Why Prof. William Ochieng’ is wrong on ‘Brown Notes’ at Universities
By Prof. Maurice N. Amutabi
I was surprised by the response from Prof. William Ochieng’ in Daily Nation of February 14, 2012 to my article which appeared in the Daily Nation on 26th Jan 2012, condemning the use of tattered notes by dons at universities in Kenya. I was astonished that there would be anyone defending university lectures who read old, yellow and brown notes to students instead of lecturing. In a piece mischievously entitled, “Amutabi talks tough, but show us his books,” Prof. Ochieng’ seems to suggest that he has published more books than me, which is inaccurate. He comes out as unapologetic defender of bad lecturers who shamelessly embarrass those of us who prepare adequately before going to lecture.
Many scholars know that Prof. Ochieng’ loves fights, especially in public. Like the vintage Ochieng’, he skips the important topic of bad teaching, the subject of my article, and moves to a different subject on books, where he mistakenly thinks he might have an advantage over me. For his information, I have more and better books than his. If he wants to contest this fact, our academic peers can be asked to compare our books. I wonder if he considers his little pamphlets titled First Word, Second World and Third Word which were churned out of his polemical and unsubstantiated articles in the press as books! Throughout his reaction to my article, Prof. Ochieng does not come out clean on whether he is a user of yellow notes (brown notes) or not.
Prof. Ochieng’s wants to be shown my books, and says that he will come to Nairobi to see them. Well, Prof. Ochieng’ should be advised that in this day and age, my books are just a mouse click away. He only needs to search for ‘Maurice Amutabi’ under any academic search engine and the books will all appear, ready for him to order. Travelling all the way from Maseno to Nairobi to be shown my books is really old school when they are all available on Aamzon.com. Some of my books are published abroad, unlike his which are mainly published at Kisumu and Nairobi. For his information, I have published more books in my university teaching career of less than 25 years compared to his stretching out for over four decades.
The Socratic style of lecturing is praised all over the world as the best, and I am therefore surprised that Prof. Ochieng is resisting it. While studying at the University of Nairobi, I admired my teachers such as Profs. Mwangi wa Gihumo, Korwa Adar, Njuguna Ng’ethe and Katete Orwa, who came to class only with chalk. They had confidence in what they taught and we really admired and applauded them. They remain my models of ideal intellectuals up to this day. Unlike those who taught Prof. Ochieng and who read from their old notes, my best lecturers did not read notes in class. They encouraged critical thinking because they did not pretend to know everything.
Prof. Ochieng may want to know that I received overwhelming response from hundreds of readers; mainly university students and professors who agreed with the views expressed in the article. If he had an e-mail account, I would have forwarded them to him. One university professor said that the notes are nowadays ‘brown’ and no longer yellow due to age, oxidation, and exposure to dust due to campus shuttling. My mailbox was flooded with messages of support and solidarity, where many students gave macabre details on how some lecturers even carry textbooks to class to read to them. Some recounted cases where PowerPoint slides did not help much as lecturers simply read them loud, word for word.
Ochieng mentions Prof. B.A Ogot as an example of a renowned professor who reads notes to his students. I happen to have listened to Prof. Ogot many times and he does not read his. I have met many of Ochieng’s students and many have told me that he has major challenges in embracing the Socratic Method because he loves to read his notes in class. I challenge him to contact any of my former students on the same, and he will be pleased to know that I preach water and drink water, not wine.
Prof. Amutabi teaches at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa, Nairobi. Amutabi@yahoo.com