“Don’t even believe a single word I say.”

Optical Illusion
This is how I teach my labor union workers here in America.
People call me by my first name. “Partha,” they say, “I have a question.” Questioning, challenging, doubting what the teacher preaches is totally okay.

No, over the 30+ years I’ve lived in America, I have not changed my name to Pat or Paul. I have been adamant that my American students, teachers, colleagues and even neighbors pronounced my name correctly. If not, tough luck, I will not reply.

I teach a critical-thinking, interactive workshop to about 1500 union workers each year. Each class, I have about 30-40 students who go through the class I put together on a different subject each year. This year, we’re discussing extremism. Last year was human rights. The years before were climate change, immigration, economic inequality, etc.

Every class is attended by a group of union workers, and we do interactive discussion for six hours — with help of documentary video clips, fact sheets, individual and small-group brainstorming, and Q/A with help from peer-reviewed research. At the end of the day, we become more conversant on our own questions — pertaining to the subject of discussion.
This year, I’ve been using a special catch phrase. “Don’t even believe a single word I say,” I tell them in the beginning of class. “You do your own research, and find out. Then come back, and share your research with the rest of the class.” That’s how open and free my class is. That’s how I teach.

Unlike India, calling the professor by their first name is not a big deal here in the U.S. If and when somebody addresses me as Dr. Banerjee, I practically become uncomfortable.

I never believed in fake respect, and I never cared for the British colonial education, that would put the teacher at a higher, artificial pedestal — where anything but addressing a he-teacher as Sir and a she-teacher as Madam would be unacceptable, and even punishable.

Surprised? I even eat potato chips and my students drink their coffee in classroom, while teaching and learning. Then we clean up the classroom spic and span — ourselves. Doing your own chores is a lifestyle here.

India has joined the rat race to “become like America.” But India has not changed its feudal, prehistoric education system even by an inch, or by a millimeter.

Sincerely,
Partha Banerjee
Brooklyn, New York
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