“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
###

“Ordinary” America, Minus-10 Celsius

Not just working. In smiles too!
Not just working. In smiles too!

Today, I am saluting the “ordinary” America. Because, it’s extraordinary.

(People who copy the “American” lifestyle — copy this America. This real America.)

It’s ten degrees Celsius below zero in New York. Here in the U.S., we use Fahrenheit: it’s about 15 degrees F. It’s extremely, bitterly cold. It is dangerously cold. Without the proper protections — layers of warm clothing and scarve and woolen cap and warm gloves, etc., you could die. In fact, without them, you would die. Just the same way, poor, homeless people are dying on the frigid streets of Delhi, Darjeeling or Dhaka.

And it’s not even snowing (snow is on the ground only in some places in Long Island: thanks to global warming, we’ve been having a less brutal winter for the past few years). It’s brightly sunny, coupled with a frigid chill breezing down from North Pole. For people who never experienced it, real snow — like rain — happens when the sky is overcast, and that cloud cover makes it less cold. A sunny day with a Northerly “wind chill,” it becomes even more severe. Today is one of those very, very cold days.

The weatherman gleefully announced on the morning TV: “The wind chill temperature is near zero.” That is, zero degree Fahrenheit.

Yet, the extraordinarily thing is that: all the ordinary people are working — on time. Little children are going to school. As the picture above shows, volunteer “school crossing guards” who carefully help the school kids cross the street are in attendance, on time. They show up to work — voluntarily — at 7 A.M. School buses pick up the kids around 7.30 A.M. In New York City, bigger school kids do not have the privilege of the yellow school bus: they travel on their own (like the kid shown on the photo above). They are all up, on time, to attend their middle school or high school. Primary school children wait patiently with their parents on the street — for the yellow bus.

Parents who work outside wait until the bus picks up the kid, before they walk to the nearest subway station to catch the communter train; or, they start their car and wait for a few minutes to warm up the engine. Parents who work inside wait until the bus picks up the kid, before they walk back home to start working a full day — cooking, cleaning, or even shoveling snow. Mothers work round the clock — rain or shine, snow or sleet. (Sleet is…well..you look it up. Bad stuff.)

The work-a-day life is in full swing. This is the brave, working spirit of America, and I salute it.

No, it's not marijuana smoke. It's breathing in and out!
No, it’s not marijuana smoke. It’s breathing in and out!

I came to work and it was 100 percent attendance. Nobody missed work because of the bitter, severe cold.

Last night, it was even colder than today. Temperature dropped to perhaps 10 degrees Fahrenheit. I took my car on my way back from work to a garage (car shop). Had to wait for a couple of hours before they could order in a new fan belt and install it. I saw all the workers working in full swing, defying the cold. Inside the garage, it was not as fully heated as your home; garage doors were pulling up and down frequently as customers and workers were coming in and out frequently. Frigid air was blowing in (I remembered last year my wife and I were waiting at a first class waiting room at Haridwar train station, it was frigid, and the faulty door of the first class waiting room would not shut tight, and we were shivering even after wrapping us up with a blanket).

I am not posting a photo from the car garage here because the workers are poor and mostly undocumented; they do not make much money (most of the money they make go to the shop owner’s pocket anyways). And they must work to feed the family and send some money home. I was awestruck to see the level or work ethics.

Who said the “illegal alien” is only here in America to rip off the country? Come here and see for yourself: they are MAKING the economy, not breaking it.

They work away...for us.
They work away…for us.

This morning, on my way to work, I took the subway train as my car was waiting to be worked on at the garage. I took the G train. I saw American workers already up and running: some of them were already working on the Gowanus bridge station they’re putting back together. These guys must have been there at 6 A.M. Based on my own experience with some of these workers, I know some of them leave home at 4.30 or 5 A.M. to get to their work place at 7 or 8.

Four thirty or five in the morning when the outside temperature is perhaps fifteen degrees below zero, these ordinary workers — men and women — are ready to go to work. Would you like to be in their shoes? Do it. Try it at least once in your life.

Ordinary American workers? If they are ordinary, who is extraordinary?

Just think. It’s even hard to think at -10 degrees Celsius. Just try.

(And…for those out there…people who copy the “American” lifestyle — copy this America. This real America.)

Sincerely Writing,

Partha

Brooklyn, New York

###

American workers. I salute you!
American workers. I salute you!