What ails the English teacher

Gone are the days when English teachers sauntered on the corridors of colleges and universities leaving the onlookers wondering, reminding one of the rustic in Goldsmith, how they could carry Chaucer, Shakespeare, Milton, Wordsworth and Eliot in their small heads.

These rightful descendants of Raja Ram Mohan Roy and Macaulay, but for whom Sanskrit and Persian would have effec tively displaced English, never failed in the noble task of imparting 'modern wisdom' through a language, which was perceived to have "ready access to all the vast intellectual wealthcreated and hoarded in the course of ninety generations."

Treading the path of Derozia, hundreds of English teachers fired the imagination of many a young brain across the country moulding them to be the 'forward-looking sane voices' in a 'retrogressive' society. No doubt, the inspired and enlightened lot often managed to go beyond the problematic Macaulayan vision to contribute immensely to the process of nation-building.

The post-independent era saw the envious growth of English in India as many schools, colleges and universities came up with the sole aim of 'modernising' Indians with the help of western education disseminated through the English language. As the medium of instruction went on to acquire unwarranted leverage, the subjects taught paled into insignificance bestowing enormous power on the language! It was nothing but this that catapulted an English teacher to the status of a larger-than-life hero!

Until the vast powers of globalisation effected a 'paradigm shift' in the field of higher education in India, every university in the country boasted such heroes who mesmerised everyone with their encyclopaedic range.

CDN, who won the Padma Bhushan for his outstanding efforts in canonising the Indian English Literature, and U R Ananthamurthy, who received not just the Padma Bhushan but also the Jnanpith Award for his invaluable contributions, belong to the tribe of legendary English teachers who lent credence to the concept of higher education. Many who had the privilege of being inspired by them made humble attempts to tread the trodden path.

Then came the clamour for change as the 'new gen' educationists somehow felt that the existing syllabus was 'unteachable.' The 'west wind', accompanied by a deluge of theories, proved to be the last nail in the coffin as it violently shook the very foundation of the departments of English just before the new millennium set in.

Overnight, Shakespeare was found to be irrelevant and irreverent; Wordsworth, dispensable; Eliot and Co., unpardonably too liberal. In short, many felt that students be given a 'friendly-syllabus' cleansed of 'hardcore literature.'

Even though a lone voice was heard in the wilderness, the 'those who mattered' remained undeterred and the curriculum went in for a thorough revamp. The advocates of the 'student-friendly syllabus' brought into being Communicative English, which was believed to be a boon to the students who hitherto had to carry the heavy burden of the 'Shakespeare-ridden' syllabus. However, a little bit of soul-searching today could clearly reveal that the new student-friendly course has not been very friendly in enabling the students to master the coveted language.

The truth is that the large number of students who walk out of colleges and universities, despite scoring high marks thanks to the student-friendly question banks, student-friendly question papers, and above all, student-friendly evaluation techniques, fail to impress either with their articulating skills or with literary sensibility.

Granting that the new system may have produced a few brilliantly creative minds just as the old one churned out many blockheads with atrocious English, a strong case has been made against the former.

Since the experience of the last three decades has proved that Communicative English, a spurious course solely designed to cater to the needs of the call centre culture, does not actually communicate much, it is imperative that one had a fresh look at the whole thing.

Otherwise, soon the fast-growing Spoken English Centers manned by 'those who think they know English' with their outlandishly hybrid accent will convince the students that they are better equipped to teach English than those who become teachers by virtue of having attempted a critical appreciation of the women characters in R K Narayan's novels!

One can only pity the poor English teacher who has already begun to feel threatened by the alleged move to declare English as not a compulsory language to be studied in degree classes. God save the poor English teacher!

(The writer is an Associate Professor of English at SVS College, Bantwal, DK)

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