English classes for me always meant a worn out copy of some ancient book, with pencil marks underlining boring quotes that the author had conjured up. Our essays most often had to be stories, or hypothetical experiences and tall tales spun intelligently to make them sound astoundingly like real life experiences. It was those students who got all the good marks, the ones who talked about extraordinary encounters with wild animals, and imaginative descriptions of wonderful things which had come to powerfully alter the course of their lives. Research had never been a requirement and our opinions were unaccounted for in school essays. After all, who really cared to listen to the opinions of teenage pipsqueaks who knew nothing about the state of affairs to talk about them in the first place?
I was hence very much surprised when I took English classes in college here, which turned out to be a very different experience. Essay writing was different here, and I had to do painful research to support my claims, and had to have a clearly established thesis in support of some well-defined idea. In other words, I was to have an opinion on something, and it had me scratching my head. My opinion? Who really cared for my opinion? Did it matter? Firstly, I was not the sort of person who ventured far enough to have strong opinions on anything. Occasionally, a singular point would either irritate or interest me, and I would try to drive my point home, upon which the other person would often exclaim the exact opposite of my assertions. I would then stutter, back out of the dangerous conversations and let my moderate nature show itself. A simple “Whatever,” or “I know,” or “You’re right,” would dissolve the talk, and I would be all too happy to get on with my life without much ado. Taking sides was never my cup of tea, as I usually found myself unable to debate. I have learnt, through years of patience exercise, that peace is often achieved when I simply keep my mouth shut. Debate never stuck me as a mild and peaceful activity, and I found meek compliance to another person’s claims as the best alternative to shouting myself hoarse in order to justify myself.
What happens when you are forced to justifying your claims? And when your GPA counts on it? What happens when it becomes a requirement for you to look into matters, establish opinions on them, and dwell on matters that interest you? I say, it makes you a more perceptive individual. Although I complained a fair number of times when I was stuck with an incomplete essay one day before it was due, I must say I learnt a lot in the process. I learnt to think deeper, and widen my perspective. I developed opinions, and someone was even willing to listen to them, which astonished me. I now think that it would be better if this approach was introduced in our country as well. A simple “What do you think?” or “Why do you think this is correct or incorrect?” would work very well in teaching instead of forcing certain thoughts on us. A mere mention of the facts and simply by-hearting them should not become the requirement, but rather, a natural extension of concepts to challenge our thought process should be incorporated. I guess it would wake up the droopy eyed boys in the back benches too! Instead of saying reservation is necessary for government posts, one should ask why? How is it correct or incorrect? I remember that in our tests, especially civics tests, we were forced to by-heart whole sections of our constitution, and spew it out on paper. Wouldn’t you think it would be better if we were allowed to express our genuine understanding of what we learnt in our own words? Or maybe even our own interpretation of the constitution? Sadly, I don’t even remember the Preamble I by-hearted back in eight standard when I am supposed to have known what it was saying. All I can recall is that a bunch of backbenches had been giggling that day, on a joke about the teacher’s hairdo. When the whispers had spread to our bench, we had laughed too, forgetting the desperate voice which had been screeching, “We the people of India…” somewhere up front because we could not grasp the meaning of these words anyway.