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Monthly Archives: December 2011

Editorial


Nepalis are experiencing one of the most volatile times in history waiting for stability and sustainability of commonsense.  Common citizens see the present in view of the gradual dilapidation of the age-old structure of unity and shared identities. For some, the moment is not for indifference because indifference would cost little or more, now or later.  For others this is not the time to act an ostrich as if nothing is happening around.

And, in the chaotic time like today people would expect some healing ideas from one of the supposedly anxious groups of people — the intellectuals.  But, do we have intellectuals to devise ways to rescue the nation out of the mire of uncertainties? Does their anxiety involve the fate of the majority who are caught in the dilemma between optimism and pessimism?

Time entrusts intellectuals with the responsibility to generate hope and optimism. Let us reflect on these questions:  What will we do if the society and institutions we lead fail to attract and satisfy the aspirations of young people? How many aspiring youths are prepared to take us as role models for tomorrow? Let us start to think if we can help, at least in part, ensure that the country will still build up to accommodate our good expectations.
 
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Posted by on December 3, 2011 in Editorial

 

A Visit to Madam Curie Museum

Dipak Subedi

On October 8, 2011, I got an opportunity to visit the house in which Madame Curie, one of the greatest scientists of 20th century, was born. The house is in 16 Freta street in the old town of Warsaw, the capital city of Poland. It has been turned to a museum in her name. 

The museum possesses good collection of letters and photographs which remind us of the life of a great genius in science. I had a great desire to visit the place when I read her biography written by Beverly Birch. Although Curie spent most of her life in France, it was Warsaw where she inherited a desire to devote her life in science. In the museum, we can see her writing desk, inkpot, ruler and even her spectacles case. The physics practical instruments which her father had collected and were very important in stimulating a lifelong interest in science in little Curie’s mind are now preserved in this museum. Another important aspect of the museum is that it also depicts photographs and documents about the life of her Husband Pierre Curie and her daughter Irene curie, who are also great scientists and Nobel laureates. I found that the story of the life and achievement of Madam Curie has inspired thousands of scientists around the world. 

The house in 16 Freta  Street in the old  Town of Warsaw where Marie Curie was born.
The place where the museum is situated is a unique place with exhilarating beauty of nature. Just behind the Freta street there is gentle slope leading to the bank of Vistula river which is flowing majestically dividing the historic Warsaw city. This is a lovely place. 
Curie was born in this house on November 7, 1867. There is simple plaque beside the door of this house which proudly announces the date of her birth. Her father was a Professor of physics and her mother was a teacher in a school. Marie had a great impression from her father from her early life. She was grown up in an academic environment. Her teachers remembered her as an extraordinary student even at her early years in school. At that time girls were not allowed to enter university and hence she had to go to France for higher studies. She had to work very hard for about seven years in a remote town in Poland to collect money to go abroad for study. Her intense desire to study science was fulfilled when she could get admission in a university in Paris. 
Curie recalled her happiness of the first day at the university saying that this was one of the happiest days in her life. She proved herself as one of the best students of the university few months after her arrival and after few years as one of the greatest scientists of her time. She became world famous for her discovery of radium with her husband and was awarded the 1903 Nobel prize for Physics. She again received the Nobel prize in Chemistry in 1911. This has been a rare achievement.  Madame Curie could have become one of the wealthiest persons in the world because of her discovery of the most precious element radium but she did not use her discovery for her personal benefit. She gave all the radium which she had separated by her four years of hard work with her husband to research laboratories for the benefit of mankind. It is said that when she herself needed some radium later for her own research, she did not have enough money to buy it and had to go to the USA in a fund raising program. It was a great irony.
She was not only a great scientist but also a very kind-hearted person. During the First World War, she along with her daughter served as a volunteer health worker with hundreds of mobile X-ray units built by herself. It is believed that thousands of wounded soldiers in the battlefield had undergone X-ray in her machine and were treated by Curie herself. It is surprising to know that she was working in the battlefield in addition to her regular lectures in the university. 
I regard the place where Marie Curie  was born as one of the holy places for those who love science and want to devote their life in the service of humankind.

 
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Posted by on December 3, 2011 in Memoirs

 

Maoist War in Nepal and Curricula Debate

 – Khagendra Acharya

I intend in this article to initiate a debate on curriculum change in Nepali context. I basically argue that revision of curricula needs to incorporate dynamics of traumatic experience during ten years of armed conflict.  I use the notion of traumatic experience in Sigmund Freud’s sense, i.e., the experience any individual goes through after any terrible happening. This is to say when any such event occurs, the person does not understand it, but after certain time starts suffering from symptoms like hysteria, nightmares and so on. 
Curriculum of any country as a guide for syllabus design, education experts argue, should comply with the changing environment of not only the country but also of the world. Viewed from this insight, curriculum demands timely revision both for incorporating development in the world and for addressing realities in the country/locality. To meet this need, universities of the world form autonomous bodies of experts to recommend the nature of upgrading. Moreover, they provide freedom to course instructors for changing the syllabus. Together, the mechanisms function for implementation of new courses or termination of outdated programs.
In Nepalese context, however, the curriculum and consequently the syllabus of school to university level show an alarming picture. Bitter but true, we have witnessed the same curriculum operating for more than a decade. Implicitly, this condition demands two-fold interpretation: first, Nepal has not undergone any changes and the development in the world has not affected the country in these years; and second, experts on curriculum in Nepal have either not felt the need to change or not been able to persuade education bureaucracy. Whatever the reality, condemning any side would not do justice to the need of time to revise the curriculum and implement it accordingly.
The revision process, I would emphasize, needs to take findings to the question – what type of traumatic experience have the people undergone in the making of people’s  republic out of the metamorphosis of Hindu kingdom – seriously. Certainly, the political transformation would find its space in the syllabus of social sciences, but what about the experiences different groups such as Maoist guerilla, security forces, and many civilians underwent during the process? Two apparent options become visible to curriculum designers in this regard: one, being amnesiac to their experience with an intention of making the people forget everything; and two, valorizing their deeds with the goal of producing individuals having ‘similar courage’.
Before discussing the consequences of both options, I think it worthy to look back at available statistics within the span of March 1995 to November 2005, i.e., the duration of Maoist insurgency and State-counter-insurgency. A point to note here is, the available statistics of war reveals only the manifested cases: 16,278 killed, 1500 disappeared, 75,000 injured and 250,000 internally displaced. The reality beyond this statics is even more horrible. The number of persons tortured, raped, abducted and otherwise physically brutalized remains measureless. Categorizing the victims, we find mainly three types. The first type comprises the people traumatized mainly by the security forces; at individual level, the category consists of people targeted for their support for the Maoists. The second category comprises people who were hardly involved in any of the sides but faced it as they happened to be in the particular situation. Similarly, the third group includes police or alleged informers of police or the cadres of other political parties tortured by the Maoists.
The option – amnesia – for curriculum designers is inappropriate, for it overlooks human dynamics of any war. As such, the future generation hardly succeeds to understand the bitter part of the war as they would read numbers only and thus fail to grasp the real experience. Moreover, the descendants of victims, who need to disown their revenge motive, cannot enter the psychological process of gradually forgetting their intention. Probably, if the syllabus designers of Nepali history had not been amnesiac to the traumatic experience of people in Kirtipur during Prithvi Narayan Shah’s attack, the people would not have sustained anti-Shah sentiment. Though arguments can be forwarded against this example, the notion of ‘working through’ from psychoanalysis does not refute it.
The other option –valorization – also does not sound appropriate mainly because it exaggerates some experience at the cost of the extinction of multiple voices. In other words, if we confine the selection to unitary narrative of the victory of good versus loss of bad force, we will be providing no space for the dynamic nature of war experience. Consequently, war for the future generation would appear a romantic affair.
Hence, to avoid the curriculum from being traditional in its architecture or from maintaining aloofness of the historical reality, we need to initiate a debate which in turn would be productive. Hopefully, the invitation for debate would result in making traumatic experience, which is often bracketed from our notion of what constitutes curriculum, part and parcel of classroom life. 
(First published in Gurukul – Educational Monthly, October-November 2011)
 
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Posted by on December 3, 2011 in Discourse

 

What Rhetoric Means to Me

– Hem Raj Kafle
My academic standing as an M. Phil. in English and a teacher of English language, literature, technical communication and media studies in Kathmandu University has largely shaped my inquiries into different domains of rhetorical scholarship. My entry in this field began with a limited understanding of rhetoric as an embellished discourse where literary tropes played major role in eliciting certain emotional responses from a reader/auditor. Poetry featured most in this understanding, with fictions and persuasive essays to complement at times.
When I studied the classical system of rhetoric, with Aristotle, Cicero and Quintilian as focal resources, my perception broadened from rheotric’s aesthetic dimension to more practical contextual dimensions for its being a system of organized, persuasive discourse. The practical sides, basically the three genres (forensic, deliberative and epideictic), three modes of proof (ethos, logos, pathos) and the five canons (invention, arrangement, style, memory and delivery) guided my teaching of English and media studies and helped shape my own researches, presentations and writings.  
My work has not been unidirectional, as is common in a qualitative inquiry. If I had chosen to be registered full time, with rhetoric at hand, and was not teaching at the university, I would be more focused to the task of clearing methodological and analytical arrays now. But I might have been in disadvantage in two respects. I would not adapt to the pedagogical value of the classical system of rhetoric through practical applications in everyday professional activities. Nor would I consciously improve my sense of discourse embellishment through the awareness of embellished arrangement and style. Allowing myself open channels of learning and practice, I have helped myself to experience my subject in its multiplicity. 
I am trailing through two rich territories of rhetorical scholarship. The first is Rhetorical Studies, which helps scrutinize the social, historical, political dimensions of the April Movement and its representations in the editorials. The second, scholarship in English studies with Rhetoric and Composition as a disciplinary category, teaches me the nuances of discourse structures, figures of speech and overall aesthetics of editorial writing. Unlike a general trend in rhetorical scholarship in the west where a researcher/candidate is formally confined to only one of these disciplinary terrains, and where the two hardly combine or “cross-pollinate”, I have enjoyed the freedom to draw knowledge from both. This may ultimately lead me to a third territory, that of Rhetoric in its fundamental classical sense, where the study directs me to recognizing a particular system of rhetoric characteristic to a non-western, Nepalese context. To be more specific, this is where the inferences might help explore a pattern of Nepalese media rhetoric reflective of a social movement. 
Fantasy Theme Analysis (FTA), a method of rhetorical criticism underpinned in Ernest Bormann’s Symbolic Convergence Theory, which I aim to apply in the study of about 400 editorials, blends the aforesaid lines of scholarship. It merges aesthetics (for its emphasis on performative/dramatic qualities of discourse) and politics (role of time, space and actors). Symbolic Convergence Theory which takes that any communication helps construct a rhetorical vision, a symbolic reality which underlies the convergence of a cumulative number of people who identify with the reality and participate in transferring it further.  Fantasy theme analysis systematically examines how rhetorical visions are constructed from communicative artifacts. It takes communication as a form of drama with characters, actions and settings where realities are dramatized in the form of fantasy themes (shared narratives). FTC accepts the notion that shared narratives accumulate as fantasy types which constitute rhetorical vision, the symbolic reality with which the participants of communication identify. 
I have internalized rhetoric in three dimensions. Whether it really can be of practical, pedagogical value is my first concern. And it does have. The classical system of rhetoric, which involves three genres, three modes of proof and five canons, is useful in the practice and teaching of oral presentation and written composition. I have conceptualized two classroom approaches/activities with the help of the five canons.  The first is what I have introduced as “The Eight R’s of Presentation” involving the steps of preparing an effective oral presentation. The second concerns a blog entitled Rhetorical Ventures intended to facilitate and archive student compositions. I presented this blog in two International conferences of English teachers in January and February 2010.
Besides, I have included fundamentals of rhetoric and rhetorical criticism in the syllabus of Text and Audience, which is taught in the third year of Bachelor in Media Studies, Kathmandu University. This helps complement a small section of the syllabus of Public Relations for the second year, which contains rhetorical strategies as communication strategies for public relation campaigners.
Subsequently, as a second dimension, rhetoric functions as an important tool for the creation and critique of everyday communication. I am conscious of using effective means in all forms of communication, be it meant for persuasion, information, invitation, identification or settlement of conflicts. I have been more conscious seeing the same means critically in the communications of other people. One achievement in this direction is the development of the habit of what Wayne Booth calls “listening rhetoric”. This helps me make clear sense of any communicators’ intentions, weigh the extent of truth and lie in their words, and trace a ground for devising appropriate forms of response. Rhetorical awareness saves me from potential relationship crises because it helps me decide when to force an argument and where to withdraw it in the lack of adequate modes of proof. 
The third and the most crucial dimension of my present study on rhetoric involves critical scholarship. First, it drives me more towards my research through the painful and pleasant moments of losses and finds — my journey of oscillation across disciplines and approaches, and of the moments of serious discourses with the supervisors and potential readers. While the actual analytical journey stills remains in a bulk, I have been trying to feel the adventure through shorter writings, presentations, editing, reviewing, and supervising student projects.
Overall, with two years’ intense involvement in rhetorical scholarship, I have learned that in research the process counts as important as the product.  The process helps me grow along with the concept, and gradually ensures the reflection of this growth in everyday professional adventures.  I am equally conscious that the product has the potential for adding some dimensions to the field of scholarship where I have so far trailed and toiled. The work is ongoing. I feel the growth every time I encounter a new rhetorical challenge.
 
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Posted by on December 3, 2011 in Reflections