Teaching Political Science - Observations and Concerns
Dr Aniruddha Babar
“There is no such thing as political science, but there are tenancies so strong that they might as well be called laws of nature.”
― Jeff Greenfield, “Then Everything Changed: Stunning Alternate Histories of American Politics: JFK, RFK, Carter, Ford, Reagan”
I am a part of the Department of Political Science, Tetso College for a considerable long time now. I have seen the transition of the institution and the department in very crucial circumstances. Being a keen observer and silent watcher of academic world, I often make certain notes in my diary as I seize the time as a thinker, academician and teacher in the flow of my work. As an academician I think I shoulder self-assigned responsibility of being a ‘Watch Dog’ and ‘Mentor’, so that disarrayed alignments, if any, can be ‘aligned’ in the best interest of my students and disciples spread over different academic institutions in Eastern and Western regions of Nagaland.
Frankly speaking, it is not just a question of Nagaland. As a student of Political science I feel the subject has been grossly misunderstood by the academic fraternity and education policy makers across India. Political Science has been mostly taught from textual angle without considering the practical dynamism and stimulant political modelling exercises at Undergraduate as well as Post Graduate level. Teaching of various papers under Political Science must be approached from multangular perspective rather than linear method of teaching (as practiced in India). However, the question is, are our teachers of Political Science ready to take a quantum jump from being grounded in redundant academic approaches which lands students somewhere in the lost world of translations and interpretations of the texts? Are our Academicians willing to transform the field of Political science into an ‘Applied Science’ responding to the needs of the modern world?
As I have observed, most of the young course lecturers are actually ignorant of the fact that teaching is not an easy task; it needs higher order of intellectual authority. Such an authority is based on competence which is earned from the years of ‘Intellectual Fermentation Processes and Experiments’, thus a good teacher must master the chosen field of expertise by dedicating his/her formative years (First 12/14 Years minimum) in heavy-duty contemplation-reflection exercises which lay down the necessary rock-solid mental foundation. My observation also taught me that number of young lecturers often encounters with the problem of how to learn ‘good’ teaching. This situation lands them in confusion which obviously reflects in their approach to the field of inquiry and teaching methodology that they adopt while dealing with Political Science. Also, these days’ colleges and universities lack ‘professional mentorship or apprenticeship system’ therefore, young lecturers who are fresh out of their ‘Alma mater’ with some Post Graduate or Research Degree often find themselves in an orphan state at their workplace having none to take refugee to. Such circumstances definitely affect the classroom management and nature of teaching of young academicians which consequently have serious impact over the students and the overall performance of the academic institution.
To sharpen up my ability to teach, I rigorously taught myself ‘Didactics of Applied Political Science’. That was the primary step I had to take to make myself eligible to teach Political Science not only in confirmation with the general syllabus followed in India and my Nagaland University but also with the international trends in the field. Without being grounded in Didactics, one can never begin teaching ‘Political Science’-both from theoretical as well as applied perspective. Being a man in 30s attached to the “Old School of Teaching”, I find myself positively engaging with the older, classical ideals of the profession which I believe is the foundational aspect of the character of a teacher without which modern, dynamic academic approaches are impossible to embrace. Moreover, in my case I clearly profited from the clear hierarchy and mutual obligations of the old-fashioned system that I was part of in my initial formative years. The “Apprenticeship Model” is nowhere to be seen in today’s academic world, young lecturers are expected to learn teaching on the job. Whether or not this “Do-It-Yourself” technique works or not is an open question-in the context of which “teaching aspects of Political Science” needs to be examined.
In the beginning of this article I raised certain questions regarding the redundant approaches to the teaching of Political Science in India. Here, the focus is given more on the textual understanding rather than their application to solve the real world problems. I think, there should not be any iota of doubt in mind as to appreciating the fact that the ‘Scientific Approach’ which needs to be followed while engaging with various aspects of Political Science is primarily missing- and the methodology conveniently being brought at par with that of the other fields of inquiry. It is sad to observe that number of teachers in India who teaches Political Science do not know the real nature of the subject-which actually demands- ANALYSIS, OBSERVATION AND MOST IMPORTANTLY THE EXPERIMENT. Political Science has been considered as' science because it can be studied in a systematic manner, with great scope for experimentation, political science has absolute and universal laws, it is also possible to make predictions in the field-though in limited area, there are certain principles and methods on which political thinkers unanimously agree and also by nature political science as a subject or field of inquiry has a scientific nature and that may be the reason due to which Aristotle called it a “SUPREME SCIENCE” whose ultimate goal, which is not always attained, is to use verifiable results to construct causal theories that explain why phenomena behave the way they do.
It is noteworthy to mention that “Formal Models” are used in political science as abstract representations of political institutions and choices in order to focus attention on key logics and causal mechanisms in a political process. Such an insightful modeling requires fluency in technical fields such as game theory, as well as the substantive knowledge to craft an appropriate representation of a specific application. Here, Indian academia generally failed to recognize this core, applied aspect of “Political Science”. Also, Political Science has traditionally employed empirical research and analytical resources to understand, explain and predict political phenomena. One of the long-standing criticisms against empirical modeling targets the static perspective provided by the model-invariant paradigm. In political science research, this issue has a particular relevance since political phenomena prove sophisticated degrees of context-dependency whose complexity could be hardly captured by traditional approaches, the fact of which needs to be recognized by our Political Science teachers and be introduced and taught in the classroom to our Undergraduate and Post Graduate students to bridge the ‘academic gap’ in teaching of political science.
It need to be noted that, after the 1970s, most political scholars all over the world began to use experimental methods to focus their research on political behaviour, public opinion, and mass communication. The classic topics include exploring the behavioural preferences and choices of different social groups in group actions, the influence of campaign propaganda on voting results in the voting process, the influence of media propaganda on public attitudes, and the influence of personality on political participation. Also, since the beginning of the 21st century, political science research has clearly shown a trend from correlation research to causality research. Political scientists are increasingly dissatisfied with just confirming the strength of the relationship between various factors, and gradually devote themselves to the discussion of causal effects and mechanisms among variables.
The world of political science is booming with interesting developments and possibilities. When there is so much happening in the field, we are still trapped in the age old pedagogical ‘prison’ with hollow ‘academic syllabus’ which has no scope for ‘solution oriented/applied approach’. All this observation takes me to a conclusion that, in India, Political Science has simply been reduced to ‘general and honours’ papers-which is a sad reality.
It is high time now that we should reframe the approach that we have developed towards Political Science. It is important that the students be taught that Political science is not just a study of political institutions and their relationship with the people, but also an applied science fully capable to find solutions to ‘real life’ problems and crisis situations in political world. Also, the teachers of political science should make themselves intellectually well-equipped and capable for students to make them engage with the understanding of conceptual and operational description of various problems in political science that could be approached with the emerging field of “Computational Political Science” as well.
Academic world is transforming with the evolution of human intellect. IT IS HIGH TIME TO TRANSFORM THE SYLLABUS, COURSE STRUCTURE, COURSE CONTENT AND PADAGOGIES OF THE SUBJECT OF POLITICAL SCIENCE ON WAR FOOTING.
Whether we like it or not, modern Indian approach to the “knowledge” should evolve and such a transition requires pedagogical transformation and also the willingness, open mindedness and intellectual maturity of the course instructors and teachers.
(Dr Aniruddha Babar is a Professor of Political Science & International Law at Tetso College in Dimapur, Nagaland)
October 15 2022