A teacher's taleLeaders squabble over the age of the members, but not about their status as students.
I am often struck by the jargon "students' wing'' when political parties glibly use that in their organisational discourses. This term has become part of the common parlance and an accepted component of the hegemony of the political parties like workers' union, farmers' organisation, youths' wing, young communist league and so on. Every time I hear the term students' wing of a certain political party, I feel uncomfortable because in such reckless use of the students' organisation, I see a deep-seated problem. I feel that such processes will deeply defeat the very purpose of education. As a teacher, I would see students as those people whose main goal is to seriously engage in learning. To accomplish that they take up certain courses at the university or other educational institutions, and complete them within the given academic calendrical time. They will be known as educated people when they come out after completing the courses.
I am an advocate of students' participation in politics, not as cogs in the machines of the political parties, but as free thinkers, and as those who create awareness about matters related to politics, social change, environment protection, human rights, freedom and democracy. I want to briefly put my experience as a teacher, which could be a common experience of other teachers of different generations and areas of learning.
I want to allude to the subject of teaching students who also become politicians after completing their degrees. I consider that as the most common result of education everywhere. As a teacher of English language and literature, cultural studies and theories to some extent, my stress is not so much on political as on cultural and human themes. Among the students, there were those whom I did not teach but whose growth and trajectories as politicians was familiar to me. But there were others whom I taught, but their growth as politicians was not visible to me because they went into the jungle and became guerrilla leaders. There were also those whom I taught and saw them grow as politicians. The visceral story can be put in the following manner:
This is the tale of a teacher who taught for over half a century at different levels of the tertiary system of education at Tribhuvan University of Nepal. I maintained the continuity of teaching partly propelled by the urge of my erstwhile students who are leading the academic programmes, and partly because of my own love for the very act of teaching. I see a good panorama when I look back from the hillock of time. A teacher's favourite aphorism is that time is the source of epistemology, wisdom as well as of the moments of calm and disquiet experiences. The quintessence of a teacher's tale is that it combines knowledge, performativity and the periods of redefining one's tacit agreements with the society made over a period of time.
Writing memoirs is no unique experience for me because I have written a number of narratives about my times as a teacher, and also used that experience in my plays that were staged at different times before the shifting audience among whom were the students who would have seen the dramatisation of some moments that were familiar to them. But my story is not linear; it is a combination of the complex moments of personal as well as social experiences. As a teacher of the course entitled compulsory English, I taught students from different streams mainly in the initial phase of my career before I moved to the Central Department of English at Kirtipur. As a result, students who chose different careers and streams of academic studies in their career sat in the classes where I taught.
Similar is the experience of my colleagues who taught English in identical contexts. It was and is a unique kind of "expanding public sphere", to use the famous term of German sociologist Jürgen Habermas, the shapes and patterns of which is beyond the comprehension and understanding of a teacher whose concept of public sphere is shaped by no singular perspective of society. However, when writers, bureaucrats, politicians, medical doctors, monks and yogis greet me as their erstwhile teacher, I get some feel of that expanding sphere. On the whole, you feel that it is there, and out there are those people whom you taught in your compulsory English classes. Among those I taught in my English classes, some have become leaders of big political parties.
My communication with the hardcore well-known political leaders becomes an exchange of phatic communion. Once a famous Nepali TV journalist invited me for a show. In that he named one famous revolutionary leader and asked me what I had taught him. His expression was a little rhetorical. He meant to ask, "Did you teach him revolution?" I remembered I taught him a book entitled Stories from Shakespeare at the intermediate in science level. The book includes stories of Shakespeare's tragedies, comedies and history. I replied, "I taught him tragedy, comedy and history; now he is doing all three." This is just one example of the nature of my English teaching in the expanding public sphere.
Students and party cadres
But my worries are a little different today. What irk me are the fuzzy borders that are created by political parties between students and party cadres. Political parties issue directives without qualms, giving a senior political leader of the party the responsibility of looking into the affairs of the students' wing of that particular party. Political leaders squabble over the age group of the members of that so-called student organisation within the party, but not about their status as students. Most possibly, a majority of the members of the wing may not be bona fide students.
Political parties can galvanise different groups into the organisation, but while doing so they should not overlook the issues that could create the very bad culture of a reckless process of hegemony or tacit acceptance within the party. If the political party where this happens vows to work for democracy and its norms, such reckless practice will be very counterproductive. But if your party ideology is guided by principles of control and hegemony, such practices of erasing the identities of independent entities such as the students' organisation may work for you. But for the teachers and educationists who worry about the eroding values of education, such practices of tampering with the independence of unions such as those of the students is a matter of grave concern.