For the last seven years, I have been teaching Sociology and related subjects at private and state-run universities in Karachi to students rich, middle-class and poor. They are interested in the subject and take part in class discussion wholeheartedly, especially the women. Despite this, I find teaching Sociology is like a game of snakes and ladders because of the gap in a student’s world view and what they (un)learn. This dissonance stirs up debates and deeply marks how a student sees the world around them. All of this happens when we take apart theories and research on Pakistan’s class, culture, social constructs, socialization, collective behavior…
The topics that most interest my undergraduate students are social
change and its dynamics. The classroom erupts when we come to the chapters on change
in the shape of reform movements and revolutions. Did the American colonies,
Russia, England, and France all go through the same social change during their
revolutions? Crane Brinton’s famous historical study The Anatomy of
Revolution (1938) dwells on this at length. He describes, traces and
analyses these historic events to determine whether they followed a similar path.
There are major similarities.
All of these societies were on the upgrade economically. There were bitter class antagonisms. The intellectuals deserted positions of leadership. The government was inefficient. The ruling class was immoral, dissolute, or inept (or all three). As we talk about these countries, the students arrive at a logical question: how do they change Pakistani society?
My job is to ask them what they mean by change. When we fixate on what is change and how it can happen we hit bottlenecks. It is difficult for the students to answer this question of their campuses do not have student politics and dissent. Student unions have been banned since the Zia era and have not properly returned to campus. This means that our students have been deprived of a vision-building mechanism.
The students in my classes demand quick fixes, which in itself is a social construct. Market-driven ethics do not believe in process. It wants to achieve an output without scruples. It is how like judging a tree by its fruit and not its root. Academia is also infested by the omnipresent market ethics. This is why it demands objective-based learning. Education is an industry. Students are clients or products. Universities want a return on investment. This social construct flies in the face of the spirit of higher education, which values the process of learning and sees campuses as a microcosm of society.
I feel that we should also talk about how society has embraced the tradition of deductive logic more than inductive logic (if at all logic is invoked in the thinking process). Most of the time, arguments are made on the shaking foundations of major well-accepted premises. It is cumbersome to develop the habit of collecting information through observation and then to striving to reach a plausible explanation and theorize a phenomenon. This demands hard work. Unfortunately, the elite of our society have venerated a culture of “smart” work (whatever it means) and not hard work. This culture has affected students as well, which is why they do not see change as an evolutionary process or continuous struggle.
I also see how the women are usually clearer on the direction of change compared to the men in my classroom. For the young women, change in Pakistani society means equal citizenship, in terms of societal attitudes and opportunities in life. Obviously, they understand that the Constitution of Pakistan is no obstacle to this dream which is why they usually turn their guns to notions of patriarchy and those who uphold those values. So, they still have a clearer perception about the contours of the change they want and what prevents it.
Teaching Sociology at university is a process itself. It speaks less to the privileged and appeals more to the children from less favored segments of Pakistani society. It raises their hopes with all the accompanying crests and falls.