Thinking Outside the Box
Now, I don’t want to sound like Donald the Dumb talking about fake news. Having said that, there is a gap between what textbooks print and the real world. Case in point. I’m teaching a survey course on major religions of the world. Each week during the semester, we deal with one or more religions.
Several weeks ago, we were researching Hinduism. One of my students, Rawa, wrote an interesting essay about Hinduism and happened to mention that she had a friend who was born in India. In response to her essay, I suggested that she talk to her friend about the place of women in the Indian society, which was Rawa’s topic of her essay. In addition, I cautioned her not to push too much about the inequality issue but listen to her friend’s response. She did precisely that. She asked open-ended questions without judging. The next day, she wrote about what her friend said, which troubled Rawa.
The difference between the textbook and the real world rattled Rawa. I replied to her that Steve Biko, who fought against apartheid in South Africa, said, “The most potent weapon of the oppressor is the mind of the oppressed.” Once a person is enslaved in their mind, chains aren’t needed.
I was delighted that a student was so interested in learning that she spent the time to push the envelope of learning. I’ve always enjoyed teaching, but that week was special. Well, that is true until the next week, which was on Jainism. Rawa looked for a Jain on the staff of the hospital at which she worked. Rawa interviewed him and wrote her essay about Jainism, not from the textbook point of view but from a real-world Jain.
I read Rawa’s essay to which I replied that she ought to go back to the Jain doctor and get his spin on sexism within his religion. She did. The two of them talked honestly about sexism, since she is from the Middle East, which has major issues with that topic.
The following week Rawa was dejected; she couldn’t find a Buddhist. However, the following week, she found a Sikh woman. Her essay dealt with marriages within the Sikh religion. The following week, Rawa talked with a Chinese doctor about the issue of Asian longevity.
I am writing this essay during our week on Chinese religions. Next week, we will address Shinto. Rawa will find someone from Japan. However, the following week will deal with Zoroastrianism. I teased Rawa during class about no one will find a Zoroastrian. I fear that she will rise to the bait and find one.
I have told all my students in any of my humanities classes that they must travel outside North America. Canada is very much like the States and Mexican resorts are also very much like American resorts except for the Mexican accents of the employees. Therefore, I tell my students to travel overseas to the country of their ethnicity. If they are German, Brazilian, or Japanese, visit that country first.
However, once they get over the fears of traveling overseas, the next time they will broaden their travel horizon. I tell them that after living overseas for more than two years when you total all my trips, I want to go to any country that is furthest from my knowledge base. Having said that, talking to someone who lived there is the next best thing. It provides a foretaste of what that country will be like.
The attached file is a short bio about Rawa.
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