“But what is the right answer?” a workshop participant asked me. We were having a small-group discussion on possible ways to socio-economically uplift Dalit women, who are considered to be untouchable in the Indian caste system. A year back, I probably would have chosen the ‘best’ answer that had been offered during the discussion and urged students to think about why it was right. And if I were participating in the workshop, I might just have asked that question too.
But there needn’t always be the right answer, especially in the classroom. It took my first year at Swarthmore and my time at ITSA to realize this. At Swarthmore, my courses challenged me to think in new ways, although it was not until ITSA that I became more aware of how my college experience has changed my expectations and assumptions about classroom discussions, activities, questions, and more. My interactions with workshop participants have not only been revealing my expectations, but also reflective of their origins. This has helped me understand how I have evolved as student and how I can improve my facilitation skills during ITSA workshops.
I studied in a school that followed a similar curriculum to the ITSA workshop participants, the CBSE Indian curriculum Although the CBSE demanded a lot of hard work, it did not necessitate students to critically engage with the syllabi to thrive academically. The need to know what is “right,” and perhaps more importantly, to be able to exclude what is not “right” is something I can easily relate to. Right. Wrong. Black. White. That’s not how social issues spring up. That’s not how they are solved.
I had known that one of the reasons ITSA had been founded was because of the lack of emphasis on critical thinking skills in most Indian classrooms. It was only in the past few weeks that I understood this reason.