Archive for Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Tonganoxie High School graduate experiences life in India

October 17, 2007

Editor's note: Laura Graveman, a Tonganoxie High School graduate who now is a student at Emporia State University, earlier this year had an opportunity to teach in India. The following reflects some of her observations while there.

Kolkata, India -- During my travels to India, one of the things that constantly surprises me is how exposed I feel to Indians -- how well they seem to know my culture and consequently me -- before we have even met. American and British culture is everywhere. I can turn on the television to many channels and see shows I watch in America: American Hot Rod, Disney's Recess, Nanny 911, A Baby Story, etc.

But Americans seem to be so engrossed in themselves that they do not have the chance to be exposed to other cultures through media outlets unless it has to do with overseas violence. I have learned so much from this culture that valuable lessons imbibed will live forever within me. Why can't Americans look more to other cultures for gaining valuable insights in life, which would lead to valuable introspection?

I find the only lessons and ways of life I am able to teach Indians are what it is like to live in a town as small as Tonganoxie. I recently went to visit relatives of the family with which I am staying. They live in a different section of Kolkata and I was immediately welcomed into their home. I was talking with two men who are close to my age. We were speaking of our favorite movies and I was amazed to find out they had seen all my favorites. It again reminded me of how acquainted they are with our culture, even though we know almost nothing about theirs. We also talked about the books we read while growing up and I was again surprised to find they read many of the same things.

All these realizations create new questions: If people think India is so different from America, do we have the wrong impression of other countries as well? Are Japanese that different? What about Egyptians? Iraqis? What if we all took the time to learn about each other's culture and ways of living? Would the world make more sense if we were just a little more tolerant toward those of different cultures? If we understood their living conditions, customs, and ways of life? Tolerance is the only way to begin. Understanding others without prejudice is a step forward to peace. If only one of us tries to make a difference, then what have we got to lose? In this case, the gains far outweigh the losses. Perhaps just a start: Read about the culture of someone you see on the street or better yet, of someone who is doing something you don't understand instead of being judgmental.

When we begin the process of understanding, the judging stops, and the elitist attitude toward others diminish. In doing so, the fighting stops, so do the wars, and thus we can begin to attain world peace.

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I have traveled the world in search of something more, to see what I'm missing and how I can learn from others to better help those who need it. The things I have learned are lessons which cannot be found at home. They are things that America is seemingly afraid of: having personal responsibility for ones' actions, political correctness, and not having a fair chance for every child. India seems to better know these hurdles, which are important in their own right. They understand that one of the most important steps in the learning process is making mistakes. When mistakes happen, they must quickly and efficiently be taken care of in order understand both the mistake and the consequence. America is very quick to let children make mistakes over and over again without reprimand and therefore missing an important piece in the learning process.

In India, in order to get an opportunity, one must stand out. In America, opportunities are continually passed up and forgotten about. If only American children would learn what it is like for others, they may appreciate what they have instead of constantly wanting more.

For example, in India, the role of the teacher and the student is well defined. In the rare occasion when there is more than one person talking in the room at the same time, the class remains calm and respectful.

In terms of education, India is light-years ahead and centuries behind. The reason being, although the student produced is very capable, many feel they lose an integral part of their childhood to the rigorous study schedule. Reversely, in America, many students seem to never grow up, and partially incapable of it. Why? Because of the attitude of the education administration and parents alike. Both have to be in agreement of the importance of education and the correct way to implement it. We spend billions of dollars on education, but can we justify the means of the end result? We spend money on things like new sports equipment and a scoreboard for the basketball team, on a brand new school where one is not yet needed instead of new books and raising teacher salaries and thereby getting more qualified educators. In Kolkata, there are 41 students in a classroom smaller in dimension than the typical American classroom. They have no air conditioning, no computers, sit in plastic lawn chairs, and yet they are producing tomorrow's engineers, scientists, mathematicians, etc.

In America, a lot of weight is put on teachers to find new and exciting lesson plans to engage children, to make them feel as though they belong. In India, they go through their daily readers while occasionally breaking the norm. The entire class is also taught in English, their second language, but that does not seem to have much bearing. In India, students are here to learn. Period. Why are they so far ahead of the United States in terms of education? Because they understand the need to perform, stand out and do well. Don't get me wrong, America has a lot of strong points, but many are ignoring the fact of the matter: we are not producing tomorrow's leaders, but tomorrow's followers. Change in the education system must start promptly, before leaders realize it is to late to make appropriate changes.

America does have good things India doesn't have: The right of every child to have an education; they are allowed to learn at their own pace; and to top it off, many Americans spend a substantial part of their tax money to ensure students receive adequate opportunities.

That being said, which is more important? A child's self esteem and sense of belonging, or their ability to be competitive in today's global society? A blend of the two would result in a picturesque education system. With the emerging global society, America needs to think outside the box -- to think of how we can embrace the education system in other countries to enrich ours, and it is no more a choice or an option for us. Because with the emerging globalization, if we ignore others and their methods we will ultimately doom ourselves and leave our children to face a bleak future with a handicap in the race for survival.

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