imran omer
 

Morality Based Education

Before the commencement of 20th century, the role of education was to inculcate moral and religious values. Since the dawn of the industrial era and particularly after the Second World War, education became more career oriented. Its value as a job grabber and a mode for competition for industrial and corporate positions has increased tremendously.  Gradually the process of providing values and morals, both worldly and religious, moved to the end of the list of objectives of education.

Another problem with moral education is that it cannot be taught directly in the form of a sermon. When it is provided in the form of a sermon, as we usually see in the religious dogma, it produces fear and may convince the receivers to hide and sneak in their immoral behaviors, but it does not create an impact that is capable of convincing the receivers about its everlasting worthiness and its impact on their personal lives. Morality is like the koan of Zen. The Bodhisattva comprehends the answer of the riddle (koan) when he reaches the stage where the spiritual dilemma connected to the koan appears in his consciousness as a reality of the cosmos, a point where he has no doubts about the validity of the spiritual fact represented in the koan. Morality that is structured as a hidden curriculum at different levels of the education of a student brings more concrete change in character than the morality that is provided in black-and-white terms of good and bad in the fear-mongering sermons of organized religions, or in the speeches of political leaders who pawn religion to gain political advantage.

morality

Sidney Hook writes in John Dewey: Moral Principles in Education, “The much lamented separation in the schools of intellectual and moral training, of acquiring information and growing in character, is simply one expression of the failure to conceive and construct the school as a social institution…” Was school ever a social institution? When did it stop being a social institution? And why?  In the late 1920’s, the movement of Dada appeared in the art world. It emerged from the disillusionment in religion and, up to a certain limit, in God, who was incapable of stopping atrocities that humans inflicted upon each other during the First World War. It also arose from the disappointment in the morality of overall humanity that was unable to see the fatality of its deeds. For them, the present moment was the time that was the most precious in human life. There was nothing beyond this material world and there was no other reality beyond the reality they were in. The Dada manifesto says, “I have given a pretty faithful version of progress, law, morality and all other fine qualities that various highly intelligent men have discussed in so many books, only to conclude that after all everyone dances to his own personal boomboom, and that the writer is entitled to his boomboom: the satisfaction of pathological curiosity…” It further implores us to “respect all individuals in their folly of the moment: whether it be serious, fearful, timid, ardent, vigorous, determined, enthusiastic.” At the same time, the emergence of psychology as a science of life implied that God’s existence was in question and human personality and morality is the result of the incidents and actions impinged in the subconscious. It facilitated the tendency to take refuge in the material present.  These movements were not only in art and science but they also appeared in the social lives of people. On the one hand, the United Nations and human rights appeared so that humans would not reach the point where they would treat each other in the undignified manner as they did in the First and Second World Wars, and on the other hand, trust in human morality and healing power deteriorated. Education is not isolated from the society in which it is imparted; therefore, the moral aspect of education fell far behind in the priorities of teaching.

In the last century, humanity has witnessed vast colonization of Asia and Africa for material gains. After independence, many nations fought costly wars on disputes over land and resources, genocide in Africa appeared in one or the other country every few years, and military and corrupt governments in Asia and Latin America deposited their hordes of money in the banks of Switzerland. At the dawn of twenty-first century, when we are about to kill the earth by pollution, over-population, and plastic bags, and struggling to create consensus on implementing strong regulations on carbon emission, we have to ask what kind of education is important for the future generations? An education that prepares its students to fight in the corporate arena to grab CEO positions in order to squeeze more money out of the system, or an education that provides a moral ground to construct one’s life and career, and to be an active participant in building a just society?  A few moral men could stop the insane ambitiousness of Alexander the Great (not so great from my point of view) and could stop the chaos in the world; a few moral men could have resisted Hitler and make him rethink his attitude towards humanity and possibly stop the Second World War. And a few more human rights activists may pave the path to end the siege of Palestinian lives, and stop the futile wars in different parts of the world. Do we need more such moral people or do we need people who are only hungry for power and money? Education today has to make its choice. This may seem to be a huge burden on a poor system of education, but this burden is much less than the burden we will face in the future if we fail to make the right choices.

NATRAJA (The Lord of Dance) in The Art Institute of Chicago

Natraja is one of the manifestations of Shiva, a major Hindu deity.

Hinduism
The origins of Hinduism are traced back to the Indus Valley Civilization, dated from 4000 to 2200 B.C.E. Though Hinduism is commonly viewed in the West as polytheistic (worship of multiple deities), it is more accurately described as henotheistic— the worship of a single deity with the recognition that other gods and goddesses are aspects or manifestations of that single deity. One god creates many personalities to represent its different aspects and worship of one is actually the worship of all. For the ongoing birth, preservation, and death of the cosmos and of the entities in it, there are three personalities of Brahma which are essential and which persistently keep creating this cycle 

  1. Brahama:  Creator who continues to create new realities
  2. Vishnu: Preserver, who preserves these creations. His most popular manifestation is Krishna.
  3. Shiva: Destroyer, who is sometimes compassionate and erotic and sometimes destructive. His most popular manifestation is Natraja, the Lord of dance.

Shiva’s Manifestations in The Art Institute of Chicago
There are some very good South Asian icons, both Buddhist and Hindu, in the Art Institute of Chicago. Among these icons, three pieces represent Shiva:

  1. Shiva with Uma and Skanda (Bronze, Tamil Nadu c. 14), the family grouping of Shiva, seated with his divine mate Uma and son Skanda
  2. Cosmic form of Shiva (Black chlorite schist, West Bengal c. 11 & 12), called Sada-shiva which means “always auspicious
  3. “Natraja” (Bronze, Tamil Nadu, c. 10 – 11), King of Dance

Natraja

Among these three representations of Shiva, Natraja is the most significant. One’s attention is drawn not only to its form but also to the symbolism it contains. This piece of sculpture is from the Chola Dynasty that ruled southern India from 800 to 1279 C.E.   It is a brilliant icon and probably one of the best representations of Hindu art.

 Natraja is significant in the sense that Shiva is shown as the source of all movement within the cosmos, represented by the arch of flames. The purpose of the dance is to release men from the illusion of the idea of the “self” and of the physical world. It implies that Maya (the material world and its illusions) not only constantly changes its shape but that the universe itself will implode to destruction. This also means that this dance of creation and destruction is staged within all of us. Through this destruction and creation within us, we evolve. We lose old ideas and old cells and create new perceptions and new cells, and in the end we die. But then we revive again in a new body to re-start the process—the dance, one that is quite like the cosmos.      

Shiva is usually described as a destroyer but he can also be viewed as a balancer of the cosmos. All the symbolism connected to him portrays positive and negative forces and the balance that is created by them. Shiva as Natraja , balancing himself on his one foot, is probably trying to balance the forces of  the universe in his four hands. With one hand he assures us with his abhaya mudra (fear not) that there is no need to be afraid, representative of his positive forces, and on the other hand he keeps the fire of maya to keep the illusion of this dual world intact. The duality of light and dark and evil and good that sustains us but at the same time threatens us is the symbolism of Natraja. One thing defines the other and cannot exist without the other. There can be no comprehension of light if we don’t know what dark is and there can be no judgment about evil if we don’t know what good is.

Fritjof Capra, in The Tao of Physics: An Exploration of the Parallels Between Modern Physics and Eastern Mysticism, beautifully relates Nataraj’s dance with modern physics. He writes “every subatomic particle not only performs an energy dance, but also is an energy dance; a pulsating process of creation and destruction . . . without end . . . . For the modern physicists, then Shiva’s dance is the dance of subatomic matter. As in Hindu mythology, it is a continual dance of creation and destruction involving the whole cosmos; the basis of all existence and of all natural phenomena” (Capra: 45).

Displays in New Cultures
In a museum it is impossible to experience Darsan which is one of the main premises of Hindu worship. Darsan is usually translated as “auspicious sight”, the important act of worship from a laymen’s point of view. It’s the act of standing in the presence of the deity and beholding the image with one’s own eyes, to see and be seen by the deity. In the Hindu understandings the deity is present in the image, therefore through the gaze one gain blessings of the divine.

The world might have shrunk and it might have become a global village, but we are still far from a cultural dialogue that can help us understand the other side of the village. These art objects actually give us that opportunity, and they often create interest in people to gain some awareness of other cultures. The popularity of Buddhism in the West rests on the icon of Buddha. If a Westerner has never seen a Buddhist icon, it is quite difficult for him to be interested in Buddhist philosophy. The icon reached the West before the creation of the preacher. These objects represent a window to other cultures and though cultures are never static and these objects belong to their past, they represent deep-rooted philosophies and perceptions about life that the people of that culture found dear. 

We have reached an era in which we are bound to interact with the beliefs and aspirations of other cultures or groups at some point in our lives. We can enhance the differences to create hate or we can open-mindedly attempt to understand the psyche working in the mind of other cultures, to find the real humanity that resides in all of us. All religions that have evolved in this world and all cultures that have taken roots in the societies of this world believe in that core of humanity that resides within all of us and that demands compassion and wisdom from all of us. Natraja is part of that core of humanity and demands a better understanding of the universe from all of us.

Art Education? Why?

Published on January 20, 2019 on Goodreads and Blogspot


The above question is an important one for a society in which there is much to be done toward the appreciation and teaching of art. Is it really a waste of time for our students? Is it a subject that just tears them away for forty-five to fifty minutes from their core subjects? Or is it a subject that provides our students with some specific skills? You may say that as an Art teacher I am biased, but I firmly believe that art should be an integral part of our school system.


students' art

 

Art Creates Understanding
Art preceded writing. Though essential, writing is usually linear (except perhaps in literature), while art has offered multi-layer perceptions since its very inception. The cave paintings were not only paintings they represented stories and icons, and desires and ambitions. They were a communion with nature and showed fear of it. They were inspirations and dreams and revealed the urge to understand the place of humans among the forces of nature.  The understanding brought by art might have made it possible for homo-sapiens to leap forward in the process of the evolution of the mind. We have evidence that the human mind has made such leaps. The progress we have made in scientific spheres in the 20th century is one such leap. The fast pace of progress from Industrial to Technological and now to Space age has no other explanation except that the human mind has a capacity to make such leaps, and it does not necessarily operate in a linear fashion. But what are the conditions in which such leaps are likely to occur? They occur in freedom. They occur when new ideas are not received with hostility.  Art is a conduit to establish such conditions. Art in its very essence is about experimentation and expression of new ideas.  Art is the faculty of the human mind that enables it to refine his reservoir of perceptions, emotions and reactions. It represents its endeavors to understand its own nature, and the environment in which it exists.

Art Creates Appreciation of Beauty
It is important to recognize and appreciate beauty, as it raises us up on our emotional and spiritual scale. If this were recognized, there would be no question about the status of art in society. I think the Greeks were wiser to take beauty as a moral goodness, and ugliness as the only sin. If we accept this norm, art is more important than economics and philosophy. It is the direct measure of man’s spiritual vision.

But is the Woman series by William de Kooning a depiction of beauty? The answer is no. In fact, the attempt to find something beautiful in these paintings is a sort of insult to them. Even Picasso's Guernica fails to fulfill society’s requirements of beauty. These paintings offer a different kind of aesthetic and have a different wavelength. Their beauty is in our emotion and in the expression of the emotion of the artists.  Their beauty lies more in our thoughts and reaction than in the form. Here we have art that is breaking form to make an impression on our emotions and mind.

Art Elevates Emotion
A lot of the richness of human life depends on its emotions. Without emotions we are machines that do not last very long and catch a large number of degenerative illnesses. Even at birth our genes can express themselves in one or more of the thousands of birth defects.  It is emotions that give us depth, meaning and roots. Art is a conduit that refines and elevates these emotions. The rhythm, harmony and theme of a work of art affect our nerves. It is a state of admiration and wonder, and it refines our emotional responses towards life. People who can create and who can appreciate creativity are likely to have empathy – the epitome of our emotional health. It is impossible to appreciate a work of art without having empathy. Every piece of Art is not only a visual but also an emotional event, an event that challenges us to refine and redefine our emotional state and understanding.

Society in general treats art as its illegitimate child. This is often expressed in the school system where Art is the first to go when funding is scarce, and last to be taken seriously when planning is done.  Do we just need individuals who are linear in their thinking? Would it not be better to encourage art that can help our minds leap forward?

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Urbanization in the Developing World

Published on December 29, 2018 on Goodreads and Blogspot

The trend of rural populations moving toward cities has created huge problems in the urban societies of developing countries. In the year 2005, half of the world’s population was living in urban areas. In 1994, there were fourteen mega-cities (the cities that had at least ten million inhabitants). This number increased to thirty-seven in 2017. This migration of rural population to cities has created huge problems.

SLUMS
Due to this influx of population, cities are unable to provide amenities to all their residents and the growing slums have become centers of crime in the cities.  A report by the United Nations Human Settlements Program (UN-HABITAT) says that some 96,150 housings units per day are required to avoid the urban crisis in the near future. Under the title “Financing Urban Shelter,” the same report says that more than two billion people would be added as city dwellers by 2030. To provide housing to these additional people, more than 35 million units would have to be built every year. If adequate financial resources are not provided, billions of people will be trapped in poverty, slums, poor health and low productivity.

slums

POPULATION
Population increase has multiplied the problem. There are many more births in the poor strata of the population than in the middle and higher income groups. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, “The world population increased from 3 billion in 1959 to 6 billion by 1999, doubling that occurred over 40 years.” The Census Bureau’s latest projections imply that population growth will continue although at a slower rate.

imran

The Population growth rate was 1.5 percent in 1950-51, and accelerated to 2 percent in the 1960’s due to reductions in mortality. Growth after the 1960’s started to decline due to the decline of the tradition of early marriages and the availability of effective contraceptives. But the declining growth rate did not affect the population growth in any considerable manner, since the total number of reproducing couples was much more than before. Though there was a decline in the rate, the rate itself was based on the population pool that was much larger than before.

CLASS DIFFERENCES
There is a considerable increase in the poverty-stricken population due to an increase in the overall population of the world. This increase in the population has considerably increased the gap between rich and poor as the number of people living below and just above the poverty line has increased considerably.  Ignacio Ramonet writes in The Politics of Hunger. “In 1960 the income of the 20 % of the world’s population living in the richest countries was 30 times greater than that of the 20 % in the poorest countries… in 1995 it was 82 times greater … In over 70 countries, per capita income is lower today than it was 20 years ago. Almost three billion people - half the world’s population - live on less than two dollars a day.”

Though food resources of the world have increased considerably and the number of goods for daily use has increased, there is also a considerable increase in the number of those people who are starving and have no shelter.  Is it possible to salvage this situation and help the exhausted humanity? According to the United Nations, it requires only 13 billion dollars. This is less than the cost of cosmetics used by the people of the developed world in one year. It is also much less than the aimless wars that humanity has engaged in over the last 50 years.

In megacities like Bombay, Karachi and Mexico City, a small portion of the population has all the facilities that elites of the developed world have. In fact, they have much more than that, as they can afford to have an army of domestic workers due to cheap labor. On the other hand, a large population is starving and has no shelter. A large percentage of these people live on the streets and under bridges. Though the middle class is rising in the developing countries of Asia and Latin America, the income gap between rich and poor is also rising and most of the benefits of today's technological world are concentrated at the top 2% of the world population. The hope to eliminate poverty that humanity aspired in industrial revolution has been lost in today's technological world as a large population of the world is still living in poverty or below poverty. It is a pity that all the technological advances of our space age have not been able to provide a relief to poor. Greed and apathy are the hallmark of our age.

The countries that have large populations that live in poverty feel that they have been robbed of the world wealth and have become hostile to the notions of ‘free world’ and ‘open markets.’  They feel that the rich nations are only interested in exploiting their resources and the notions of ‘free market’ and ‘open market,’ of the developed world are only to get raw materials from the third world countries and sell the finished goods back to these countries. This creates a lot of uncertainty and mistrust in their governments. This is either because the people feel that their governments have no control over the economic issues of their countries or they are powerless in the face of the strong market forces created by the rich countries.

GANGS
It is easy to figure out what happens to the youngsters who are uneducated and live on the streets: all too often they become criminals and are recruited into gangs. After all, to be in the gang is better than living on the streets.  Most of these gangs are involved in illegal drug trafficking. Our insatiable appetite for drugs make these gangs bring them into US, and they use a considerable amount of their profits to buy sophisticated military grade weapons from our underground market that is eager to serve anybody who wants to buy a gun. These guns, back at home, make the gangs more powerful than the law enforcement agencies in their own countries. Mexico is the current example, and Columbia is one from the recent past.

gangs

These gangs are getting more and more powerful as the third world governments are becoming more and more vulnerable due to weak economies and a decline in resources. In some countries these gangs actively participate in the politics of that country and favor candidates that can broaden their control. They finance these candidates and use their terror on the population that is in their control to vote for these candidates. Their control of a part of the government of a nation gives them the opportunity to expand their activities beyond the borders of their countries. According to the summary created in the seminar Gangs in the Global City, held by The University of Illinois, “In the Third World, gangs changed in two directions. Some, like in Jamaica, moved from politics to the world of international drug sales…. other gangs became politicized, like those in New Guinea and emphasized ethnic and national traditions as a way to resist globalization.”

ENVIRONMENT
The irresponsible attitude of the human race has created immense problems for the environment. It’s not only greenhouse gas emission but it is also the increasing population that is participating in ruining the environment for future generations. The United Nation maintains that the world population for the year 2050 could range from 7.9 billion to 10.9 billion, depending on the actions we take today. One can imagine what sort of environment future generations will have when we can clearly see deteriorating environment all around us today.

environment

All these problems are interconnected. Economics makes people migrate to cities, migration results in slums, the bad living conditions in slums and lack of opportunities give birth to crime and gangs, and crime highlights the class differences. Class differences in turn increase social strife and unrest and so on. In the 21st century, when we are trying to make contact with intelligent beings in space, looking for new galaxies with our powerful telescopes, and debating whether Pluto is a planet or not, the conditions of our own planet are deteriorating and a large number of humans are trapped in deprived conditions.  The number of young people is decreasing in Europe and America, whereas the number of individuals over 60 is increasing. But in Asia and Latin America, there are more young people that are staved and uneducated or involved in criminal activities.

The world has contracted due to the technological advances and now we call it a global village. Something that happens in one part of the world affects the other part sooner or later. SARS occurs in China but we are afraid of its effect here because we know that it may reach here faster than the migrating birds. It may reach here through an airplane within a few hours. Narcotics made in Mexico, Columbia, and Afghanistan end up in America. American elections affect its enemies, allies and its wars, and the enemies orchestrate the world forums to achieve their means. The world is becoming more and more complex, and in this complex world who should take the responsibility of saving it? If the developed nations continue to hesitate to save the rest of drowning humanity in the developing world then this human dilemma may extend to their borders. It is high time that we take heed, and take practical measures to tackle the problems humanity is facing.

University of Illinois. Gangs in the global city. Retrieved November 20, 2006, from
            http://gangresearch.net/Globalization/global%20era/glconfcall.html

Ramonet, I.  (1998).   The politics of hunger.  Le monde diplomatique.  Paris

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Our Environment and Teachings of Buddhism

Published on December 9, 2018 on Goodreads and Blogspot

Nature, beautiful and sometimes stunning, has a great capacity to impress our hearts. These impressions often become a source of spiritual uplift and at times take a few of us to the heights of spiritual enlightenment. All religions insist on the sanctity of life, but in Buddhism this principal extends to connect an individual not only with all life but also with all Nature. In Buddhism, Nature is not merely a supply source for our material needs. The Earth is seen as a living entity, and therefore Nature has a dynamic role in our lives. This respect for nature is inherent in Buddhism not only because it is the basis for much of its teachings, but because Buddhism itself is a product of Nature.

Buddah

The American monk, Thomas Merton, writes about his personal transformation while he was at a forest monastery: “If we reside in nature and near trees and rocks we’ll discover feelings and thoughts arising that are truly out of the ordinary . . . the lessons nature teaches us lead to a new birth.” In general, Buddha’s struggle was with the forces of Nature and not with the ills of society; therefore, his teachings consisted of the principals that were very close to Nature. Buddha in this way is very different from the founders of other religions, who primarily struggled with the ills of human societies and based most of their teachings on the reforms of those societies.  Coming out of the wilderness, Buddhism from the very beginning stressed not only the sanctity of life of all living beings but also the preservation of Nature for the benefit of all living beings.

All the religions of the world teach preservation of human life, but only Buddhism clearly connects the degradation or elevation of the natural environment with human morality. According to the ancient text Agganna Sutta, there was a time when the richness of the earth diminished due to Man's vices, and self-growing rice disappeared.  Man had to till the land and cultivate rice for food.

The concept of interdependence (that is called interbeing in Buddhism) appeared as part of a religious teaching for the very first time in Buddhism. The notion that the universe is a whole in which all the parts depend on each other for mutual survival is one of the basic concepts in Buddhism. This Interdependence of beings brought forth the teaching of ahimsa, or ‘nonharming.’ Animals only hunt to the quantity they can eat at a time. They do not horde, as they seem to know that hunting more than they need would destroy the natural balance that has been created by Nature. Ahimsa seems to be the direct derivation of this attitude of hunting animals.

Another concept in Buddhism that is closely related with interdependence is interconnectedness. This interconnectedness has been described in detail in Flower Garland Sutra where every being is part of a ‘jeweled net’ of the Goddess Indra. If all the sentient beings – mountains, rivers, trees – are connected with us then we are all part of Nature and nature exists within us. Zen Buddhists have taken this concept a little further. When an individual continues Buddhist practices, a time comes when he overcomes the dichotomy of ‘inward’ versus ‘outward.’

nature

Buddhism talked about the environment when there was no obvious threat to it. It is probably the first religion, if not the only one, that made the preservation and protection of the environment as part of its teachings. There is a set of guidelines in the Pali language called Vinaya. Among these guidelines, several prohibit monks from polluting green grass and water with saliva, urine and feces. These were the common agents of pollution during Buddha’s day and rules were made to address such pollution. Cleanliness was essential for the monks, both in personal hygiene and in the environment. Early Buddhists were very much concerned about keeping the water resources clean. The sources of water belonged to public, so whoever used them must leave the place with the same degree of cleanliness so that others after him/her can use them. Rules regarding cleanliness of grass were set by ethical and aesthetic considerations. Grass is food for most animals, and it is Man’s duty not to pollute it. According to the Buddhist text of  Pali Cannon, Buddha was critical of noise and did not hesitate to show his disapproval. Once he ordered a group of monks to leave the monastery for noisy behavior. Buddhist texts provided this ethics about pollution much before any imminent threat to the environment of the earth. 

Let us look where we are today in terms of the environment:
1. Within the last fifty years we have destroyed forty percent of the ozone layer of the earth’s atmosphere,
2. The peaks of Kilimanjaro that were covered with snows for thousands of years have only dust on them
3. Hundreds of species are extinct because of our polluted lands and seas, and our hunting obsession.
4.  We have made huge karmic implications during  our effort to get rid of nuclear waste which had the capacity to create adverse effects for  several thousands of years for  the coming generations
5. We are poisoning ourselves and our children with foods that are full of pesticides
6. Our consumption is at such a height that we have used most of the oil in a hundred years that earth made in millions of years
7.  We have cut down  most of the jewels of earth that are called the rain forests and turned them into ashes
8.Our jungles are decreasing as fast as our health

In this scenario, we need to find our connection with nature. It is time we revive the core of our conscience that is above religion and close to Nature and spirituality. It is time we do something for Nature and stop insulting it by grabbing its resources without any consideration. If we refuse to stop our abuse to Earth, it will be too late for all of us, no matter what part of the planet we belong to.

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Charter Schools—a Teacher's View

Published on September 22, 2018 on Goodreads and Blogspot

A few days ago I was talking to a friend, who has been a teacher for more than thirty years, in both public and charter school systems. Because she was only licensed to teach art, and because art (unfortunately) is a very low priority in most school systems, she was displaced due to the lack of funds. The next job she found was in a charter school. I remember how she had complained about the public school system, but her complaints about the charter schools went far beyond her complaints about the public school system. She said, "They expect me to get to work at 7:35 am, and be on school grounds even before students appeared at the door. Then they want me to teach four 75-minute classes daily, and be present in the lunch room with the students every day. This means I have to be on my feet for more than seven hours at a time."

Prone to be a devil's advocate, I said, "But many jobs demand that. If you were a saleswoman you would stand on your feet for eight hours."

"If I were a saleswoman, I wouldn't deal with hormone-pumped teenagers all day. I wouldn't make lesson plans on weekends, and I wouldn't take students' work home to check it. And my duties of grades and other online and offline paperwork wouldn't be such a headache either."

I empathized with her, "You are appreciated as a teacher, I am sure you know that."

"The societies that appreciate teachers don't starve them."

Her rejection of my empathy brought my criticism out again, "But we hear so many complaints against public schools and their unions. Maybe charter schools are the solution."

"Unions may have protected inefficient public school teachers, but it shouldn't be an excuse for displacing teachers so that they can be exploited somewhere else …my youngest daughter doesn't know better at the moment so she was showing interest in becoming a teacher like her favorite Math teacher, and I came out loud in discouraging her."

"But the real question is whether charter schools do better than public schools? Everybody is interested in that."

"No, they are not doing better in terms of student performance. They're just becoming a haven for corporations. Each corporation runs a few schools at a time, and treat teachers the way children were treated in the past when child labor was acceptable."

I challenged her generalization.: "But do all charter schools treat teachers this way?" 

"No, some treat teachers like humans, but they are few and far between, and unfortunately I've fallen through the cracks in the system."

"So what is the solution? How can we improve the performance of our students? On one side we have public schools with strong unions and on the other side we have corporations running charter schools, which you say are exploiting teachers. What's the solution?"

"There should be more accountability in the public schools, less paperwork and more professional development for teachers, and there should be less obsession with testing and more demand for well-planned lessons."

"But why don't you speak out and make these suggestions to the school system?"

"The decisions in the school systems are made by politicians who have no idea about the reality on the ground. They are not even interested in administrators' opinions, let alone teachers' opinion. We are on the lowest rung of the ladder."

I embraced her, "No matter if anybody appreciates you or not, I do."

She laughed and thanked me.

As a fiction writer, I cannot help but dramatize whatever I report. My hope is that these words will ring true . . . but in today's America, the truth has become relative.What is YOUR truth?

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Excerpts of Qwerty Thoughts Interview

Published on September 08, 2018 on Goodreads and Blogspot


Q. What was your motivation behind writing 'Entangled Lives' and when did you start writing it?

A: Over the years, whenever I heard about terrorists and the conviction of going after them to the end of the word, I always thought about the lives they lived to commit all those acts of violence. Were they the only ones who as individuals were responsible? Or did those societies have something to contribute to the outcome we have seen on the world stage? And I didn't have to go very far to see the facets of the society in general, and the politics, both domestic and on the world stage, contributing to the violence they were committing. I was researching for Entangled Lives at the end of 2014, but I started working on it in 2015.

Q. What all research did you do to write about 'Entangled Lives' and how much time did it take for completing the book?

A: I researched extensively for Entangled Lives to bring the historical events as close to how they were depicted in the media. I also wanted to keep intact the timeline of the real events and therefore there were times I had to, sort of, wrap the events of my plot around the actual events. The Taliban's occupation of Kabul, their attacks on Mazar-e-Sharif, the death of Babrak Karmal, and the rest of the events have been depicted the way they were reported at the time in the media, and in the same order as they took place. It took me around three years to complete the book.

Q. Tell us about some specific historical events discussed in your book and how have you presented them for the readers.

A: The death of Babrak Karmal (leader of the Communist party who was hanged and castrated by the Taliban) was particularly a tricky one. I wanted to show the event but restrain the dramatization from going too far. I didn't want it as a center of attention but a supporting event that shows the mind of the Taliban. Rachel's interview with Abdul Rashid Dostum was a key to show fierceness but the liberalism of the North in comparison to the South where the Taliban rose. Her meeting with Commander Masud was a way to show the clumsiness of the Taliban in the battleground, and their negligence towards their own soldiers. It also shows that many Afghans who were educated abroad came forward to defend their country but they were never able to bring West on board against the Taliban.

Q. Tell us about the books that you are currently writing and their progress.

A: I am working on The Broken Promise and Trilogy of Love (working title). The Broken Promise depicts an awakening in the first half of the twentieth century, an awakening that is still encompassing our lives. The change in the East was in political thought and philosophy of life, whereas the West was at the threshold of new avenues of freedom. The dawn of the new era reinvents the characters of The Broken Promise, destroying the old paths. It is the story of characters that appear from different socioeconomic and cultural backdrops in Britain and colonial India, and interact in the framework of the variables of life to depict a view of that era through their desires, deeds and dilemmas. 
Trilogy of Love (working title) is about three women that opened their eyes in entirely different cultures, but were connected with each other through the men in their lives and who came to somewhat the same conclusion about the freedom offered to them by religion and society. It starts in a small village of Eritrea, Africa, depicts Saudi Arabia and its women, and evaluates the freedom women experience in West through English society.

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