Aamir Khan & Hillary Clinton talk education.

Look at HillaryClinton being charmed by Aamir Khan! I wonder if she’s seen any of his films.India Clinton

I find this photo romantic, don’t you?


Thanks to Bollywood Cookie for the photos and you can see more HERE.

Saturday, Jul 18, 2009, India

US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is in Mumbai on a five-day India visit.  And at a programme, she met Bollywood star Aamir Khan and spoke to students at the Xavier’s College. (source)

As a teacher, I decided not to be insulted by some of Aamir’s comments regarding the profession that he makes here. I’ll let them slide. It’s quite an interesting video and both Hillary and Aamir have some insightful comments about education in the US and India.

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20 thoughts on “Aamir Khan & Hillary Clinton talk education.

  1. Adab Sita-ji!

    I really like Aamir’s comment about faculty salaries. Such a universal issue, at least I know it is in higher education here in the U.S. If I may ask, what is it about what he’s said that is potentially ‘insulting’?

    From Hillary’s comments, the point about creativity is one I’ve experienced first-hand having been to school in India and here. Agree completely.

    Thanks for this post, Sita-ji. Really enjoyed this post. Very well-aligned with what he’s always said. Added a link to this post to HindustanKaHero.com, hope it’s okay. :)

    • theBollywoodFan-ji,
      Since when have you had HindustanKaHero.com? How did I miss this. Is it an Aamir only section that you’ve created? Great link you added there and including the the part from the TOI regarding his involvement with Teach For India. A similar program in the US (Teach for America) is quite interesting to me, and though I know it’s a competitive program to enter, it does pay teachers while working in challenging inner city (or rural, really any area of great need I believe) settings while they earn a graduate degree. Before this program it was not an option to be paid while doing student teaching, and it was also required to have classes in education. So it’s a program that sort of drops people right into the fire. Good concept, but I’m not sure it will end up attracting more highly qualified minds since ultimately will they want to put up with the baqwas? Some of the poorly behaving children make the job of behavior management trump the academic content. Hillary illustrated how the first school is the home, and touched a bit on the chasm that exists between how students come to school at various level of being ready to learn, e.g. how much they are spoken to in the home, and how kids in poverty are most often spoken to in an authoritarian manner “do this, do that.” vs. being spoken with and prepared to think on a higher level. Thus some kids come so unprepared for school. :( Certainly all kids don’t come to school ready to learn here in the US, and in India, many of similar backgrounds I believe would never even be able to have the chance to go to school. A program like Teach for America is taking the perspective of the criteria of college professors and imposing it on undergraduate education, and many elite minds need little education in teaching methods since college level students arrive pre-selected and ready (and are most time often paying) to learn. So you see it’s potentially a bit of a flawed concept. Anyway, I could go on and on since I’m an insider, and I think it’s funny to hear 2 smart people like Hillary and Aamir go on about education and have some very valid points, but it would be fun for a real teacher to be there to chime in. Some of his assertions came across as unintentionally arrogant. He’s been made a spokesman, but his statements show me that he was either not allowed to make points for limited time and/or he didn’t have a thorough understanding of the issues. Certainly the more intricate class system in India impacts the education system, so comparing US and Indian systems can only go so far. Oh and the insulting comment I was referring to was that the people who teach in Indian do that job because they couldn’t get into more elite academic programs. Probably true, but come on yaar! By saying that he’s somewhat alienating the people who are already teaching and implying that the ones that will be brought in through the Teach India and Teach for India programs will be better.

      • Hillary illustrated how the first school is the home…

        Right, and I agree it’s simply unfair to compare the infrastructure supporting education in India to that in the U.S. As long as the poverty situation doesn’t improve in India (and with a third of the world’s poor there, it’s probably justifiable to be pessimistic about where the country is headed in that department), I guess the question is, how do they get the maximum possible quality participation from all the players?

        Assuming the Taare Zameen Par DVD releases this fall, as Amazon.com suggests it will, and assuming it contains similar extra content as does the T-Series India release, I think you’ll enjoy a panel discussion Aamir hosted with leaders of medical and education boards in India. They had a similar discussion there, of course not from within the scope of the Teach India initiative. As an industry (sorry for using the word ‘industry’, I know some academics and teaching professionals who take offense to it) ‘insider’, I think you’ll be able to appreciate it much more.

        As for the ‘insulting’ comment, I see your viewpoint, and I wouldn’t at all like to hear that as a teacher either. But I don’t believe he implied absoluteness in any regard. And I think if we did a survey of all teachers in India, the statistical data would back up the argument. But all that’s speculation, of course. Maybe they have some study to support the argument? If they do, it would have been helpful to include it in any discussion (he was speaking a lot less than he normally does in that setting), which goes back to your comment on preparedness.

        Ref: HindustanKaHero.com…yes, it’s an Aamir-only section I added in March of this year. It’s my way of keeping up with interesting tidbits, commercials etc., many of which are really good but not contained in a central location. There’s a lot more I’ve meant to do with it, but the 24-hour day is very restricting, as you well know :)


    • theBollywoodFan,
      Yes, it’s a totally sexually charged photo! Good background music choice. :) Really this was almost identical to what I saw between Aamir and Hillary.

  2. I don’t think he insulted teachers in any of his comments. The points he made were completely valid. It is true that nowadays teaching is not the goal of students. Majority of people taking up teaching as a profession are those who are not able to secure admission elsewhere. I’ve come across teachers who openly express that they had wanted to be doctors or engineers, but they had to take up teaching, since they could not clear the entrance tests for these courses. It’s only a minor percentage of teachers who’re actually passionate and committed to their profession. Others simply go through the motions!

    Though, his ‘brightest comments’ remark was something I disagree with. It’s not that the ‘brightest minds’ exist only at IITs or IIMs. There are many bright students who for some reason, do not succeed in making it to such so called elite institutions. If you’re not from IIT or DU, that doesn’t make you any less brighter. Rather than emphasizing on intellectualism, he should have emphasized dedication and commitment. Even a bright teacher won’t teach well, unless he/she is really passionate about imparting knowledge and nurturing minds.

    But on the whole, the discussion was quite lively and engaging and Aamir did raise and elaborate pertinent issues that ail our education system. He was great, as always. No wonder Clinton heaped praises on him!

    She indeed seemed charmed by him – she even placed her hand on his knee once (during the conversation!) and we all can see how she was smiling and agreeing with each word he said. I admire Aamir for being much more than just a money-minting film star.

    He’s truly a cut above the rest! :)

    • Anu-ji,
      You are correct, I just wanted to indulge myself and get defensive since I’m a teacher. :) I would love to plop Aamir into one of the schools I work in and see him go. It would really NOT be like Taare Zaeen Par, the kids would be like, “Who the F are you?” I would never have made it into medical school I’m sure, but depending on what we teach, teachers here in the US need and undergraduate degree before going on to getting a teaching certificate at the graduate level, and that’s often another 1-2 years post grad work, and then a specialized license can be another 2 years, then add another and that’s 2 more years, so there is indeed some training. But you are correct, and I am only speaking from my personal experience in the US. I think things are much more competitive in India academically. But we can’t all be doctors, right, someone has to do the rest of the work.

      Regarding the hand on the knee…I know! Hillary Clinton was getting all Bill Clinton with Aamir, hai na? Coming on so strong! Just like those gori extras in Bollywood films. :) Thanks for your insightful comments and visit mitr.

  3. Thanks for your reply. I saw the entire discussion once again today and I do think that its beginning was great, but towards the end, it seemed to lack depth. Aamir should have been given more opportunity to speak. In the end, when a girl asked a question about not being able to teach poor kids since their parents don’t send them (and are more interested in sending their kids to earn bread), both Aamir and Hillary gave a rather lousy answer to this one saying “Yeah there are many problems but you should not give up”. The end of this session seemed quite rushed.

    You’re right, this discussion could have been more insightful if they also had an academician participating along with Aamir & Hillary. I also think that professors sitting there, should also have contributed to the discussion (either through questions or by sharing anything from their experience, or by just expressing their opinion). Meanwhile, I’d also like to add, that Mr. Arnab Goswami was a rather ineffective host/moderator. He didn’t do enough to make the discussion more fruitful or to elicit better responses from the participants.

    As for Aamir’s possibly ‘insulting’ comment, he did add that there are teachers who’re genuinely doing a great job (he said this twice) but they are a minority. Majority of people becoming teachers, are those who had not intended to take up teaching in the first place. That’s when he started his bit about making teaching a sought-after profession, increasing teachers’ pay etc. He did not brand all Indian teachers as incapable (or unfit for teaching).

    But yeah, as I said earlier, the continuous emphasis on ‘brightest individuals’ was irritating and sounded rather elitist.

    Your own experiences and viewpoints on this programme as well programmes like Teach for America & Teach for India made a very informative read. Of course, system in India is much different. [Believe me, I've come across a few such 'teachers', who made me feel like "Who on earth appointed them as teachers?!"]

    Anyway, education system and reforms is a complex area and if we start discussing them, then it go on and on since there’re so many problems and nitty-gritties involved [especially, if it's Indian education system!].

    Coming to Hillary’s equation with Aamir, you’re so right! Though she wasn’t as in-your-face as those gori extras, but she did get pretty close! Or perhaps, we desis are too conservative…

    Comparisons to ‘Mere Haath Mein…’ are rather exaggerated. Let Hillary be! ;) :D

    • Anu-ji,

      “I do think that its beginning was great, but towards the end, it seemed to lack depth. Aamir should have been given more opportunity to speak.”

      So true! I’m certain he had much more knowledge and more to say.

      “But yeah, as I said earlier, the continuous emphasis on ‘brightest individuals’ was irritating and sounded rather elitist.”

      I think it is really a cultural difference, you know many Americans (at least middle class Americans) are sort of immersed in the up by your bootstraps idea, we’re equal, and education is what levels the playing field, etc.,etc.. It’s the sort of comment that a lot of Americans wouldn’t make outside the home or beyond close friends. I think perhaps as a Hindustani he was more able to say such a thing without it being considered elitist. Cultural contest is key for that I think. But with my background, I did cringe, yet knew he was right at the same time if that makes sense.

      “Anyway, education system and reforms is a complex area and if we start discussing them, then it go on and on since there’re so many problems and nitty-gritties involved.”

      Too true yaar!

      “Comparisons to ‘Mere Haath Mein…’ are rather exaggerated. Let Hillary be!”

      Here you are WRONG! :) theBollywoodFan pointed it out and I confirmed it, and how could we both be wrong. It’s clearly bubbling with sexual tension. Bilkul! Masti! ;)

  4. Lastly, whatever we might say, but if there was any showbiz personality who could have aptly contributed to this discussion, then it was only Aamir. Other heroes (you know who I’m talking about) are not suited to take part in such discussions.

    Though Shabana Azmi, Nandita Das and Javed Akhtar are quite vocal about various issues but I haven’t really seen them talking about education or making any film about it. So, in the current scenario Aamir is the best fit for such forums.

    He did do a great job, but it could have been better if he was given more opportunity to speak (or perhaps as you’re saying, he had been better prepared).

    Nice to see you site. It’s really good! :)

    • Anu-ji,
      Again, you’re right, it’s wonderful that Aamir is making an effort on this touchy subject. Kudos to him. Look, I know Shabana is fantastic, but I’m pro first wife and thus will only say Jai Honey Irani! and no more. :) Thanks for all your thoughtful comments yaar. :)

  5. @ theBollywoodFan-ji,

    Hillary illustrated how the first school is the home…(for some reason my wordpress theme only is allowing 3 responses to a comment, or I would have commented above, sorry.) Yes, to compare systems will really only go so far, but I was happy to see it seemed like the Clinton-Khan interlude (see how I’m trying to romanticize it!) was understanding of that and seemed to want to take the best from each. But yes only so far that can go. We’ve got the infrastructure here in the US, and India’s brain drain can fill it. ;) It seems everyone is an “expert” about education, since they have all gone to school; however, not having worked directly within the system doesn’t seem to hold them back from commenting potentially beyond their true level of understanding, na? It sort of reminds me about health care system complaints, which we all can have since we’ve witnessed the problems either first hand or through someone close to it. I can imagine that a doctor, nurse, or other health care professional has a much better understanding of the current problems and may tire of hearing so many views from the consumer. Furthermore, education is often judged on a business model, completely ignoring the “raw material” teachers have to work with at the elementary and high school level. Hillary seemed to very much understand this when talking about difficulties in the poorer education systems of Arkansas and Texas, saying how Chelsea could survive a poorer performing school if needed, since she had the support at home, but for those unfortunate kids who don’t? Aamir only remotely brought up the “Chelseas vs. non Chelseas” of India by talking about how the competitiveness in education is off the mark and instead focus should be placed on critical thinking skills and creativity. But one must still ask question about equal opportunity for all. I know that in the US this education for all is an opportunity often squandered, but it’s a fundamental first step to have it there, thus I would have liked to have heard that as a main focus. So as you say, “I guess the question is, how do they get the maximum possible quality participation from all the players?” And that’s luckily what the Teach India program is attempting to do. Hillary spoke about talent being spread out equally, but how to make use of it is not at a level playing field and how to give such opportunities being the question. I would call for mandatory education in India for all kids until 16, as in the US, but again, that’s a huge undertaking. It’s funny to me as an American that Aamir was (in the clip we saw, I’m sure he knows and said more, no doubt) focusing on the quality and more elite aspects of education, but didn’t say anything I could hear about education the underclass. You could hear Hillary’s gentle probes on that when she brought up the whole bilingual education issue and cultural diversity in the US, as well as her understanding that some families are in a spot of barely hanging on and just have to do all they can to survive day to day. I think it seems to me in India that there is a full understanding of everyone from different walks of life coexisting, and part of that is the surrendering to the fact that extreme poverty is a part of life. Perhaps this is why the question of education for all groups wasn’t quite the focus. That would have been too hot of a topic to touch there. To a point we can’t place developed nation standards on a developing nation, but it should be considered. It’s like the elephant in the room, you know? I don’t think he meant to sound insulting, it’s just that in the US and the context of who I am, it sounded so, but I don’t believe he meant that.

    In a previous comment you brought up salary, and the whole $ issue is curious to me. People enter the profession knowing it doesn’t pay too much, and I’m not sure it a higher salary would necessarily bring in better teachers, but perhaps since it may be more competitive. It’s simply not money driven profession. Cultures and society is at a point where $ vs. knowledge has more value, na? If governments put their money where their mouths are, I’ll believe it, but until then, no worries. We get 3 months off, and every degree added on to the base degree raises one’s salary, so a teacher can indeed make a comfortable enough living in a big school district. When I hear teachers complain about salary, I think to myself “go get a higher degree, and why didn’t you get into the business profession if it was about money?” I know that sounds harsh, but I get tired of the whining. Of course I’d never complain if I got paid more. :) Anyway, I’m very sure that Aamir-ji is mostly on the mark, and since we were only allowed to hear a portion of the presentation, it’s just that! Now maybe he should contact us for more understanding, you know from you as someone educated in both systems, and me a teacher! Oh Aamir Khan bhai….

    • It seems everyone is an “expert” about education…not having worked directly within the system doesn’t seem to hold them back…

      But such is the nature of politics! And program/brand ambassadorship! You’re so right, there. There’s so much more to any profession than what outsiders see.

      You have the great example of healthcare pros, which leads to the question about the $$$, and which I’ll get to in a sec. Given the poverty levels and population stats of India, I don’t think any program that would ensure education for all kids up to a certain age could be realistically sustained, so I think a mandate is out of question. I agree a mandate is the ideal, but who would fund it? Not when the parents and children are actually dying of hunger! As you say, it’s good that that part of it at least wasn’t ignored in the discussion.

      I probably sound very pessimistic, and that’s because I really am. It’s extremely difficult to even imagine the scale of such an undertaking, as you say. Dare I say, it’s not happening in our lifetimes. What would make things easier would be if kids in India were really like that dude in Slumdog Millionare, who spoke English, followed western pop culture, could use a computer, *and* was a mere chaiwallah who’d never been to school! ;) [Speaking of which, I wonder if Hillary ever mentioned Slumdog to Aamir.]

      People enter the profession knowing it doesn’t pay too much…

      Very true. And again, I think it’s the best way to have genuine and sincere teachers. There’s no question about it. I’ve often wondered of what intangible negatives have resulted from incentivizing careers in medicine, the same concern would apply to teaching.

      But I guess I might be too influenced by what I saw around me when I was teaching at the university level (while in graduate school), when statistics from throughout the state showed a very disturbing trend of non-tenured professors having to quit teaching to afford housing costs. No matter how much one loves a profession, it’s not going to get one to keep going that way. Having said that, whatever little I know is exclusive to teachers in universities, and the political and economic feasibility of increased salaries, so it’s hardly a fair comparison to what you mention. (Either way, it’s good to have tenure!)

      …and why didn’t you get into the business profession if it was about money?

      This is true. Going back to where we started with this, I really think it’s more about ‘maximizing the likelihood’ of getting the best and most qualified talent for the teaching jobs.

      Perhaps you could stop by Aamir’s blog and ask him, Sita-ji!

      • Nawab theBollywoodFan-ji,

        Thanks again for the comments. Yes, the poverty problem gets in the way, lekin we can dream. :) About the Slumdog statement, again all true…can you imagine if she said, “Now I really liked your Slumdog Millionaire!” I like to think she was well prepped to meet him by some geeky aide (like me!) who spazzed out giving her details about Aamir’s career before the function. “OMG! Can I even tell you what a big star he is! DON’T bring up Slumdog. Look he made this movie where he’s a teacher called TZP, and….”

        Teaching at the university and even college, and community college level is another issue. From what I know these are the professors that are often not paid too well thru salary! I think even lower that many grade and high school teachers since it’s not always a full-time gig. Then there’s another level of challenges for post secondary professors: the whole publish or perish issue, actual grad students being pulled in to teach the undergrads; i.e. doing much of the hired professor’s work, but not getting paid but it being justified as on the job training (like Teach for America, but on a graduate level). I think often the community college professors can make more than those at the fancier private universities, since the state pays their salaries, furthermore the community college professors can escape the publish or perish pressure. Then there’s the plus that the small private colleges and some universities often provide very nice free housing as a perk, at least that was the case for some professors at my undergraduate college (Macalester). The at large elite institutions at the post graduate level, I’m sure the pay for the top professors is not as much of an issue, because there’s that competition to get the best. Top of the pyramid though is very different than the other.

        So it is like you say, “more about ‘maximizing the likelihood’ of getting the best and most qualified talent for the teaching jobs.”

        Maybe I’ll just play hard to get and let Aamir come to me!

  6. If only the discussion with Hillary had taken place a year or so earlier, and in order to participate in it Aamir Khan had to take a few-hour break from shooting Ghajini. I’d love to have seen Hillary Clinton beside vengeful amnesiac Sanjay Singhania.

    • Brahmanadam-ji!
      LOL! L to the O to the L! That would have been spectacular to see Aamir in Sanjay Singhania mode in the Hillary education symposium. They’d have to keep restarting the interview every 15 minutes, and she’d have to perhaps watch that she said to not aggravate him, and never mention that she knew Ghajini. NEVER say something like, “Well the US is taking efforts to look into your country’s challenges with things like organ harvesting and human trafficking. Mr. Singhania, you have perhaps heard of India’s notorious dacoit, Ghajini?” LOOK OUT! She’d even need to have a poloroid snap with “Hillary Clinton, United States Secretary of State, FRIEND” written beneath the photo to keep handy to flash him. Another plus would be that as chairman of the Air Voice mobile telephone company, Singhania could perhaps further Teach India’s efforts even more than Khan!

  7. As always, you make good points. After all, Christian Bale would have stayed in character if he’d been forced to leave the set at a critical juncture. I’m sure an actor as focused as Aamir Khan would have displayed the same dedication to his craft.

    If you think about it, it’s probably better that the event didn’t go down like that. It could have rattled our secretary of state to engage on those issues when she’d been prepped only to talk about education (Not to diss her: If anyone would have organ harvesting stats at the ready, it would be a brainiac like her). But in all likelihood, she’d have come off as ill-prepared (especially since she’d already be thrown off by Aamir Khan’s smoldering anguish). A diplomatic stumble would have reflected poorly on President Obama, and perhaps India, concluding that the U.S. didn’t have its shit together, would shift to a more “go it alone” stance on pressing security and environmental issues — opening opportunities for notorious dacoits, free of international treaties and other constraints, to expand their criminal enterprises.

  8. Pingback: Anil Kapoor cooks with Martha Stewart. « Bollywood Food Club

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