The dichotomy between the academia and the “real” world is fake, because there’s no such thing as a ‘real’ world if it does not also include the spaces of learning that really exist.Yet somehow a dichotomy exists in people’s minds, so that when a student is finishing her/his studies, it is usually (wrongly) said that she/he is looking forward to getting back to the ‘real’ world. I mean, is the academic world not real? Does it have different rules for gravity; social relations than anything else on the planet? Surely schools/colleges/institutions/small clusters, are as much part of the real world as slums/dhabas/government buildings/taj mahal etc.

Nevertheless, what is usually MEANT when this dichotomy is called upon is that the academic world deals with theoretical issues, while the real world is more practical. This too is a false dichotomy, because theory needs to be applied to the discipline of studies/reflection (is thinking not practical?) and in the non-academic world surely people their work has some theoretical basis and discussion. Do we non-academicians not have a lot to say about how the government should run, cricket should be managed, city to become more organised. The fact here too remains that even theory and practice are merged in ‘reality’; but separated in people’s mindset.

Still, there is something to be said about a division. In that, the academic (real) world operates with a set of rules and dispositions that are very different from say a church, or even a workplace. What can be said, and is intuitively meant, is that when academicians meet other spaces (like Church, workplace, fun-place etc), there is an interaction possible that can strengthen both the academician as well as the other space (whatever it be).

It is really irritating when academicians believe that lay people need a simplification of the message, when in fact they need a straightforward clear message. Usually scholars patronise the audience, but actually the audience is just as smart as scholars, just they don’t have the exposure or the language to discourse with scholars. Thankfully the students did not display a patronising attitude towards the audience. The fact that they were scared must have helped!!!

And this was the intention when Dr. David Housholder, who taught Christian Education to the theology class at SAIACS, helped organise a Christian Education seminar where the Theology students would be resource persons for “lay” (church going) practitioners on February 23, 2008, at Indra Nagar Methodist Church, Bangalore (India).

The whole day seminar was organised mainly to raise important theological issues that need to be considered for further strengthening our already-existent christian education programmes. And each of the theology students presented a paper for about 15 minutes, brought together by Dr. David Housholder and Mrs. Leela Mannaseh (From Bible Society, India).

As I sat in the seminar, I couldn’t help but look to see how the theology students, all of whom I have been involved with for about two years, interacted in this new setting. My concern was more to see how/whether students from the academic space could adapt to different, especially urban church contexts.

I was encouraged as well as reminded of the difficulty of the task.

The student presentations were generally good. They all made an excellent summary of theological points that related to Christian Education. A total of seven paper presentations was a little too much, but all credit to the students for trying to keep things straightforward without harking for too much simplicity. It is really irritating when academicians believe that lay people need a simplification of the message, when in fact they need a straightforward clear message. Usually scholars patronise the audience, but actually the audience is just as smart as scholars, just they don’t have the exposure or the language to discourse with scholars. Thankfully the students did not display a patronising attitude towards the audience. The fact that they were scared must have helped!!!

The weaknesses that was straight-away evident though, was the format of the Christian Education seminar. With too much emphasis given for paper presentations, there was no avenue to actually dialogue with the Church audience/practitioners. In effect, while the students gained some valuable experience in presenting papers in a strange (different) audience, there was no actual (genuine) feedback possible because there was little/no time for interaction.

Sadly, such a format would only lead to the continuation of belief that scholars/specialists have a top-down (teaching) approach while the Church audience are only sheep/flock to be talked to… who will learn anything that we give them. This is not true. And yet, there are so few spaces where specialists (like theologians) can actually sit with (secular) professionals and lay practitioners as equals in common dialogue.

SAIACS students at the Christian Education Seminar at Indra Nagar Methodist Church, Bangalore

SAIACS students at the Christian Education Seminar at Indra Nagar Methodist Church

Nevertheless, if the format of the seminar was a weakness, still there was a lot of positive to be gained. Firstly, exposure is not a bad thing. And I think the students gave the audience something new to think about. Secondly, even the reverse exposure was helpful… in that the scholars in making, the theology students, were challenged to rethink their own communication styles to see how to more clearly present their own work. It was good to see them struggle to be clear; but I think they would all know that they will be clearer the next time they get an opportunity to present to such an audience.

So, in effect, the interaction between these two spaces was a good start towards something… and perhaps a part of a journey that people are already on. We want to learn, we need to teach simply. And it seems likely that as practising thinkers and thinkers who practice we will always have the opportunity to communicate more clearly, and listen more attentively.

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