Critique on, “What Are Pakistani College Students All About?” by Howard Schweber

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The article, “What Are Pakistani College Students All About?” has been written by Howard Schweber. This article appeared first in The Friday Times, Lahore in 2010 .The author wrote this article after his teaching experience at Lahore University of Management Sciences and is mainly based on his observations made during that time. Schweber is an Associate Professor at the University of Wisconsin at Madison where he teaches political theory and constitutional law. He is also a writer, blogger and recipient of a number of teaching awards. He is of the opinion that Pakistani students are not less than students of any other nation as they are smart, determined and hardworking but their potentialities are limited because of the lack of knowledge and exposure which is the consequence of flaws in their system of education .This article is basically an assertion about the general behavior and mind set of Pakistani students and their academic problems. The subject of the article is very important because it reveals flaws in both; our system of education, behavior of students and teachers towards this flawed system. Schweber has managed to get his argument across to the general public in an effective manner through the use of powerful diction, well-supported and organized progression of ideas and consistently holding onto his claims about Pakistani students and system of education. However, due to a somewhat biased opinion his article fails to come across as entirely credible.

In this article the author writes that the first impression of Pakistani students was very disappointing to him as he found nothing special about them. After encountering different students he realized that that students struggle a lot with their English writing and critical thinking skills and they have no idea about non-Pakistani history because of the flaws in their educational system. Before closing the author accepts the fact that Pakistani students do not lack in their abilities. They are as intelligent as students of any other nation but defects in their academic system and cultural limitations are the major hindrances towards their road to achieving something great. The author’s intended audience is students, teachers and educational researchers who are concerned about the academic problems or who want to have an idea about the students and system of education and defects in structure of schooling in Pakistan.

As far as newspaper articles are concerned the relevance plays a great role as it is the key to grasp the interest of the audience. The topic selected by Schweber is greatly related to one of the biggest problems of our country that is, flawed system of education. Pakistan is a struggling nation , this topic is very crucial as far as Pakistan is concerned because education is the only powerful weapon which guarantees a strong nation who is better prepared to fight for their future and Pakistan being a developing country seems to be unaware of this fact. Educational system is highly defected in Pakistan and a better system can play a great role in improving future of Pakistan. He has also touched the topic of existence of “Mullahs” in educational institutes of Pakistan which is a mystery for most of people and has tried rectification of the misunderstanding related to them. Normally people have this belief that these Mullahs have a very strict point of views regarding Islam and they not only themselves strictly follow their religion but also impose them on others through physical use of power. Such as in the part “Over and over I was warned ….religious extremism”.Schweber writers that the professors warn the author to stay away from them. Schweber has tried to show a glimpse of other side of the story such as in the lines “but then I got to know … are not important” he has described the observations of some students which negate the general perception of Mullahs being extremists and violent. This point is appreciable as it can help portray a better image of Pakistan in world. There also exists a misconception that only rich and wealthy people can attend LUMS and there is no way for a lower or middle class person to take admission there. Schweber has refuted this miss conception by explaining his observations to the readers. The author is being very optimistic as he is describing good aspects of Pakistani universities which is exact opposite of what most of the non- Pakistani writers do. The discussion of flaws of educational system; which is a very crucial topic as far as Pakistan is concerned and explanation of existence of mullahs and people belonging to lower middle class at LUMS; which has many mysteries and misconceptions related to it is making this article informative and interesting at the same time.

Structure is a very important part of academic writing as it creates a linkage throughout the entire text. Schweber has composed a well-structured essay and has made sure that the organization is such that helps the reader to understand the article in a better way. He also brings variations in his sentence structure and length throughout the article which serves to keep the reader interested throughout. He starts his article by describing the background and making simple assertions which gives a reader clear idea about the topic of discussion, then he gradually moves towards narrower topics of  like their first impression, mentality and academic problems with them. Moreover, he has used a very plain and straightforward language throughout the article which is a plus point of this writing as it helps engaging a reader and conveys the message effectively. The fact that Schweder avoids flowery language and jargon is another reason that the reader is compelled to read the entire article.

Consistency is very important in newspaper articles because it helps eliminating barriers between understanding and the reader. It facilitates communication, and thereby increases the likelihood that writing is conveying the message intended to be transferred. The main strength of this article lies in the fact that writer has been very consistent regarding his assertions and claims.  He has linked his entire article through describing related incidents. Throughout this articles the writer has been mainly focusing on just two things Pakistani Students and system of education For example while describing problems related to the usage of English language he has first mentioned the problem and then in next paragraph he gave an example about that problem which he mentioned and after that he has wrote his further related realizations. He has avoided any sort of extra or additional discussion and digression which is not related to the basic topic of article. This approach is helpful as it helps readers to grasp the main idea and ponder upon the basic topic being discussed. Looking more closely it is realized that the writer has used delusional tone. In most parts of this articles the writer has described flaws and lacking of the subject under discussion but he has avoided any sort of harsh tone and rude language. Schweber has also tried to be emphatic enough to describe the reasons behinds the defects and flaws that he has pointed out such as in line “part of the reason ….. 9th Symphony” Although he has asserted that there is discomfort regarding the abstract ideas but he has also said that it’s due to lack of background knowledge. This kind of tone somewhat helps in giving neutral effect to essay which otherwise would have been   negative. He has expressed his views which are mostly negative but his style of discussion is such that it does not cause outage in minds of the readers.

In writing newspaper articles, comparison and contrast is particularly valuable because it enables you to see familiar things in new ways. According to common sense two things must have some sort of similarity or must have a similar background if they are to be compared. Schweder has made comparison between Pakistani and American at many places such as in third paragraph “…..The word elite comes in play here. In the U.S. no college students would describe him or herself as elite……” This comparison is not appropriate because of a number of reasons. Firstly for comparison the background of two entities being compared must be same and there is a great difference between backgrounds of Pakistani and American students because in Pakistan a very small amount of budget is being allocated to education from day one due to which the system of education is in a very pathetic condition whereas America has a huge amount of its budget allocated to education and a very high literacy rate. Thus the writer has not kept in mind the background of both of the entities being compared. Secondly, Pakistan is a developing country whereas America is a highly developed and modernized country. So there is no point in making a comparison between two entirely different nations. Throughout this article the author has use a very biased approach towards judging Pakistani system of education. In the lines“Part of the reason….. Renaissance” the writer has made a claim that Pakistani students had no idea about   Beethoven’s 9th Symphony. Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is not such an important thing that the system which gives no knowledge about it can be considered as flawed. Moreover, he has further objected about the fact that students have no knowledge about French Revolution or World War 1. These assertions show that Schweber is simply being sociocentric because he is somewhat inclined towards the opinion that American system of education is the standard system of education and what American students know must be known by all. Moreover, as far as the French Revolution and World War 1 is concerned it is not  a must that all American Students have a knowledge and a vast understanding about these topics which makes readers think that the author is being self- deceptive about students of his country. Due to these judgments and biased opinion Schweber’s article is lacking in perfection and credibility. Another weakness which this article has is that in the mentioned topic the author writes about Pakistani Students but actually in article he is only talking about LUMS which means that the name of article does not go with the content of article.

In nutshell, the article “What Are Pakistani College Students All About?” is an effective piece of writing and Schweber has been successful in getting his message across the minds of the readers. The discussion of a very crucial topic and his explanation of it on basis of his experience has made this article both informative and interesting.  Structure, consistency, flow use of powerful but simple diction are the main strengths of this piece of writing. Even though the author’s biased approach towards the explanation of his observations has somewhat effected the credibility of the article but the article still has more strengths than weaknesses. Thus, he deserves appreciation for making such deep observation in a small period of time and then transferring these observation in a very effective and interesting manner. This article can prove to be very useful to divert the attention of people towards improvement of the faults in system of education of Pakistan and can have an overall positive impact.


Feature Photo: LUMS Photography Society

One thought on “Critique on, “What Are Pakistani College Students All About?” by Howard Schweber

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  1. This is much needed review of Professor Schweber’s article. I am glad students are engaging with the issue. I don’t agree with all the points you have made but they can be taken up at a later stage.

    Do read comments by LUMS students to the Schweber article here:
    https://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/2010/10/21/what-are-pakistani-college-students-all-about/

    And an analysis based on the comments here:
    https://thesouthasianidea.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/lums-and-learning-reflections-on-a-discussion/

    Dr. Anjum Altaf
    Former Dean, School of Humanities and Social Sciences, LUMS

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