By Susie Allen
University of Chicago students are a notoriously loquacious bunch. This trait didn’t escape the notice of Atiya Khan when she began teaching in the College.
“As someone who was primarily educated in Pakistan and India, where teachers rarely treat their students as interlocutors, I found the liveliness of classroom interactions at U of C both overwhelming and enormously liberating,” she says.
Over time, Khan, a PhD student in history, worked to find “the right balance between trying to steer students and providing them space to think through the arguments themselves.” She’s tackled that challenge in the “Self, Culture, and Society” and “Colonizations” courses in the Core, as well as a course of her own design, “Pakistan: A Failed State?”
Khan was influenced by the teaching style of two of her own teachers: Dipesh Chakrabarty, the Lawrence A. Klimpton Distinguished Service Professor in History and South Asian Languages and Civilizations; and Moishe Postone, the Thomas E. Donnelly Professor in History, the Committee on Jewish Studies, and the College—and by the advice of her husband, a College alumnus, who like, Kahn, teaches in the Core.
He encouraged Khan to “inhabit the argument of every book on the syllabus as if it were my own, in order to assess whether the concepts and categories are fruitful for explaining our modern world,” she says. “I urge my students to take a similarly serious approach to every text that we read in SOSC.”
Khan, who is at work on a dissertation exploring the fall of leftist movements in Pakistan between 1947 and 1971, says she’s grown more confident in her teaching abilities over time. “It takes awhile to trust yourself to fly without a safety net,” she says.
Originally published on June 4, 2012.