Tuesday, September 15, 2009

An Apology to My Students


Obododimma Oha

I have been on strike for quite sometime now and a number of things have suffered: the lectures, the experiments, the class seminars, etc. You have also suffered emotionally especially because you were about to commence your examinations when I suddenly put down my red pen and banged on the table and said, “Damn it, I’m going on strike!” And I went on strike. You were surprised, but humbly believed that I must have done it for your own good and that it would be over soon. You put down your pens too, just after writing your matriculation numbers on the answer booklets. Our conversation was thus interrupted, and I am sure that surprised you too, for you know me for hating the interruption of conversations, especially “academic” conversations. I am sure you have not forgotten my long lectures on how learning and all knowledge work have to be a continuous and coherent thing. I need to apologize to you for this behavior of mine that is neither in tandem with my character, nor with learnedness. I need to apologize to you also for the more painful interruption of our highly valued, examination-type of conversation. You know me for having special regard for evaluations, which I always insist are experiments that must be allowed to produce reliable results, results that should be used in making the learning process better and better. With my absence from the classroom for weeks now, you must have started searching for the meaning of all my theories and philosophies about the non-negotiable necessity for creating a healthy society through the production and transmission of knowledge.

I do not want to defend my action in rendering this apology, for that would greatly undermine my purpose here. Moreover, you are already familiar with the powerful and convincing argument I offered when I commenced the strike – the fact that Government has to touch up my salary and also provide facilities for a more effective and result-oriented university education in Nigeria. I would, however, like you to take this whole painful episode as part of the learning, for indeed, our nation is a school where we all can learn some very crucial life skills. Nigeria is both the school and the challenging subject to be studied. In that regard too, the Government of your country is already a case study. Your politicians are case studies on democracy and its hijack. I, too, should be considered a case study on knowledge production and its contradictions, especially given the litany of strikes that characterize my professional life in Nigeria. So, I would like you not to be idle but to see yourselves as being on a serious fieldwork.

I know I have failed you in a number of ways and must take responsibility for your inclination to look for heroes among politicians, armed robbers, kidnappers, and other groups that do dark things. I know that I always told you how hardworking my own teachers were, how they loved their profession, and how people knew and respected them for the quality of their minds, their preferences, and actions. I am not quite sure that I have fared well enough to make you want to become a teacher like me. Is it my new-found interest in “pastoring” a church or” imam-ing” a mosque instead of giving good attention to my lectures and supervising your projects properly? Is it my new-found desire for flashy cars, which I change like Christmas dress in order to show other lecturers that I am in a different class? Is it the less attention I now pay to books? Is it my gradual transformation to a businessman? Is it the tendency to begin to check my lectures and other academic inputs in terms of Naira and Kobo? Is it the casual way I do my job, going into the class to teach unprepared and without updating the ideas that I present to you? Is it my inability to challenge you intellectually to make you have respect for learning? Is it my preference to belong to various committees and devote more time to meetings than to academic activities?

I have always told you that we do not just teach what is in the books but that it is through our lives that we teach, or that it is our lives that (we) teach. How true, though ironical! I am asking the Government to provide physical facilities that would make my work really begin to work – and that is quite rational and legitimate – but I have also performed the act of contrition as recommended by my confessor and have realized that I also need mental and behavioural facilities to demonstrate fairness to you as my students, to your poor parents who are also victims of bad governance, and to God who is actually my employer.

I know that in our country in these strange times, we seem to lack the capacity to say “sorry” when we err. I want to depart from that arrogant posture and tell you sincerely that I have erred in my tactics. I wish to let you know that I will soon call off this painful strike, as a sign that I care for you and that, even though my request that Government should see education as a priority is legitimate, I am also concerned about my own image as a teacher. I am concerned about how my life and conduct as a teacher would help you to learn to have respect for learnedness and interest in the future of our society. May you continue in the love and pursuit of wisdom.

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