“Sir,” she asked, “who is a teacher?”
They looked at her, shocked. The teacher, after all was the one who thought in the class. The one who took lectures. The one who teaches. Wasn’t that obvious?
Her smart friend responded, “The professors who teach are teachers. Assistant, associate, full professors. Professors of practice. They are all teachers.”
“You’re defining a teacher by pointing at one”, she retorted. “Not by the role or the pedagogy. You are confining a teacher to a classroom, aren’t you?”
She was astonishingly insightful.
We live in times when there are the most and the best educated people on Earth, but their education has not served as an adequate barrier to halt exploitation, destruction, and barbarity.
We live in a world with a climate emergency, disappearing forests, mountains and rivers, wealth concentration, racial and communal divisions, hunger and malnutrition amid plenty, an explosion of population, no land left unoccupied for human activities, and vanishing biodiversity. These are the consequences of our designs. Or as environmental educator David Orr puts it, “It is worth noting that this is not the work of ignorant people. It is, rather, largely the result of work by people with BAs, BSs, LLBs, MBAs, and PhDs.” It is the result of the teaching imparted by the teachers. It is the result of confining the teacher to the classroom and not seeking them out in our institutions or the systems we are a part of.
Astonishingly, we continue to reinforce the same ideas of the roles and pedagogies of teachers. We continue to push information, knowledge and skills in a world that needs vision, healing, and wisdom. Google, citation indices, not the elder, defines our understanding of the teacher.
In Sanskrit there are six different words to describe a teacher according to the role.
The adhyapak is the one who imparts information. The upadhyaya is the one who imparts knowledge and information. The acharya imparts skills. The pandit provides deep insight into a subject. The dhrishta provides a visionary view on a subject and the ability to think like a visionary. The guru awakens the wisdom. Their pedagogies are vastly different. The persons they prepare for the world are completely different. The world that their students design and create is completely different.
If the world we live in is any indication, we have few dhrishtas and gurus.
As David Orr said as long ago as 1991, “The plain fact is that the planet does not need more “successful” people. But it does desperately need more peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers, and lovers of every shape and form. It needs people who live well in their places. It needs people of moral courage willing to join the fight to make the world habitable and humane. And these needs have little to do with success as our culture has defined it.”
If we define teachers and pedagogies to deliver information, knowledge and skills, we will not address the climate emergency, the disappearing forests and rivers, the wealth concentration and all the problems of our design that define our world will not disappear. They are the result of our definition of the role and pedagogies of teachers.
More than ever, we need the dhrishta to impart the ability to be visionary and the guru to impart the ability to invoke wisdom. We need them not just in classrooms but in every institution and system that surrounds us.
Without the dhrishta and guru we will continue to emphasize on information, knowledge, efficiency and answers of the parts that make up our world, on ideologies and exploitation of the parts instead of understanding the interaction of the parts, questions, values, consciousness, conscience and symbiosis. Without them we will remain addicted to the short term. We will not understand or value the Short Now, the lifetime of a child born now. Without them, we will not educate peacemakers, healers, restorers, storytellers and lovers in every shape and form. Without them we will fail to address the problems that define our civilization as the age of exploitation.
“Where do I find a guru?”, she asked.
The guru comes in many forms. Even non-human.
Have you felt the wind blowing on your back? Have you felt the rain cool the earth? Have you experienced the fragrance of the earth responding joyously to the rain? Have you watched the seasons of nature? Or spent hours watching a river flow?
Or slept looking at the stars? Have you been moved to tears, or found sudden strength, or discovered ecstasy? Have you found wisdom in that moment that took your breath away and that which brought calm?
So, till our designs seek out dhrishtas and gurus as teachers in our institutions, seek them out in every thought and feeling you experience.
Thank you for asking who a teacher is.
#All views expressed in this column are the authors and/or individuals quoted and Pune365 does not necessarily subscribe to them.
He can be reached @AnupamSaraph