Being born and brought up in India, I had a very different opinion of Teachers with respect to what I found here in the US. Since my childhood, I was made to believe that teachers were infallible people; that they were responsible for maintaining discipline in the class and that they knew most on the subject they taught. It was unthinkable for me to argue with a teacher even if I knew that I was right. The teacher could punish me (even physically, at times) if I did something wrong and it was in his/her right to deduct points if he/she felt that I had crossed the line.
Strangely enough, this concept of the teacher being the disciplinarian did not change even when I went to middle school, high school and even as an under-grad. This idea was so home to me (and to most of my classmates) that I/we never pointed out the teacher’s mistakes openly. Even if he/she wrote something incorrectly on the black-board, we believed it to be our responsibility to correct that in our notes or in the worst case point it out at the end of the class. The norm was such that it was considered rude on the part of the student to stop a teacher during his/her discourse to ask “stupid” questions or (worse) to point out his/her mistakes.
So one can clearly imagine the great cultural shock that I was in for when I started attending classes in the US. Here, I found that students had the kind of freedom that I could not even dream about. They could interrupt a teacher during his/her lecture and ask questions which might be relevant to, but at the same time very different from, the topic being discussed. To be very frank, I was really amazed at the guts of these “American” students. They could think “out-of-the-box” and “argue” coherently in a manner that we (international students, in general) never thought was possible. They could challenge the so-called existing norms and (what was really surprising) more often than not, get away with it!
I feel that the kind of freedom that students get here is essential for the learner-centered pedagogy that we want to go for in the near future. Although I don’t advocate giving uncontrolled freedom to the students, I do believe that there should be a “balance of power” between students and teachers and more importantly, students should not be in fear of their teachers. I believe that the best way to disseminate knowledge in the 21st century will be to have an open environment, where teachers and students can interact freely; to create an atmosphere where neither side feels over-whelmed by the other.