Revisiting the art of teaching

I was very upset that evening. Something about the class was deeply disturbing me. The students had been impassive throughout that class.
Perhaps I had rushed a little?
Perhaps I hadn’t made it as innovative and interactive as I usually do?
These were my thoughts. So I got back to my PowerPoint slides and breathed more life into them. But the next day was the same. And that continued. At first, I couldn’t understand what had gone wrong. The faces before me were just not the ones I had seen at the beginning of the curriculum. I concentrated on their faces. They looked so exhausted.

They were numb….

To the point that nothing could penetrate them. They had become impassive to the good and bad in their environment. The irony was that they scored very well in their exams. And then I understood what was bothering me…

The fact that they were not enjoying learning.

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Numb faces stared at me in the classroom; five months of medical school had transformed them into zombies, incapable of being moved.

The pressure to perform had successfully transformed them into automated robots, good at swallowing capsules of information that could be regurgitated during exams. But nothing could move them anymore. They were no longer thrilled by those beautiful stories that described life. They were so saturated with ‘information’ that they had no space for stories. Just five months of medical school had transformed them into zombies, incapable of being moved by life.  And they are the future guardians of our lives…

Individuals who have no clue of what life means.

As I scanned their faces, I wished I could talk to them about the larger perspective of life. I wished I could talk to them about why they had to learn stories instead of swallowing information. But the medical curriculum in India does not give room for that. There is no time where students get to interact with teachers for a mentorship. All the time in their curriculum is invested in academics…

Academics that is of no practical value to humanity.

There is no leisure time. The extracurricular activities are also loaded with the pressure to perform and gain points that can enhance the CV. My students don’t read storybooks and novels. They don’t watch movies that go beyond entertainment and help them root their own experiences into memory. They are not aware of the role of books and movies in the formation of unconscious memories. Also, there is no intimacy between them. Their friendships narrow down to smiling faces on a selfie. They collect none of the beautiful memories that once characterized campus life.

One witnesses a slow death that eventually robs them of their ability to feel anything at all.

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The beautiful memories that once characterized campus life

I wish I could tell them that depression is their future. A brain with piles of information that means nothing to them at an emotional level…a brain devoid of any unconscious memories. Their bank of emotions and memories is empty. And they eventually fill it up with antidepressants.

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Their syllabus includes a beautiful chapter on the physiology of memory and emotions. A chapter on what it takes to form a memory. A chapter that differentiates between conscious and unconscious memories and educates as to why the latter is crucial in motivation and learning. And that chapter is squeezed out of its emotional component and fed into their brains where it doesn’t leave the tiniest trace of memory! The teachers and the text books are machines that are brilliant at this squeezing out process. The more they squeeze out the emotions, the better they are regarded. That beautiful textbook of Guyton lies in a dark corner of some library shelf, conveniently forgotten and abandoned. The good teachers also find themselves secluded.

If you ask me, these students are not yet dead. Their numbness is transient. They need to be released of this pressure to perform.

For which their learning environment and evaluation system must change.

And that can only be achieved by teamwork. I have always believed that education is a tool to awaken and develop the inherent curiosity and creativity that exists in every child. And this belief has isolated me. I find myself fighting the entire system when I teach, because I have to first struggle to teach them to feel.

I feel pained when I realize that man has reached a point where he needs to be taught how to feel and what to feel.

And just as I have succeeded in generating some feeling, somebody else takes over. And we have such a deficiency of true educationists that by the time I get to teach that batch of students again, they have already slipped back into numbness. Also, there is the struggle to oppose your peers and superiors and stick to your teaching module. Not to mention dealing with the hurdles created by their insecurities. This struggle is exhausting.

When I teach them physiology of the nervous system- those beautiful wires and circuits in us that breathe life into us, I feel pained at the thought that many of these circuits are slowly becoming vestigial for our modern lifestyle successfully suppresses them for good.

With every step of technological development, we are actually putting to disuse one emotional circuit within us, and thus removing one element of life from us.

Today, the circuits are lost only in individuals. But tomorrow, these circuits will disappear from our species. As I clearly see a future where a robot will replace homo sapiens, I hear aloud the cry of nature. Of that emotional world where life once thrived. Life, with its infinite joys of the wholesomeness that resulted from those infinite associations that our creative minds endowed us with, thanks to our ability to feel. Our minds that breathed life into colors and textures and sounds.

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Don’t we have the responsibility to preserve such a world for our generations to come?

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