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Personal observations on life

‘Is life worth it’?

Today, as I sat down at my desk, beginning my work, I got a WhatsApp message from my 10 year old son. The message was a question: ‘Is life worth it?’

I sat back in my chair, and took a deep breath. My son, all of ten years, was going through existential angst. I texted back to him, “Yes, it is.” Then I added, “Love is what makes life worth it’. He texted me back, ‘I love you’.

As I reflected back on this little exchange between my son and myself this morning, I wondered if he knew the significance – the sheer weight- of this question. I am sure my son does not know that this is a question than mankind has asked itself over and over, over the millennia, and will keep asking long into the future as long as it inhabits this universe.  The professed task of religion and philosophy has always been to answer this question.

Monotheistic religions answer this question by saying that God has a plan for all human beings, and that life on earth is worth it because it is the fulfilment of God’s plan. According to this view, if a person failed to do what God wanted her to do in this life, her life would be worthless and meaningless. There are some schools of thought that believe that each human being has a soul that is immortal, and life is worth it if she lives her life in a way that expresses the beauty of this soul, though noble actions. Most religions advocate a combination of these two views.

There are also philosophers and thinkers who do not bother much about God or soul. According to them, each human being finds meaning in life differently, and it is up to each one to find her own meaning. A few of these thinkers believe that one’s life is worth it if she manages to do or achieve what is really important to her. Another school of thought holds that life is worth it to the extent to which a person feels love and care for something or someone. In this view, life is worth it because through life, one is able to experience love.

And then there are the nihilists who believe that life is simply not worth it, that it has no meaning at all.

However, since I am not a nihilist, and I am now reading ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ by Victor Frankl, I had a ready answer for my son’s question. Love is what makes life worth it. It could be love for other human beings, or some purpose higher than ourselves. It is this love that makes you achieve ‘flow’ and gives you optimal experiences, as the Hungarian-American psychologist Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi would say.

Life is definitely worth it.

Experiences

Why am I sick and tired of Zoom classes?

Set up Zoom Meeting – Love Hz Movement Feedback

I am one of those educators who embraced online education wholeheartedly, with or without a pandemic going around. I thought it was a historical necessity that human kind had to adopt sooner or later. It was one of those landmarks in the inexorable progress of educational technology. I was all for it. In the beginning, my enthusiasm was so very palpable.

Then, as I conducted more and more Zoom classes, and as the novelty began to wear off, I was surprised to find myself dreading my Zoom classes. From that point on, things have gone downhill. Right now, I am just sick and tired of it for several reasons:

1. The intangibility of online learning

Back when I taught my students face to face, there was a certain tangibility to learning. I could say to some degree of confidence whether my students had understood what I had taught. I could see it in their body language, the way they sat, the expressions on their face, perhaps a nod of comprehension, or the way they stared back at me. I sort of knew whether I was reaching them. And depending on that knowledge, I could modify my lesson, or add some extra explanation here and there. It was an interactive experience, in which both my students and I actively participated till we were both reasonably happy about what we were doing.

But now, as I look at my students’ faces, they look back at me with an awkward blankness. Their faces lack expression, even when they say that they have understood what I have taught. To make matters worse, my students being adolescents, they have a chronic reluctance to show their faces on camera, and instead post myriad Korean actors and cartoon characters as their profile photos. (One of them told me once that she looked ugly at that time so could not switch on her camera). So sometimes I teach looking at these weird characters and wondering what on earth the real individuals behind the profile photos were doing. All in all, I have no way of knowing intuitively whether my teaching has been effective or not.

2. A lot depends on student motivation

Online learning is for students who are really motivated to learn. Sadly, some of my students have a chronic lack of that quality. Since I am not physically present in front of them, they like to play truant, and escape after class has begun, saying that their video or microphone has suddenly developed a problem. I have no way of verifying it, so have to swallow whatever explanation they give. There are some other students of mine who are expert multi-taskers. They listen to my classes, and play video games with each other at the same time. Technically they are present in my classes, but they are so distracted that they learn nothing. Sometimes I call the parents of students who are absent in my classes and ask them what happened. The parents are then surprised and say that their child is sitting in front of the computer and attending classes. But when they go close and check they see him playing games. It is worse in the case of working parents with no one at home to supervise the kids.

3. Marking student work is a circus

I teach English, and it involves a lot of marking of compositions. Right now I ask my students to email the compositions to me. Then they say that they don’t have a computer, and are only using their mobile phone to attend my lessons. So then I ask them to take photos of their compositions and send to me, which they do. But when I try to print out those compositions, it comes out very blurry. So finally what I do is after a couple of compositions I ask them to get their parents to bring the books to me. This gives rise to a host of other problems because parents find it difficult to bring it doing office times if they are also working. Some do manage to bring, and I mark them. Then getting the books back to the students is another hassle.

4. Lack of access to technology

I teach in a comparatively well-to-do country. Even here, half of my students do not have access to a steady wifi connection and a standard quality computer. Therefore, almost every day I have students messaging me that their wifi signal was not good that day, and they could not come online. Some of them would attend the class with a faulty microphone or video. Some of my students are not economically well-off, and I cannot expect them to be fully prepared with all the gadgets needed.

My Zoom classes, frankly speaking, have been more an exercise in crisis management, than in real teaching. Honestly, I cannot wait to get back to face to face teaching.

English language teaching

How to write argumentative essays?

Resolved: Debate is stupid | The Outline

Argumentative essays are pieces of writing that conveys an opinion of the writer regarding an issue. It is very useful to know how to write an argumentative essay because it helps the writer to develop logical thinking and the capacity to think of the many perspectives of an issue.

Here is a sample template of an argumentative essay:

Introduction
What is the topic you are writing about? Define the terms if necessary.
What is your stand on the topic? (Are you for it or against it?)

First body paragraph
Give one reason why you feel the way you do about the topic
Give one piece of evidence to support your reason ( a personal story or a statistic)

Second body paragraph
Give a second reason why you feel the way you do about the topic
Give one piece of evidence to support your reason ( a personal story or a statistic)

Third body paragraph Give a third reason why you feel the way you do about the topic
Give one piece of evidence to support your reason ( a personal story or a statistic)

Fourth body paragraph
Counter point: Give one good reason why someone would disagree with your main argument
State why you think that person would be wrong (give a counterclaim to their claim or point)

Conclusion Sum up your main idea and your arguments for it.  

Sample topic : Should girls and boys receive the same kind of education?

  Sample plan:

 Introduction

The topic – what is meant by education – I believe boys and girls should receive the same kind of education

Paragraph 1: reason: boys and girls are equally capably of studying anything.  No different in ability.

Evidence : Public exam toppers – equal percentage of male and female

Paragraph 2: reason: Both boys and girls have dreams of doing some work they like in the future. Without education they cannot achieve that.

Evidence: examples of women who have achieved their dreams through education.

Paragraph 3: reason: women cannot have financial independence without jobs. Without education there will be no job

Evidence: In poorer countries where women are not educated, they cannot get a job, and they are forever dependent on men.

Paragraph 4

Counterpoint: boys and girls have different roles in society based on their biology. So girls should learn how to take care of children, and to cook whereas boys should learn how to earn money for the family by doing a good job.

Why I think this is wrong: Both boys and girls should be equally responsible for looking after children and cooking. Even though women given birth to children, men also can share the rest of the responsibilities. In the same way, women can also earn for the family by working.

Conclusion: In the light of the arguments given above, it is clear that boys and girls should be given the same education. Boys and girls are equally capable of learning, they both have dreams of achievements in life, and without an education, a woman will never be financially independent.

Personal observations on life

How patriarchy harms the next generation

Patriarchy | What is it, etymology, history, characteristics, examples

Patriarchy is a term h used to identify social organizations in which the authority is invested in the head of the family, the man, who owns wealth, children, wife and property. In other words, the woman, children, and the money in the family are all the possessions of the man in the family. Patriarchy and its typical social conventions are deep-rooted in our society, affecting all facets and strata of life. Nowhere is the weight of patriarchal mindsets more felt than the family, and for that reason, the younger generation grows up with an unhealthy dose of it fed to them everyday. There are a number of ways in which it harms them.

1. Skewed perspectives on gender

In families where the father is dominant, and where the father takes decisions without consulting anyone, the role model of the son is set. He most probably grows up to be like his father. However, unlike his father, he has to live in a world where women have education, learned opinions and views. He will be a misfit in such a world where women also work earn, and expect men to put in an equal share of work in household chores and bringing up children. He grows up thinking that man is more important than woman.

2. Lack of open communication

In a patriarchal family, there are things that are not discussed by the father with the rest of the family, such as the family finances and problems the father faces in his workplace. In many patriarchal families, the father and other male adults do not talk much at all, except with their own male adult friends. This gives rise to communication patterns that are very superficial, and the children in such families may grow up incapable of in-depth conversations.

3. Underdevelopment of personality

A child’s personality is molded by the family environment to a very large extent, In patriarchal families, girls and daughters grow up in close alignment with the traditional stereotypical definitions and roles of males and females. This leaves them deficient in a lot of areas of their personality which could be more like the opposite gender. For example, a girl may have the potential to be a public speaker, but since she has not seen her own mother speak confidently in front of a group, she may not even realize that she has this potential. Similarly, a boy may have the capacity to be an empathetic nurturer, but in the absence of a nurturing father role model, he might never fulfill this potential.

4. Promotes dependence

Ironically, patriarchy promotes dependence. Many of the patriarchal men do not know how to make food, or wash and iron clothes. They depend on women for all these ‘feminine’ activities. In patriarchal families, sons are not expected to learn cooking or washing clothes, just like the daughters are not expected to learn driving. Thus, neither the male child nor the female child grows up to be an independent adult.

Personal observations on life

When you say something that you should not have said…

This is me today. I said something that should not have been said. It should not have been said, because it caused anguish and anxiety for some people.

I was upset too. I could not take back what I said, and I agonized over the hurt I caused. It was entirely unnecessary for me to say it, but still I did.

All of us sometimes say things that we should not have said. But, having said it, what can we do?

1. Forgive

You are human. Humans are fallible. Forgive yourself even if the other party has not yet forgiven you. Treat yourself with kindness.

2. Apologise to the other party

A lot of lost ground can be gained back by just apologising. You could just say ‘ I am sorry, I didn’t mean it’ or ‘I don’t really know why I said that’.

3. Resolve to do better next time.

It is a lesson learnt. Resolve to be more mindful of your words and use appropriate filters. Resolve to have control over what you say at all times.

4. Be alert to triggers

If you observe your own behaviour and communication patterns, you will see that you tend to slip up at certain specific situations. For some people it could be after a drink, and for some others the trigger could be tiredness or being overworked. Some people lose their cool when they are hungry and some others when they feel too warm. Learn to recognise these triggers and be extra alert at those times.

5. Get back to normalcy as soon as possible

Re’establish relationships as soon as possible after your brief embarrassing episode. People tend to forget the hurt if treated genuinely nicely soon after. So, don’t wallow in guilt or self-pity. Get back on your feet, and get on with life.