Where are the inspirers?

Teacher’s Day

Even though we love to celebrate Teacher’s Day, the fact remains that as a society we really do not bother about the vocation of teaching. Seldom do we realise that a teacher should not be reduced to yet another employee — a cog in a bureaucratic machine. A society that values the significance of teaching knows that the task of a teacher is not merely to ‘cover’ the syllabus, and prepare students for the examination.

A teacher engages in a delicate art of the transmission of social heritage — its knowledge systems, its aspirations, achievements and struggles — from one generation to another. Not solely that. A teacher inspires and makes it possible for a young learner to tap her innate potential. In other words, a sane society ought to value its teachers.

Why have we failed in this regard? Well, barring exceptions, our schools are terribly violent institutions. As textbooks (quite often badly written), weekly tests, monotonous home work, meaningless summer projects, exam performance and regimentation through highly mechanised assemblies, drilling and the notorious presence of CCTV cameras become the substance of school life, a teacher loses his charisma; creativity disappears.

What remains is the cycle of repetition — going to the class, maintaining the register, retaining ‘order’, and appearing as a mediator between the child and the textbook through the practice of rote learning. This often creates the impression that teaching doesn’t require creativity, and anybody — a housewife striving for a ‘soft’ job, a bureaucrat’s ‘English-speaking’ wife eager to spend her time, a ‘social activist’ as an intern in a fancy NGO, or a local trader/politician thinking of earning some extra income — can do it.

No wonder, in the hierarchy of professions, teachers — particularly, schoolteachers — do not occupy a respectable position. This is the harsh reality. This is the vicious circle reproducing a society that stigmatises its teachers. Is it, therefore, surprising that teachers are asked to do all sorts of things that have nothing to with the ecstasy of education -- from census work to election duty, from clerical work to management of mid-day meal schemes?

These days, because of heightened competition and an emergent career-obsessed generation, we are seeing yet another kind of teacher — a private tutor, a coaching centre ‘guru’, a magician with some sort of ‘success mantra’.

With this crude pragmatism, education loses all finer values — the spirit of wonder, exploration through critical enquiry, joy of reading books outside the ‘official curriculum’ and doing things with hands and feet.

What exists is only the neurotic urge to succeed in all sorts of mass examinations. No Tagore. No Premchand. No Newton. No Ramanujan.

A ‘physics/biology guru’ suggests guide books, dictates notes, utilises time and gives some ‘clues’ to crack a series of medical/engineering entrance tests.

In a way, Kota — the town in Rajasthan known for its coaching centres with stories of parental ambition, broken dreams amid the mythology of success, and chronic performance anxiety — reveals the intensity of the crisis. No other relationship exists between the teacher and the student. There is no story of life, no tale of the philosophy of art, no madness; there is only calculation — mock tests and the measurement of the probability of ‘success’.

It is really frightening that many of our youngsters would never find truly enchanting teachers in their lives. They do not know whether any other possibility can exist beyond a tired/routinised schoolteacher imposing ‘discipline’ and a coaching centre ‘guru’ selling the package of ‘success’.

Knowledge vs skills

Meanwhile, as the market has been allowed to colonise the domain of education, we are witnessing the reduction of knowledge into mere ‘skills’. Yes, the booming business of much-publicised education shops (often regarded as ‘universities’ with high ‘ranking’) has done terrible damage to the vocation of teaching and the ethos of the teacher-taught relationship.

A teacher — always afraid of losing the ‘contract’ — becomes merely a trader of knowledge: a ‘service provider’; and a student becomes merely a buyer and consumer of ‘skills’.

In such a market-driven space, it is difficult to imagine the existence of a teacher taking his/her students to ideas, philosophies and nuanced trajectories of life, culture and politics.

There is no inspiration; there is only the mathematics of mind-boggling ‘tuition fee’ and ‘placement packages’.

But, society cannot evolve and citizenship cannot become mature and reflexive without good teachers — teachers who are not just ‘subject experts’ or ‘skill providers’, teachers who carry the lamp of wisdom, and enchant the young mind. Even though some of our finest educators — from Rabindranath Tagore to Jiddu Krishnamurthi — strove for such ideals, these days we laugh at all noble aspirations, and feel comfortable in making a tight boundary between ‘reality’ and ‘utopia’. No amount of techno-economic infrastructure can help us without socio-cultural and politico-ethical education. To think otherwise is to entertain the illusion of progress.

We have already begun to pay the price for this market-induced indifference. From psychic depression to suicide tendencies, from inner emptiness to spiritually impoverished ‘skilled’ techno-managers, from meaninglessness to intoxication with gadgets: the scar in the cultural landscape is quite visible.

No, there is no ‘online’ solution to it. Technology, irrespective of its magical seduction, is not god. Wikipedia, Facebook and YouTube cannot accomplish what good teachers in a physically embodied interactive space do. Education is not about information; a teacher is not a data bank. Education, in its true spirit, is essentially an enchanting experience, and the touch of a teacher, or a communion between human souls makes it possible.

The good thing is that even under these hostile circumstances, not all teachers are dead; their presence arouses hope. And today, we must express our gratitude to them.

(The writer is Professor of Sociology at Jawaharlal Nehru University) 

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Where are the inspirers?

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