Details of my critical thinking course

New session starting soon!

Introduction to critical thinking: what is critical thinking? What are the 5 pillars? Can it really be taught?

Introduction to critical reading

Aristotelian appeals: logos, ethos & pathos

What is rhetoric? What is the rhetorical situation?

Persuasion/argumentation:

  • What is argumentation?
  • Claims, warrants, premises and conclusions
  • Identifying premises & conclusions with exercises

50 fallacies are included including ad hominem, red herring, straw man, amphiboly, appeal to tradition etc. 3 sessions are dedicated to explaining the fallacies & one session is devoted to doing exercises.

One class is dedicated to comparative religion and herstory

Moral dilemmas are introduced and worked through in class

Media ethics are discussed with examples from newspapers/tv. We discuss how the media in Pakistan often violates their own ethical guidelines.

Plato’s Allegory of the Cave is read and discussed. In this session, we discuss the nature of “truth”.

Distinguishing reliable sources from unreliable “noise” is also taught.

The course concludes with a presentation (argument speech) by the participants.

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Academic Terrorism

Nothing makes my blood boil more than when educators indulge in hate mongering, which is just too common in Pakistan. And they get away with it over and over again. They get away with hate speech and they get away with the most heinous crimes like threatening students based on their beliefs. It happens all the time without notice, without noise, without media attention. Anyone remember the case of the Ahmadi student who was expelled from Comsats because of her belief? Jahanzaib Haque blogged about it and asked “How do you fight an enemy planted inside the mind itself?” How indeed. All we can do is make noise.

So in the spirit of making noise, I stand by Arsalan Bilal who was recently unfairly rusticated (seriously hate using this archaic word but it’s fitting since targetting someone based on their belief should be archaic) from Bahria University, Islamabad. Details from The Nation:

A student of Bahria University, who was rusticated on the charges of threatening his faculty members by emailing them revolutionary poems, has decided to go on hunger strike on Friday (today), alleging victimisation at the hands of university administration for questioning the governing of the institution.

Arsalan Bilal, a student of Department of Humanities and Social Science, Bahria University, has decided to go on a hunger strike for an indefinite time period from Friday (today) in front of the university.

According to him, he has been subjected to the most appalling form of “academic terrorism” on campus as he was discriminated against and victimised by the university management and purported academics.

He said that he was rusticated from the university on the pretext that he is psychologically unstable, and had threatened his faculty members by emailing them revolutionary poems of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Noon Meem Rashid.

The student who has been studying on merit scholarship in the university believes that he was victimised for raising questions, in various discussion sessions, over the manner in which the military management and ‘pseudo intellectuals’ of Bahria University were governing the institution.

He alleges that he was marginalized as he belonged to a minority sect, which is pervasively persecuted across the country. It is noteworthy that Bilal was repeatedly discouraged from conducting his undergraduate research on “Politicisation of religion in Pakistan”.

It is worth mentioning that a lecturer of the university, Qamar Riaz, was also maltreated and fired by the management on raising a question at a seminar regarding governing of the institution.

“The students had protested to reinstate him and I have been victimised for being an active student in the movement, Bilal alleged.

Demanding dignified restoration with apology from university management Bilal has resolved not to call off his hunger strike until his demands are fulfilled. He sought cessation of all kinds of discrimination on the basis of race, caste, creed, religion, affiliation, etc. on campus.

He has demanded abolishment of dress code at the university and to render more need-based scholarships to students by eliminating fee discounts for children of naval officers.

He has also sought the replacement of all retired military officers in the university gradually by qualified civilians and all serving military officers in the university be directed to quit their jobs and return to purely military functions.

He said the post of director campus should be occupied by a highly qualified academic and the plagiarism check policy on faculty members be tighten.

When an official of the university was contacted to have his comments he said there is no official spokesperson of the university right now so it is better not to include the official version of the university in the story.

This is the press release I was sent:

Announcement of indefinite Hunger Strike by Mr. Arsalan Bilal

Arsalan Bilal, a student of Bahria University, has decided to go on a hunger strike for an indefinite time period from Friday, April 6, 2012 in front of Bahria University Headquarters, Margalla Road, Islamabad. Bilal was subjected to the most appalling form of “Academic Terrorism” on campus as he was discriminated against and victimized by Bahria University’s top management and purported academics. Arsalan Bilal was rusticated from the university on the pretext that he is psychologically unstable, and had threatened his faculty members by emailing them revolutionary poems of Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Noon Meem Rashid.

Bilal, who has been studying on merit scholarship in that same university, believes that he was victimized for raising questions, in various discussion sessions, over the manner in which the military management and pseudo intellectuals of Bahria University were governing the institution. Moreover, Bilal was marginalized as he belonged to a minority sect, which is pervasively persecuted across the country. It is noteworthy that Bilal was repeatedly discouraged from conducting his undergraduate research on “Politicization of religion in Pakistan”.

Bilal has resolved not to call off his hunger strike until the following 14 demands are fulfilled:

1- Dignified restoration of Arsalan Bilal with apology from university’s management
2- Redress all grievances by reprimanding those responsible for committing atrocities on Bilal
3- Cessation of all kinds of discrimination on basis of race, caste, creed, religion, affiliation, etc. on campus
4- All serving military officers in the university be directed to quit their jobs and return to purely military functions
5- All retired military officers in the university be gradually supplanted by qualified civilians
6- Post of Director Campus should be occupied by a highly qualified academic
7- Purge the university of pseudo intellectuals
8- Constitute a special autonomous body of academics to ensure checks on faculty members
9- Tighten the plagiarism check policy on faculty members
10- Decision to retain faculty members should hinge on students’ feedback
11- Empower Students’ Affairs department for allaying apprehensions of students
12- Public proceedings of all cases before the discipline committee
13- Abolish dress code
14- Render more need-based scholarships to students by eliminating fee discounts for children of naval officers
If you’d like to know more on the subject, or schedule an interview with Mr. Arsalan Bilal, please call his media spokesperson, Mohammad Hissan Khan on +92 (0)321 5899 478, or email him at hissankhan@hotmail.com.

 Here is Arsalan explaining what happened:

You can find updates on this facebook page.

Arsalan’s hunger strike alone won’t change anything. As someone who was worked in the education sector, I know the sector as a whole couldn’t care less. What will make a difference is supporting Arsalan and other students like him who want to make a change and aren’t afraid to challenge the powers that be.

Engaged pedagogy

On Saturday, I delivered a talk on applying critical thinking skills in the classroom to 450 teachers in Islamabad. Here is the write up I’ve sent them.

Is this image familiar? It certainly spoke to me. This is how I felt about education as a child in Pakistan but not later, when in an International Baccalaureate sixth form college. As a student of the International Baccalaureate whose base was weak in critical thinking (thanks to the private Pakistani schools I had attended), I struggled. But even today, I remember much of what I learnt. I retained it. I still remember my tedious critical thinking classes, taught in the form of a compulsory subject called Theory of Knowledge. I still use what I learnt there. Did I just get lucky? Or was it because I was no longer part of a passive education system?

We, Pakistani teachers, are passive educators and today I appeal to you to band together to get rid of this system for it has too many disadvantages. It promotes authoritarianism, suppresses thoughtful inquiry and has a negative impact on creativity & imagination. Furthermore, it doesn’t teach students how to “learn to learn” or make informed decisions. It creates a culture of dependency and it certainly doesn’t motivate. Can we even call this real education? I certainly can’t.

Children are born critical thinkers. We, the adults, actively suppress that skill they are born with. According to bell hooks, “thinking is an action” but our children are taught to fear it at home and in schools. As a result, they reach college unprepared and struggle with critical thinking courses. Many are unable to think critically and some are unwilling. They are scared of philosophy and say it is “useless”. It is a struggle to teach them and it is a struggle for them to learn something so basic: how to think. Should it have to be?

Currently, we live in a culture where lecturing is the norm and we believe that it is important to lecture. It is, after all, a skill they must learn. However, lecturing is a passive activity which has many drawbacks. I know I’m not the only teacher who believes that lecturing is counterproductive. It discourages participation because it isn’t easy to make a connection with listeners. It is incredibly boring. The message we are sending non critical thinkers, who cannot be active listeners, seems to be “learning is NOT fun kid, and you better know it from the start!”

In order to break this culture, we should move away from lecturing to interacting. According to bell hooks, “engaged pedagogy begins with the assumption that we learn best when there is an interactive relationship between student and teacher.” Students become active participants but they must be provided a safe space where everyone is free to respectfully disagree.

So what can we do? Here are a few tips:

Make this a golden rule: our job is to teach, not preach. Always be open minded and be aware of your biases & prejudices. Don’t be judgemental (but be skeptical) and always be open to new ideas and perspectives.

Don’t be scared of being challenged by a student. Students should be free to disagree or ask clarifying questions. That is how they will learn!

If a student asks you the answer to a question you don’t know the answer to, say “I’ll look it up & get back to you”. It is much better than giving misinformation or silencing a curious mind. Remember that we’re human and it’s ok to expose our humanity to our students. We are not robots and we shouldn’t be afraid to share our stories or emotions. We shouldn’t be afraid of not knowing an answer. It’s certainly better to be respected for being human than it is to get faux respect out of fear.

Encourage your students to work towards the solution of the problems you’ve posed instead of spoon feeding them. Even if they can’t solve the problem in class, don’t answer it. Let them go find the answer. One may come and give it to you herself in the next class!

Encourage and teach argumentation instead of only debating.

Expose students to diversity and alternate perspectives even if you don’t agree with the alternate perspectives. You owe it to them!

Teach logic and promote logical thought.

Encourage creativity in all subjects. It’s possible! As a student of IB higher level math, I had to complete a portfolio which I found incredibly tedious. I later realised it was very valuable.

Please do allow the students to use their imaginations and be creative.

Insist on small class sizes.

We, teachers, should be lifelong learners. We also teach by example: stern, unbending, judgemental, paternalistic attitudes aren’t conducive to critical thought!

Finally, please feel free to email me at nabiha@theknowledgefactory.org I am happy to share my resources or answer any questions.

My critical thinking course

After I wrote about how lack of critical thinking is creating an intolerant and indoctrinated society, I really thought there would be no solution other than overhauling the entire education system and introducing a system similar to the International Baccalaureate. While I still feel that the current private school O and A level system needs to be replaced with something better, I know it’s not going to happen any time soon.

Under the current system, students arrive at university without any critical thinking skills. They struggle with critical thinking courses and they also do not know how to present well. After excelling in school, this leads to a loss of self confidence and can impact their academic performance. Surely the deserve better and if schools aren’t teaching them critical thinking, someone should. So after months of just thinking and planning, I have finally set up a critical thinking course for students. It is twice weekly and two months long. Here is the facebook page for this course as an event and here is the official description on The Knowledge Factory’s official website. Although it was meant to start this week, not enough people have registered so we have delayed it for a week until we have enough participants.

My teaching philosophy is that learning should be fun. For this course, there will be no reading. Instead, I will use animations, videos and images in class. Because I personally find lectures boring, it will be interactive and will be a safe space for debate.

Do check it out and sign up if you’re interested. You can also contact me at nabiha@theknowledgefactory.org for more details or just leave a comment here.

 

The Impacts of Growing Religious Intolerance on Students in Elite Academic Institutions

Originally published as “Children of Zia” in Dawn blog. Based on a talk at a conference on women, religion & politics where I was the token under 30 feminist.

A cousin recently said to me: “growing up in the 80s, we knew who the enemy was.” He (for it was almost always a he), was glaringly visible, blatant & vocal. Today, with an ever increasing amount of beards in stomach & voluntarily oppressed women, we no longer know who the enemy is. It could be your neighbour, your teacher, your student, your driver, your guard etc.

In elite academic institutions, we make a knee-jerk & erroneous assumption that we are not responsible for this phenomenon. It’s easy to blame the non-English speaking public sector & madrassas. We like to believe that we are not responsible for the fact that today, 56% of elite youth do not want a secular state. We like to believe that we are not active agents, but are we?

In schools across Pakistan, elite or not, very few of us teach critical thinking, which, in my opinion, is absolutely essential and should be compulsory from an early age. We need to stop deluding ourselves into believing that we are truly educating. Without the ability to think, education starts to resemble indoctrination. And in a country like ours, where private schools have no option but to teach state sanctioned propaganda under the guise of Pakistan Studies & Islamiyat, which aims to indoctrinate with a linear vision, this becomes even more necessary. One is not allowed to challenge the syllabus and one is expected to regurgitate, over and over again, one perspective, the chosen perspective. If you don’t, you fail & that’s not an option most are willing to take. The message this sends is difference & diversity will not be tolerated.

We need to stop, pause & think about our current situation. Isn’t this just a logical outcome of these classes? And isn’t this because these students have been taught NOT to challenge alternative perspectives & blindly believe what their teachers & texts tell them? Indeed there are many who fail critical thinking courses because they stubbornly decided that what we, the “liberal” teachers, are doing is part of the grand Hindu-Zionist-CIA conspiracy just because we are presenting them with alternative perspectives and asking them to be sensitive to other views.  “Pious” teachers prey on their sensibilities and tell them that those of us who teach them to think outside the box are “agents” whose aim in life is to “destabilise” Islam & Pakistan, again perpetuating a culture of indoctrination through fear. These kids are taught to fear thought, over & over again. They end up with persecution complexes so strong that it gets in the way of all thought. They are, after all, a product of the society they live in and most do not have a living memory of the world before 9/11.

What personally depresses me the most is that once the class is over, many choose to go back to their linear vision even though they know they are speaking in fallacies. Some even say, outright, “I choose not to think about any other perspectives because they challenge my worldview”. There are many reasons for this since they return to a culture which has a tunnel vision. Brains rust if not used, especially in Pakistan.

Most of my on-going research is based on extensive interviews with students in elite institutions who are outside the (state sanctioned) political & religious norm today. Intolerance in academic institutions, places that should, ideally be safe spaces, is growing at a visibly rapid pace. Because teachers are self-censoring out of fear, students are not being properly educated and many of them know it. They fear being fired for it has happened to someone who challenged Wahabi Islam in a critical thinking class. They fear being viciously (mostly verbally) attacked by their students like some have been many times in the past. Teachers across the land are afraid to use the word Darwin or even dare admit that they believe in evolution instead of creationism in medical schools! I’ve spoken to many who refuse to bring up religion or politics in critical thinking classes, which, to me, defies the senses for critical thinking relies on challenging people’s deeply rooted, deeply ingrained perspectives. We live in a country where religion & politics is in the air we breathe. It must be acknowledged and it must be challenged.

I may seem like I’m on a tangent here, but this is related to our precious youth. When a teacher is afraid to challenge hate speech in class, the students who don’t share that retrogressive perspective will inevitably suffer. When teachers allow intolerant students to intimidate them as well as the rest of the class, then that teacher is doing a massive disservice. That is the kind of teacher who should be fired instead of those who don’t put up with this in their classroom.

Most of the students I’ve spoken to say that they are also self censoring their comments now more than ever. The vast majority also feel that the students belonging to the religious right are a much bigger problem for them than the teachers. Many of them have been attacked, mostly by these students, for voicing their secular opinions or for presenting any other perspectives. For example, a student, let’s call him X, who openly said that Mumtaz Qadri is a murderer, was verbally attacked and called a “liberal extremist.” This is despite the fact that he actually tried to reason with his opponent, explaining that Taseer was not an “infidel” but someone who just wanted justice. Sadly, our youth have become so brainwashed that X’s perspective was instantly dismissed. X used to openly voice his perspective until recently. Now he’s a bit wary & he’s not the only one.

Similarly, those who say that Ahmadis are Muslims & should NOT be killed for having beliefs different from the sunni norm, also get attacked. I have personally witnessed students say that they would like to personally behead Ahmadis or just about anyone who doesn’t agree with their Wahabi vision of Islam. I’ve heard them say this out loud in a class with Ahmadi students who are, more often than not, hiding their religious affiliation from the others (they tend to let me know). I’ve also heard rants against Hindus while a Hindu student has been sitting in the room. That’s how shameless we have become.

Another example of peer intimidation is that of a minority girl who was voicing her views on prostitution & marriage, stating that she thought prostitutes should be allowed to get married legally. She said this out loud only because she thought she was talking to liberal, secular students like herself, only to discover that they were extremely intolerant when she ended up being verbally attacked so viciously that she had to leave. They were not even willing to listen what she had to say. They were not even willing to acknowledge the validity of her well thought out point of view.

Students also talk about “the look” they get from the students who blindly believe in the religious right rhetoric. “The look” is a stare so deep, so uncomfortable, that it silences & scares them. They know that these students will later cause problems for them. These very same students are effectively terrorists roaming free, banging on people’s door for fajr namaz, demanding they say all their prayers at the mosque, which they then regulate. One student who went to his campus mosque in a red shirt was kicked out by the fundamentalist students. Their justification? Red is “inappropriate” in a place of worship.

In hostels there are students who don’t let other students play “haraam” music or constantly preach to them, dousing them with unwanted & unwarranted advice on how they should live their lives. The preaching certainly isn’t restricted to the hostels. And even when students try to avoid them, they will eventually find them & preach to them sometimes for hours on end. A few months ago, I spoke to a student who was accosted in the middle of his campus by a religious student who told him that he should stop hanging around with girls. He had never met this student, who was junior to him, before. He’s scared now of course, since there seems to be a sort of watchdog spy network amongst these students, students who are not at all afraid to intimidate & attack.

None of this is new of course, but the level of intolerance is higher & leading to more and more violence than it ever did before. Each and every student I have interviewed say that this is getting worse year by year, drone by drone.

Education should aid evolution, but our students are going downhill. This is our reality, a reality that sends shivers down my spine. But I’ll maintain that we are also to blame. By putting up with this & allowing students to intimidate as well as regulate others, we are guilty of perpetuating an intolerant culture. We should not be tolerant of the intolerant. By putting profit above quality & by not teaching critical thinking from an early age, we are part of the problem. What we are breeding is an even more dangerous form of terrorist than the ignorant, brainwashed madrassa student who doesn’t know any better. He was never taught to think, never allowed to even think about having a thought of his own. Our private students, on the other hand, know how to think but choose not to. They choose to become intolerant and they choose to believe in conspiracies, which are trendy & perpetuated by celebrities like Ali Azmat. It is shocking when it comes from a well dressed, articulate student in a suit attending the top business school in the country; one whose aim in life is to then move abroad, work for a multi-national that he is currently dismissing as a evil Zionist company & reap the benefits of a Western lifestyle. I shudder when I think about just how many future Faisal Shahzads & Dr Aafias are out there. They were the result of an earlier, more tolerant generation. Now we’re witnessing the children of Zia, in their full glory & splendour. Something has to be done & something has to be done now.

Ridiculous Sentences

Although Zohair Toru has provided us all with a few days of laughter, I agree that it’s time to stop. He is, after all, just a product of the society that he comes from. He is not one of a kind at all. As a teacher, I can tell you that I have come across many, many Torus, most of who are Imran Khan supporters. It is a private school dilemma related to the fact that education in this country is one big joke. We don’t teach kids how to think. The teachers talk in the same kind of fallacies Khan puts forth. What else do you expect?

Now, let’s get over it please? Or at least let’s try? I’m going to try and help by putting up these sentences which reflect just how incredibly pathetic the O and A level school system is. Warning: just like Toru’s little rant, they are funny at first, but if you stop and reflect upon this, you might start to feel a bit sad.

These are actual sentences written by O level students from Aitchison College, a highly reputed school. This school is considered to be the best boys school in the country, yet they can not write or speak English, even though they are (supposedly) taught in it. When I made them do this exercise they cried out against the futility of it. We haven’t done this since class four they cried! This is for kids not us! Well I beg to differ… here are some amazing examples. The word I had given them to make the sentence with is in bold.

  1. Shehryar showed an unconscious attitude.
  2. The bag was humane.
  3. The marital was sick so the marriage was cancelled.
  4. I become very historic at times.
  5. He became very imaginary writing the essay.
  6. He became alternative when the club sent the invitation to join.
  7. The marital relationship with Omer and Ahmed is very weak.
  8. A historical move, “We win together”.
  9. He was vulnerable finding his boyfriend Ali.
  10. Whether or whether not I’m going to school, and you will do my home work.
  11. The human race is the most superior race of all races.
  12. There was nothing marital between S and F after they were married because they were separated.
  13. He has more muscles than I do.
  14. When people see a good amount of money they get a little mussle (sic; mussel).
  15. A regular pattern was made in the sand as he ran here and there as he went discourse.
  16. When I went to the party people said I was looking very soothe.
  17. The detrimental from the robbery was Rs. 1 crore.

And here are some classic arguments & conclusions put forward by A level students

  1. “… it is coming to logical conclusions and they are implementing [loose] motions in society”
  2. Mekevelli was cool. 2pac said so! and that’s how he spelled it!
  3. so the evil Nabateloutians, who live long time ago on black sand beaches of Holy Land (Saudi Arabia), were punished by THE GOD! for being sodomizers and unbelievers!!!
  4. the roman emperor, Heraculation…
  5. Here’s proof that adversity makes one stronger: I once had a painful jaw operation. It hurt a lot and I was in the hospital for days. Now I am a stronger person therefore adversity makes everyone stronger.

It may be very easy to laugh now, but this depresses me immensely as a teacher.

Name & Shame

There are loads of students in universities & schools across Pakistan who think it’s perfectly acceptable to email/message random teachers and ask them to do their work for them.

Well, this teacher is getting sick of these people. I am not interested in interacting with people who have no concept of academic ethics. And I’m sincerely hoping that this new section of my blog will act as a serious deterrent to those who think that this kind of behaviour is acceptable. Although I normally don’t even reply, there are some interactions that are worth showcasing.

Here’s a prime example of this kind of shameless behaviour.

Please note the fact that the student admits that he knows this is wrong. And I also don’t like having to reply with a threat to report these kids, but I also know, from personal experience, that they won’t stop otherwise. There have been times when random students have sent multiple emails, effectively spamming my inbox, because they think they can get away with doing so. It’s a sad reflection of our education system as a whole that encourages shortcuts, tricks & gimmicks instead of hard work & critical thinking.

Of course my own students have always tried to pull these tricks. For example, many who can’t be bothered to read the course material, come to class and do their own research think it’s perfectly ok to ask me questions that I addressed oh, I don’t know, about a hundred times while they were snoring. Emails asking me “how to cite” despite being given a workshop, a full class, all material required for citation & internet resources are a source of frustration and leave a very bad impression. What makes this problematic is the fact that there’s a writing centre, open all week, for their use, complete with student tutors. How lazy can you possibly be, I always think. It takes longer to email me this long list of questions than it does to search for the answer.

Who on earth nurtured these kids into believing that it’s ok to do this? The answer: we did.

When I was teaching A level students in Aitchison, I was constantly being pressured to write their college essays for them. When I said I was happy to help by just giving feedback, they would walk in with blank papers, bark a topic to me & expect me to shit out a nice little essay for them, right there and then. When I didn’t, they would, you guessed it, cry & whine until they found another teacher to do it for them. And sadly, they would always find another teacher to do so, which was very upsetting for me to watch.

Yes, upsetting and genuinely unsettling. You see, even though I did go to a private school in Wales, I didn’t ever, even once, consider asking my teachers to do anything like this. Why? Because we knew that we had to write our own essays & asking anyone else to do so would be like cheating. We understood that, and even if we didn’t, not a single teacher would have done so. THAT is professionalism. And when I took a stand to do the right thing, I suffered the consequences for trying to be ethical in an extremely unethical environment. “You MUST help your students!” they would say. See the twisted definition here? It’s synonymous with “do it ALL for them”. And if you then were the one black sheep who didn’t do something most teachers didn’t have a problem doing, then you were the villain. How these teachers sleep at night after doing this all day is beyond me. I ended up quitting because I had a hard time living with myself.

In our schools we spoon feed our students so much that by the time they come to university, they expect the teachers to indulge their brattish behaviour. They think it’s normal to ask a teacher what resources they should use instead of going to the library and researching for themselves. Heck, we don’t even provide them decent libraries in schools! This is just an outcome of what they are already used to, really. We shouldn’t be too surprised, should we?

This leads me to another headache all teachers the world over face: students constantly badgering them to improve their grade for all sorts of ludicrous reasons. I’ve spoken to many at length about this issue. One, my personal favourite, is: “I deserve an A because I am the best. I say I’m the best and I insist I know better than an experienced teacher with an MA in this subject”. I call this the (LGS Defence) Gremlin syndrome, a result of private schools that put their students on undeserved pedestals. Undoubtedly Gremlins top the list of the most difficult students. Oh, the stories so many of us could tell you!

The most common one, however, is “oh shit I fucked up the course by being a lazy brat so now please pity me and pass me for no good reason whatsoever even if I cheated or plagiarised”.  With this one comes much begging & crying. And when those don’t work, threats start to pour in ranging from “my uncle works in the ISI” to “I am related to X,Y and Z” and “you know that anyone can charge you with the blasphemy law based on things you say, right?” is now cropping up countrywide.

Again, this comes back to schools, especially private schools. LGS, for example, pressured me to pass all the students I was teaching because they “didn’t want to lose money” (verbatim from the Principal’s mouth). They wanted me to pass boys so weak in English that they couldn’t string a sentence together. It had been decided, in advance, that they would be promoted to O levels just because they parents threatened to pull them out if they were taught Metric. In Aitchison, although the admin did not ask me to pass students unnecessarily, they did absolutely nothing about the physical threats I received. When students call you up and tell you how they will rape you in explicit detail, or when they physically harm you by pushing you around then shouldn’t they, ideally, be punished if not expelled? The answer, in Pakistan, is a resounding NO.

So when students demand that their grade be “improved” I have to remind myself that this is a result of their education. After all, many schools happily change grades for transcript as Aitchison now certainly does. Recently, I saw a real transcript and another doctored one prepared for universities by the admin. I was horrified to see that the student who had been given Ds by me now had As, but let me assert here that Aitchison is not alone. All our “best” private schools happily do so. There are only a handful who don’t. They also don’t check for plagiarism, a common problem the world over, definitely not isolated to Pakistan alone. As far as I know, the vast majority of our schools (and unfortunately universities too) do not use a plagiarism checker before checking essays so sadly, many students get away with it. I’ve had numerous encounters with students insisting they didn’t plagiarise, lying with a straight face which then turns red when a computer generated plagiarism report is shown to them.

But plagiarism almost seems like a mild offense as compared to cheating, which, in many schools doesn’t result in an expulsion, suspension, detention or even a failing grade. My personal view is that if someone is cheating, take the paper away and give them a zero. If the same person repeats the offense, take disciplinary action. I’ve tried to do this a few times. I say tried because the schools don’t let you fail the kid. Oh no, instead they do utterly ludicrous things like “separate” the two whispering to each other, turning a blind eye to this issue. What kind of behaviour does this reinforce? Does it discourage cheating at all? Of course not! When students have spent their entire academic career being moved from desk to desk when they were cheating instead of being punished, they do it with full confidence. They know there are absolutely no consequences other than a few seconds of their time lost while moving. This is so stupefyingly counterproductive and sends out this message: “it’s ok to cheat because there are no real repercussions.”

As I now publicly declare that I’m quitting teaching once this semester is over, even though I really appreciate the completely professional & ethical atmosphere of my current workplace, I leave you now with one single thought, a question I often ponder over: are we really educating or are we creating armies of brats who think it’s perfectly acceptable to indulge in all sorts of academically unethical behaviour? Let me know what you think.