Wednesday, August 23, 2006


...Intelligent, Simple and Intuitive.

One of the biggest problems with the generation today is that it considers classroom and the real world as two distinct places, that have no correlation with each other. Specifically, the people today don't think about applying what we learn in classrooms to the situations we find in real life. It can be argued that student life doesn't provide us with opportunites to unleash our creative self. But when it does, aren't the students expected to use the knowledge. One such oppotunity to explore how much theory people put into practice came during a class of "Symbolic Logic".

The evidence I have is quite unrelated to what we were taught, lest incriminating as the lead makes it sound. The beauty of the incident is that it captured failure to use logic in a non-academic problem during the lecture class of Symbolic Logic held on 22 August, 2006. To give a background, the course concerned is conducted as an HSS Elective, with students from virtually all departments, in different years of study taking part. The course is conducted by a faculty by the name of Chhanda Chakraborti, who has very recently written a book titled "Logic: Informal, Symbolic and Inductive". She strongly recommends (buying and) using the book for the course. On the first lecture class of the subject, when a student asked her the author of the book she is prescribing, she politely replied: "...certain C. Chakraborti".

Fast-forwarding to the lecture class held last Tuesday, I was sitting on the first bench with my brother Ankur, sharing the book with him. The row behind us had two girls, both without a book. Since the class strength for the course is about 140, Prof. Chakraborti prefers to circulate the attendance sheet, rather than taking a roll call. On the D-Day however, she had more issues to tackle. The lecture being a double-lecture (with two back to back lectures separated by a short break), the problem of students signing for both the lectures and heading back home during the break was not a possibility she had discounted. So while handing over the attendance sheet to the class, she made it a point to mention that students were to sign only for the first lecture class, and wait for the next lecture where the process will be repeated for the second signature. However, the students had become seasoned TM enough to ignore such advices, and most of them ended up signing for both the classes. Since the attendance sheet was passed on from the other side of the class, the attendance sheet reached me by the end of the lecture. Just before it reached me, it logically went to the row behind me. A girl named Lalita, who took the sheet, was aghast to see signatures on both the columns. She told (to us neighbours), that madame had specifically asked to sign on only column. Based on my past experience and reasoning that if all students signed on both columns, she wouldn't have any option but to accept the page; I noted that she shouldn't care about that warning and for the greater good of humanity (that included her), and sign on both the columns. She, being a very idealist girl, refused to partner us in the crime. Needless to say, almost all except her had signed twice. The sheet was returned to the professor and a good number of students left during the break.

When the next lecture began, and the professor lifted the sheet from the table, she noticed the trick that the students played. In an instant, her jaw dropped and she moved her lips in futility, unable to speak anything. Then, composing herself, she gave a beaming smile to the class, and lifting the mike to her mouth, spoke: "When I gave you this sheet, I asked to sign only once. Now, I am re-circulating the sheet again, and all of you should sign in the second column again. To see if things go differently, I am passing the sheet from other side of the class", giving the sheet to Ankur. Here, Lalita raised her voice and informed the professor that she hadn't done it, donning a proud look (quite unsurprising act to me, and easily foreseen). She couldn't get any appreciation out of the professor, though it was certain that everything said was clearly heard. Anyway, Ankur signed the sheet again, and I followed suit, finally giving the sheet to her. She had signed the sheet only once till now and so, this time she signed on the empty column. She was about to pass the sheet to her neighbour, when I intervened. I asked her to sign thrice as everyone is now supposed to do. She told that she did the right thing the first time, and now again she is doing what was expected of her. Then, I told her to contemplate what she is doing, and specifically think how would the professor distinguish her from those who signed twice in the first lecture and have now left. They would be having two signatures, and so would she; earning her an absent in the second lecture class. She tried to reason, but understood the chain of thought, and (hopefully, I feel) thanking me for saving her from a cardinal sin of not attending a lecture.

And yes, before I forget, the professor became the first instructor to teach me who had the guts of admitting that she "wasn't paying attention in class", asking me to repeat a question I asked in the second lecture that she missed hearing.

End-note: The story goes like this. During the previous double lecture, when she tried passing attendance sheets for the first time, my friend Suman was the first person to sign it (only once). He passed it onto me, and I signed twice. Seeing me take the short-cut, he signed the sheet again, and passed on to the next person. The herd mentality of the class snowballed into everyone signed the sheet twice, and when it reached the professor in the end, she was speechless. Probably she thought it was her fault that she didn't clearly specify to sign only once, and would do it from the next class onwards. Who knew what future holds for us.

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