity and excitement. Our historically Anglo-Saxon subservience, thereby leading to our culturally and hereditarily nurtured faith in that part of the world which, by the way, does not need Fair&Lovely, is so predominant, we do not even realise when it has stopped us from admiring our own little sparks.
I have always been a big fan of teachers who went outside the textbooks. They would have their flares of madness, dance on tables and shave their heads to prove their theories. They would give unnecessary assignments, take us out on the field and challenge us to think differently. Maybe in an exam paper, we have to think accordingly but in life, it is just another perspective, and as students, our job is to make that distinction. These teachers are rarely popular, ridiculed by their colleagues and often scrutinised by the administration. Yet, they have every potential to change our lives, our thinking patters and show us the world as we would have never seen otherwise. Does that make them genius? Question remains, what is in fact, genius in our eyes?
(The writer is a major in Media and Communication at Independent University Bangladesh and founder of the nonprofit youth organisation, One Degree Initiative Foundation.)