Posts Tagged 'dhanya nair'

Public Education- An Endangered Endeavor?

save our tudentsBy Dhanya Nair

Education, one of the most basic services that should be made available to children and youth by society, is often the cause of much debate and controversy. Providing quality public education is challenging, even in developed nations like the United States. However, the benefits of free k-12 education are immense and are often reflected in the quality-of-life of a nation’s citizenry. Political leadership has a direct influence on public education through funding and curricula. Having grown up in a nation where public schools lack funds and quality teachers, and where warring political parties propagate their viewpoints by altering textbooks, I feel strongly about the need for citizen-participation in matters of education.

Public education is meant to provide a level-playing field for children from different racial, socioeconomic and social class backgrounds. Education should be an equalizer, not the fiefdom of a select few. If the people making decisions about public education in this country or any other are not committed to achieving its actual goals, there is cause for concern. As a mental health professional, I interact to some extent with the urban school system in this city and within the scope of my limited interaction, the disparities between urban and suburban schools are clear to me. Inequalities are meted out regularly to those children who come from minority, low socioeconomic and low social class backgrounds. Common sense dictates that the achievement gap can be narrowed largely by affording equal opportunities to children cross this nation. However, it remains to be seen if new educational policies will bow to political ideologies or the best interests of students.

Trickle-down Privilege

bulldozer-1357600_960_720By Dhanya Nair

As I turned around a corner, I saw a lone seagull landing momentarily in the middle of an empty road, poised to take flight again. I also noticed a speeding car through the corner of my eye, and hoped the driver would slow down, as there was no traffic. But, to my immense horror, the driver crushed the bird and sped on. I paused and looked at that poor creature, it had no inkling its life would be snuffed out quite so suddenly. Roadkill is so common that we don’t spare a second thought for it. However, the dead seagull got me thinking about hierarchies in the world. As a mere bird, the poor gull had no moral authority over a human driving purposefully to some end. Its life was disposable and the motorist had exercised her/his human privilege by killing it.

Our ascendancy as humans over other species in this world is also a mark of our collective arrogance. The firm, unflinching belief that we matter the most. “Survival of the fittest” explains why we became the most dominant species, and we have used that theory to justify pseudo-meritocracies, colonialism, slavery, and pretty much any kind of exploitation and manipulation. As humans, we have decided who among our own gets the most and least amount of privilege; for instance, a citizen of a “First World” nation should have more privilege than a citizen of “Third World” nation. To me, it seems like the unwritten rule is for privilege to be trickle-down in nature. As humans, we are trained to conceptualize the world around us in the form of hierarchies and structures. It probably helps us navigate this immensely complex world in a relatively simple manner. Hence, the driver who killed the seagull was able to get to her/his destination without pausing to spare the bird’s life as she/he was secure in the knowledge that her/his moral right as a human was superior to the bird’s. The consequences of such automatic thinking make me shudder. Are we as humans condemned to bulldoze our way through the lives of some or the other creature or our fellow human beings?

Teachers to the rescue

nairBy Dhanya Nair

This Labor Day weekend was all about being a couch potato for me. My husband and I binge-watched Stranger Things on Netflix though I was occasionally troubled by guilt pangs about impending readings for school. Stranger Things is set in the 1980’s and revolves around four pre-teen nerdy boys who love playing dungeons and dragons. One of the four boys goes missing one evening, and the plot quickly thickens with secret government spy-operations, teen romances, an alternate dimension (the upside down), and a blood-thirsty creature which reaches through walls.

The show harks back to simpler times when children had to rely on board games for entertainment, books for edification and flights of fantasy, and teachers–not google–to understand constructs. In their quest for their lost missing friend, the three boys are aided by a girl with psychic powers, a dedicated police officer, and concerned family members; but, for me, the star of the whole operation was Mr. Clarke, the boys’ science teacher. The boys accost him at a funeral for understanding how an alternate dimension can exist and be accessed, use the audio-visual equipment he furnishes their school with, and even call him on a weekend night to build a sensory deprivation chamber! Phew! Mr. Clarke! Of course, the boys were logically sound and hence were able to understand and execute their teacher’s instructions flawlessly. The only time I ever called my science teacher was when I tried to make soap at home in an aluminum container and realized science could never be my calling!

Mr. Clarke was the unsung hero of the show for me because he simplified theories for his students, encouraged curiosity, made himself available to his students even during his time off, was compassionate towards his students’ developmental tasks, and reinforced faith in the power of science. Having said all this, Mr. Clarke’s depiction in the show did seem simplistic to me. However, I do wish I had a science teacher like him. Maybe, I am doing a disservice to all my teachers by wishing this. My teachers have helped me fight all sorts of Demogorgon, I have relied heavily on them in the past for understanding the world around me, and still rely on them to correct my grammar, equip me with ideas, bolster me with kindness, and provide me with words of wisdom. If knowledge is power, then all those teachers who consider teaching their true calling are superheroes, my kind anyway!

In search of a career…

CareersBy: Dhanya Nair

I wasn’t too keen on studying career counseling this summer, however it turned out be a valuable experience as it led me to carry out some self-exploration. The course also made me think consciously about the process of choosing a career and the way in which our careers affect and are affected by our unique life circumstances. Choosing a career/vocation is one of the toughest developmental tasks faced by teenagers and young adults, in my opinion. Our choice of career not only impacts our quality of life; it also influences the narrative we build about ourselves.

I grew up in India, where career decisions more often than not involve the entire family. Career choices in India are often influenced by the needs of the family; if a family needs financial stability, then the children of the family, especially the older ones, are encouraged to find a vocation which would ensure a steady source of income. The Indian education system, according to me, also plays a role in truncating career options as it encourages students to choose between the sciences and arts during high school. I was a very confused teenager when it came to choosing a career because I felt a sharp lack of congruence between my inherent abilities and the expectations of my family. There continues to be a lack of adequate career exploration among Indian teenagers and young adults and this saddens me a lot.

In contrast, the American education system does offer more scope for exploring careers and seeking personal fit with various occupations. However, America is becoming increasingly diverse and hence there is a need to combine personal agency with students’ cultural background. There is an increasing body of cross-cultural research in the field of careers, and I find this very encouraging. However, I feel that several of these studies do not include a historical perspective regarding the development of attitudes to careers in a particular culture. For example, several research studies show that among first and second generation Asian immigrant adolescents, considerations of prestige and financial stability are paramount. I would like the consumer of this information to also take into account the colonial history shared by many Asian countries, in the post-colonization period most citizens of such nations found that a career in fields like medicine or engineering, which were important for nation-building, were the surest paths to attaining prosperity.

As I reflect on ending this piece cogently, I think about the social nature of humans. At no point in time are we isolated beings, our actions constantly influence and are influenced by people around us and our social milieu. As a result, we find ourselves in a constant state of flux. As a future counselor, I hope to be able to help students and youth realize the importance of embracing their unique life experiences, life-transitions, and uncertainty as strengths and resources to draw from when making career choices.

All You Who Procrastinate

6261230701_7368aa73d6_bBy Dhanya Nair

Let me begin by admitting that I am a procrastinator, have been one for a long while now. The prospect of writing papers and preparing for tests somehow makes tidying my wardrobe, reading for leisure, and sleeping very tempting to me. I cannot trace the origins of this tenacious tendency of mine (probably because I have been a student for most of my existence), but can vividly remember several panic-stricken hours I endured because of it.

So, despite the anxiety and panic caused due to procrastination, why have I not been able to get rid of it completely? I think, the answer to this question lies in my fairly large arsenal of rationalizations for putting things off until the very last minute. One explanation is that after having spent a fairly large chunk of my life being a student, some intelligence native to that role has crept up on me, so I know which shortcuts to take while preparing for a test or writing a paper. Another rationalization is that I think I produce my best work when working under pressure. However, I know that not every task can be accomplished well if it is postponed. Perhaps the intermittent nature of positive reinforcement I have received by procrastinating makes me sustain it. An acquaintance of mine, who happens to be a counselor, once told me that rationalizations for procrastinating are self-sustaining lies.

I do not intend to make a case against procrastination here, however, for those who find procrastination to be a source of concern, using mindfulness might be useful. I have recently started being mindful about my tendency to put things off and feel that I have benefitted from attending to the psychological minutiae of procrastination. Being mindful about the potential costs and benefits of procrastinating can be a helpful start. Having said that, I do feel that no one should abandon their guilty pleasures completely; instead, realistically determining how much time a particular activity will take might do the trick. Attending to one’s visceral and psychological reactions to an imminent deadline might be useful to lessen the negative impact of procrastination. Take into account all the negative reactions you might experience when you can almost hear that deadline whooshing past you and work on mitigating them one at a time. Practicing mindfulness while indulging in pleasurable activities could amplify those experiences, so while watching a movie, make sure you are not thinking about what needs to be done next. The same applies to tasks like studying for a test or working on a presentation, being mindful of the task at hand makes us more productive. Mindfulness might seem counterintuitive in an age where multitasking seems to be the byword and stress, a badge of honor. However, I feel it is the best way to ensure one’s sanity in the long run. So, my fellow procrastinators, keep persevering mindfully! And, now, time for me to practice what I’ve preached and move on to my next assignment.

Tales are forever…

talesBy Dhanya Nair

Last week, I ambled to the Milwaukee public library to get some books for my three-year-old nephew. I was pleased at the wide variety of children’s books at the library; along with Snow White and Cinderella, there were folk tales from South America and Africa and books which focused on the experiences of immigrant children. As I browsed through rows of fairy tales, folk tales, animal tales, nature tales, mysteries, and tales of horror, I felt a twinge of excitement. I was surprised at my excitement because I was not engaging in anything new; libraries have always been my safe haven. Later, I realized that I was excited because I was going to be the controller-of-tales. I would influence my nephew’s flights of imagination during his short stay at my home.

I found myself thinking about the tales I used to read as a child; Enid Blyton’s Famous Five used to be one of my favorite books. The Famous Five was about four siblings and their dog: Julian, Dick, Anne, Georgina (George), and Timmy (the canine). They would routinely find themselves involved in a local mystery during their vacations. Nothing about their geographic settings were familiar to me; they often sought adventure in places like Wales and Cornwall and ate scones, jam tarts, cold cuts, roast potatoes, and kidney pies. I remember being fascinated by the adventures of the five, and today I marvel at their amazing ability to transport me to a place which was inaccessible to me. The Indian tales which I used to read always had an element of magic in them, whether they were from the Ramayana, Mahabharata, Jataka, or Panchatantra.

Magic is the word I associate most with childhood tales, these tales are often also associated with an emotional landscape. When I reflect back on my childhood, I remember the stories and rhymes which my aunt and mother narrated to coax me to eat food or fall asleep. I also vividly remember the eagerness with which I would await cartoons and other kids’ shows on Sundays (my childhood was spent in simpler times, when delayed gratification was the rule and not the exception). Tales are also often the perfect gateway to a rich alternate world, where most children find comfort and refuge. My nephew is adept at pretend-play and often adopts the voices and words of the characters from his beloved tales.

My fascination with tales is child-like, however, I am not ashamed at admitting that they hold a strong sway over me. Tales are powerful, the world around us is filled with them. They not only serve as vehicles of morals and values for children, but also reflect the times we live in. Salman Rushdie conveys the importance of tales in his wonderful book, Haroun and the Sea of Stories. In the book, Haroun’s father, Rashid, is a master storyteller and is much sought after by political parties to weave positive stories about their candidates. Rashid is called the “shah of blah” in the book and I will always remain grateful to the various “shahs of blah” whom I have encountered in my life.

The Self-Fulfilling Prophecy

images

By Dhanya Nair

A large part of my summer is currently being spent on taking a course about counseling children and adolescents; I often walk down memory lane as I read about concepts like attachment and modeling. And, I think frequently about the power vested in adults. People often refrain that childhood is the most carefree period in one’s life, however I beg to differ. Children face the immense task of initiation into the adult world. There are constant pressures on them to toe the line, to be a “good” kid, to get along with peers, to be an all-rounder…the list is endless!

I am reminded of one of my classmates from school in India as I write this piece. The average class size in my school was about 30 and the class would be firmly divided on the basis of grades- the “good” and “poor” students. The “poor” students would consistently remain “poor” and any behavioral indiscretion on their part would mean banishment to the corner spot in the classroom where they would stick out like a sore thumb. I guess the idea behind the punishment was to shame the student into obedience. One of the “poor” students happened to be the aforementioned classmate, who also had the reputation of being a bully as he routinely got into fights and overpowered most of his opponents. He was more often than not banished to the corner spot in the classroom from where he would make faces at the rest of us or doodle idly. However, one day, things changed for him, our seventh grade science teacher announced that he was incredibly bright. We were stunned and stared at her in disbelief when she told us that she had discovered he was a quick learner while coaching him for a test. After that point, he did not seem to get into as many fights. And years later, I discovered that he had secured an engineering degree from an Ivy League school in the States. I can’t help but think that my science teacher’s discovery of my classmate’s “hidden” potential could have well started him off on his journey to academic excellence.

The “self-fulfilling prophecy” concept in social psychology refers to the phenomenon of behavior being influenced by prior expectations. I believe that my classmate’s better academic performance in middle school and high school was positively affected by the altered perception which others had gained of him. Very often, children become victims of the self-fulfilling prophecy not just because others around them expect them to act in certain set ways, but also because they internalize messages received from these external sources. Labeling in schools as well as homes can have a lasting impact on children’s development. A “lazy” child will be seen as a sluggard no matter what she/he does, and the lore will be passed around to everyone in the child’s life leading her/him to internalize that message.

Gender-priming, also, I believe, strengthens the self-fulfilling prophecy effect. Why is it that women in developed and developing nations alike are not well-represented in STEM (Science Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) professions? Is it because society keeps propagating the myth of men being good at science and math and women being good at languages? There is optimistic news from the scientific fraternity now about female performance on math and science tests, it seems like in societies where more gender equality exists, females perform as well or nearly as well as males in math and science. And, now, on that happy note, I need to treat myself to some coconut French toast!


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