Paddy Ewer, my English lecturer in my first year at St Joseph’s Institute, Cedara, Kwazulu-Natal would always wipe the board after using it to correct a mistake or confusion but would leave it be if she just uses it to teach something. When I noticed the pattern, it felt very puzzling and so curiousity prompted me to find out why. She said she did this because there is the tendency for the wrong things to get stuck in our minds if we continue seeing them; so instead she leaves the correct things on the board because that is more important and so that that gets stuck in our minds and not the wrong stuff. This presupposes that we are fundamentally animals even as humans and therefore slaves and products of habits. We master what we constantly see and rehearse. While this profound experience has a whole earthful of wisdom, inspirations and learnings to garner from, I am going to be exploiting the most conventional, simplistic and superficial lesson it proposes.
A few years later, I entered my second lecture in HND 1 with a fair amount of anxiety and anticipation. Out of respect not for his professional ability, but for the dignity of the human person that he is, I will refrain from mentioning the name of the course or the lecturer. After disrespectfully and pompously coming rudely late, and gallantly walking into the classroom like all the eager eyes staring at him were those of lower animals, he proceeded to put up the theatrics of lecturers daring to intimidate students. Even before he finally started what could hardly be referred to as a lecture, I was at a loss and confused. At first I almost burst out laughing and then I felt angry at his demeanor and incorrigibility and finally, I felt pity and sad for myself, for my unfortunate classmates, for my generation and for Nigeria. He could not even communicate effectively in English and he had the effrontery to boast to us about how long he had been teaching – or better still, corrupting young minds. Even worse still, we were stuck with him for at least the next four months of our educational and intellectual lives; and we master what we see and rehearse constantly. In defense of the lecturers, some have said that the lazy attitude and corrupt offering of the students is what is prompting the lazy and corrupt response to the art of teaching by the lecturers. But is this not a classic case of the chicken and the egg which came first?
I am among a very few fortunate and privileged circle of students able to spot this mediocrity. Many of my classmates can barely imagine teaching being done another way. It almost amounts to a village man in Nigeria daring to dream of snow. However, despite all the odds against them and the stink in the system, some students with a Nigerian educational background and foundation have still managed to be very exceptional in their chosen fields and careers. I am very certain they didn’t achieve that exhibiting the wantonly lazy attitude that is recklessly paraded proudly by students nowadays. A close friend of mine was able to design and actualise the circuit and frame of a combo (amplifier and speaker unit) barely after his first year as an engineering student. Along with his class graduating project, he also was able to design a homemade inverter. Though not exactly prototype materials worthy of patents, he is a product of a department where majority of the graduating students can barely hold a soldering iron with a steady hand. I have also experienced firsthand where an applicant for a teaching job, who claimed to be a graduate of mass communication, when asked to write an impromptu letter of application managed to come up with something that would amaze even basketmouth, one of Nigeria’s foremost stand-up comics.
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The ingenuity we employ to circumnavigate the due process of studying would overwhelm the devil. If only the amount of time expended on sourcing for leaked questions, for pre-empting the examiner’s questions and scribbling prospective answers on different corners and walls and desks of the examination halls, thighs, hands, phones and squeezed pieces of paper was converted into studying even if just one facet of the subject in question.
Rather unfortunately, the society and the academic authority only superficially frown at these. It is a very common ironic tragedy to hear parents who lament about how things were not as bad in their day and time be the first to ask their wards how much cooperation fees would cost. Cooperation fees! That’s something to explore another time. There are guardians who include Blocking in the budget of their wards every session. Aided and influenced by these backbones, we students have now managed to develop a spoilt-brat consciousness that it is somehow in our fundamental and constitutional right to cheat in examinations; so much so that invigilators who seem do just their jobs of ensuring best practices in the examination halls are seen as weird and just wicked. They are animatedly gossiped and hated and even confronted in some cases by frustrated students. This animosity is also generously extended to lecturers who dare to maintain a healthy student-lecturer relationship with students and nothing more. The culture of aiding one another in the struggle to make hard-work no longer a requisite for success becomes a viscous circle that slowly encompasses and consumes us all. We all participate in it proactively or inactively. The circle has now induced in us youths a deep-seated fear that is almost unconscious but very potent. This fear has robbed us of our self esteem and worth, and of the awareness of our abilities, gifts and rights. We no longer believe in ourselves or believe that we can stand up to a lecturer who is wrong; - either because we ourselves also have been infected with the disease of not knowing what is right, or we fear too much to challenge the ills and wrongness around us. Guys, we are all blessed and talented beyond measure and compare. Some get to realise the fullness of their potentials quite early and quite easily too. Some of us have to work on it and herein lies the greatest challenge; even more difficult than those who out of laziness would not and never want to or achieve the greatest and best that the creator intended them to be. Psychologically, it has being proven that we are unconscious of about ninety percent of all our actions. This presupposes that our maker has already done and is still doing ninety percent of all the work for us. For almost ninety percent of our daily lives, we are on autopilot to be great, intelligent, dazzling and unique. This implies that we employ the ten percent control we have over our lives to engineer our failures and mediocrity through our laziness and inability to delay petty pleasures. Wow! If we can do such damage with ten percent control, imagine what good could come out of adding the ten percent to the already programmed ninety percent of goodness for us.
It has also being scientifically proven that all through our lives, we do not use up to ten percent of our brain (mind) capacity and capability. Logically, if this applies to geniuses like Albert Einstein, it follows that ordinaries and dullards like I am would only use about four percent of our mind until we die. That’s intriguing. To further clarify, if our minds had a capacity of 50 gigabytes, all through our lives we could only use about 5 megabytes. If a smart phone that can conveniently hold about 5000 photos is only used to save 5 or even 50, is there any chance of inefficiency and freezes and all the other characteristics of a clustered phone? As humans we are almost over endowed, and as youths when we are at our best and strongest, we can be anything and do anything. That’s why it is laughable to hear people insinuate that some student over-read or over-studied and that’s why he or she ran mad or starts acting weird.
However, wisdom they say is in the middle; - avoiding the extremes. Naïvely accepting the system that birthed us and that we were born into as the only way isn’t the best way to be a Christian just as violently devoting all our energies in fighting the system especially unethically or violently without working on our personal improvement is tantamount to apostasy. Because of our high energy reserve, we usually have a hard time not overindulging and staying in the middle. So succinctly put, wisdom is in knowing when and just how to not be hyperactive while not being too lukewarm; knowing what and just how to change what needs re-evaluation and adjustments in us so as to be the best possible balanced individual that our creator intended us as youths to be especially at this significant stage of our lives.
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