This Is An Example
I love teaching for a litany of reasons. The genesis of my desire to teach is tied directly to feeling dumb while going to junior and senior high school in Mt. Lebanon, PA. That feeling was etched into my psyche and haunted me for decades. Once I figured out that I wasn’t quite as dumb as I thought, the curse turned into a blessing.
I will do my best while teaching to push my students to believe in themselves, and they are far more intelligent than they think. Regardless of their IQ, I want them to think, ponder, and question. What they accepted as correct is up to them. I merely want them to think.
I am teaching a world religion class in which each student was to address some topic of their choice. This week, the class was dealing with Hinduism. One of my students, Shada, was thinking and wondering regarding a seeming theological contradiction.
The following was a small part of her ponderings.
Shudras were not the only ones who were not allowed to study Vedas, and the women weren’t allowed to study as well. And the reason for that being, “People have misconceptions that reciting Vedas mantras would affect the childbearing capacity of women” (The Times of India). Yet, “Neither do the Vedas nor Hinduism discriminate against women” (The Times of India).
And so now, it makes me wonder where this misconception came from. My best guess is men. And why do I believe men made up this misconception? It is because men want power over women. To add, there are actually some mantras that women can only recite, according to “Can women chant, Vedic mantras? Know the truth.” by The Times of India, which makes me believe that men wanted to take these sacred mantras away from women.
I replied to Shada about her questioning because I was delighted that she was thinking and not merely repeating something written. To add to her pondering, I mentioned the Indian term, Arsha, which is historically one of the eight means for a man to acquire a wife. All that is necessary is to buy his soon-to-be-bride by giving her father is a cow. Essentially, it is a trade. I added that I’d feel like getting a wife was similar to getting groceries or buying a car if I were a female. That mindset is sexism. Another example of sexism is suttee. For many centuries, a wife was expected to throw herself onto her husband’s funeral pyre.
I ended my reply to Shada’s essay by writing about meeting a retired Indian general on my flight to India. I went to India to spend some time in New Delhi, Dharamshala, and Amritsar. He was a Sikh and said to call him when I got to Amritsar, which I did. He took me around the Golden Temple.
After spending several hours at the Golden Temple, he asked me to help his daughter get into St. Francis, where I was teaching at the time. His older two daughters had moved to Canada and the US. I asked about her age. She was in her late 20s, and he added that she was a dentist. I couldn’t understand how getting another degree would benefit her.
He merely wanted her to attend school in America, which would get her out of India due to sexism, etc. The statistics about rape are staggering in India. Nearly 100 rapes per day are reported in India. In a year, there were about 33,000 reported cases. Most rapes aren’t reported because the rapists are hardly ever charged.
I used that encounter with the retired general as a teaching moment. Sexism is systematic in all societies, including America. Often, it is easier to address an issue facing America if you get students dealing with a similar topic in another country.
Additionally, teaching moments are best if a student raises problems of inconsistency rather than the professor. Often a peer’s perception carries more weight.