Just this morning, I wrote a post about a piano teacher (click link). It could have been a happy case of writing about a musician and how wonderful it is to interact with young minds and impart them newer ideas about playing music, but this is not such a post. It is about an abusive teacher. The dilemma about knowing abusers is multifold. But the story about teachers abusing power only changes- it does not end, it does not create new outcomes and definitely in an unregulated environment, it can create some dangerous outcomes.
There was a recent incident, which I read about in the newspapers, just yesterday, about students stabbing a teacher. It takes a lot of anger to stab a person and that too when it is a teacher – who is traditionally assigned greater power socially than students. First of all, this itself is a critical issue. Why should teachers have more power than students? Is the students’ ‘work’ of student-hood any less significant than a teacher’s? Can teachers become teachers without having students? Can teachers become better teachers by teaching the same thing again and again, year after year, without any change, if students do not question them?
I do not personally think that students would stab a teacher upon a little provocation. To come to a point of stabbing a person, unmindful of its consequences is sign of accumulated anger- which for sure does not happen in a day. I have seen school teachers, particularly in government schools treating their students like despicable vermin. There was a well-feared school principal who was known to hit his students with big bamboo sticks, and not thin ones at that. I always carried the image that government school boys are ‘goondas’ or ruffians till I did not grow up and learn to understand the politics of knowledge, and how one class is ensuring the perpetration of ignorance of another class, by not even wanting to educate them- which the oppressed classes are seeing as the sole route to their emancipation and social upliftment.
Personally I believe that teachers being ascribed more power than students is itself a sign of a decadent, patriarchal value system in which the elements that constitute the system are not recognized as partners but viewed as a hierarchy. Patriarchy is also based on the idea of hierarchy and dominance. Of course it takes more complex forms, about ownership of wealth/decision making ability in a family, society or institutionally. But the underlying idea is dominance. The whole Indian system of the guru-shisya parampara, which is carried down historical times until now is a continuation of the same hierarchical, decadent system, which carries on, with teacher-worshiping and unquestioning submission to the teacher (irrespective of their intelligence, kindness and knowledge). It is no wonder that our education is not producing the sort of social outcomes, growth, development and critical thinking that knowledge is supposed to inculcate. With unquestioning submission, nobody dares to question and nobody cares to answer, if someone questions.
Higher you go, lonelier it gets…in education
In the same context I would like to share here that recently I was having a telephonic dialogue with a young woman who is entering into a clinical psychology program, in a premier institution in India- someone who did a masters’ in psychology from a major university. I had read some of her articles and told her that I could see a research potential in her, though I did not see her academic articles to be thorough or methodologically significant. She said that nobody in their department (her teachers) helps any students! They (the professors) have so much on their plates already that it is not possible for them to pay heed to the needs of their students. I thought it was a great irony, since professors are paid to impart knowledge explicitly to those students only. They ought to at least guide their students and steer them in directions which bring their ideas to fruition or at least a clarity. Though as a student she was trying to condone her teachers’ lack of kindness/ethics/participation in the lives of students, as a student and a researcher myself I find it unpardonable. She further said that she has been told already that M.Phil that she is entering for, is all about finding your own way through the world- of ideas, patients, counseling methods and so forth.
Is it any surprise that when students come out of these departments with vacuous degrees they actually have no skills to offer to the world? They are just exposed to people, without given the wisdom and knowledge how to interpret the exposure. Everyone can have an apple fall on them, but only a Newton will think about it to arrive at the idea of gravity. Hundreds of people would have been hit by something falling from above- do they end up finding new ideas, new solutions or new perspectives? Then how to we create new knowledge? By just tossing about old ideas, in old vessels and older ways of looking at life, which are not even created in our own country, but the West?
Anyhow after these thoughts about education in India, as it goes, I need to come back to the main subject that triggered off these thoughts- about the piano player.
I have known him for at least 15 years- from a distance, the sort of knowing when you know a person’s name, their work (not having heard it) and knowing that he is a go-getter. The trouble with India is that a lot of us are gogetters. We will do anything to get what we want- even deviously, following no inner or social morals, because our conscience permits us to do everything, by hook or by crook.
Since I have already written the post about him, in this one I am not going to repeat my words written there. My concern here is the underlying philosophical, ethical, moral and social responsibility which we end up shirking when we abuse our own students. The other concern is that a whole lot of people are in the teaching market, in an unregulated manner, where their knowledge is not measured, nobody questions them about their methods and parents are largely ignorant about anything- from general education to art education. In such a grey scenario, the ones who know even a little are able to masquerade as knowledgeable and get jobs and private classes..
As human beings we all love to direct our emotional expressions at someone we can identify. Today I see that I can identify in that man, the piano teacher, an abuser- a convenient scapegoat for my angst. However more than my anger he provokes my sadness and my dejection- at the emptiness of everything people do. What is the significance of music if it does not deepen your own inner gaze and make you think about life, creation, philosophy, society and your own responsibility in a meaningful way? Is everything only about our bread and butter? Isn’t it a great shame really and we think and believe we belong to a great nation? So where is that greatness supposed to be, if we are not able to muster it in our daily life and day-to-day behaviours with our fellow human beings? A greatness of the past means no greatness at all– for the past is only a matter of the eyes that interpret it and History is only about interpretation- not about the truth. We do not need to glorify a past where a majority was oppressed and deprived of their dignity. What else was the guru shisya parampara if not exclusion of a majority of people from the possibility of achieving knowledge, which would only be imparted to a select few?
Teachers need to get out of their guru-hoods and embrace their journeys as inquirers and responsible citizens, who can only hold a candle, akin to an indicator/sign of the path of knowledge. The path is not owned by them, nor created by them. They are journeying on the path as co-voyagers of their students, colleagues and several others. If they cannot understand that, they do not deserve to be teachers and today I can say that a majority of teachers in India do not deserve to be teachers. The minority wherever it is, is worthy of salutation and to them I bow as the upholders of a value system, in which it is not the ego of the teacher that is supreme, but the process of collaboration that learning and teaching is supposed to be- the co-creation of knowledge.