a blog for teachers who follow the Master Teacher
by Jacob Shylla
Being able to teach English – be it as a language or as literature – using materials that have explicit elements and references to my faith in a classroom full of students from several prominent religions without fear of retribution is perhaps a privilege enjoyed only by a very few people in the world today. And as someone who sees his callingfollower of the Master Teacher, who came to reconcile the world to the Father, such an opportunity can only come across as miraculous. Ironically, the sentiments and emotions I experience in such circumstances are not ones of joy but conflict. I have found myself many times shirking my calling not because of a lack of commitment but because of the veneer of deceitfulness that accompanies the act. So instead of boldly proclaiming the truth that the course content allows, my voice is muffled, and overcome by a sense of guilt and with many apologies, I gloss over things and somehow get saved by the bell.
As I leave the lecture hall, I am torn between feelings of guilt and of shame. Guilt because I have lost yet another opportunity to do what was “right.” Shame because I keep coming very close to becoming yet another tool of subjugation and domination of a generation whose forefathers, many years ago, died to secure their independence from the tyranny of an externally imposed religion and culture.
How does one perform the work of reconciliation when such conflicts tear at the heart? The knowledge that the English language and its accompanying literature were introduced in my country as instruments of subjugation and conversion and the responsibility that I have to continue teaching them are two irreconcilable facts that cannot be bridged easily.
Should the work of propagating the agenda of former colonialists continue? Can we allow the proxy-colonization of our people from across the continents through such seemingly innocuous tools? Can they (English language and literature) be taught without giving these perplexing questions even a thought? But how can one remain impervious to the jagged edges protruding so painfully from every line of what we teach? Can we teach without being ashamed of what were once chains of slavery in the garb of modernity and progress?
I remember staring flabbergasted at my Philosophy of Education professor at university as she leveled questions along similar lines at us (more like at me since I was the only Christian in the class) while talking about the circumstances and factors leading to the introduction of English literature and language in our country. For the first time, I was truly ashamed to have been numbered as a Christian amongst our once imperial masters.
As a citizen of a country that has a rich cultural diversity and a plethora of religions, I am constantly reminded of the need to be careful in deciding the subject of my discourse/conversations and the manner and attitude with which it is done. I understand that this, in many cases, is the unspoken rule that one generally follows while carrying on a conversation with other people, but here in my country it is perhaps the only thing standing between peace and disharmony.
We welcome your comments on any of the ideas in this post or in answer to the questions below.
Jacob L. Shylla teaches English Literature at the undergraduate level at St. Anthony’s College, Shillong, India. He also trains English language teachers for cross-cultural work at a training center in Shillong. He currently lives in Shillong with his wife Gracia and son Ziah.