Functions Of A Teacher. Bertrand Russell Essay. Reintroduced By P.S.Remesh Chandran, Sahyadri Books Trivandrum

PSRemeshChandra By PSRemeshChandra, 18th Sep 2014 | Follow this author | RSS Feed | Short URL http://nut.bz/ildb6h-d/
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Storm and rain and hail and heat and sun shine are not dreadful things to plants. They are the turbulence which causes them to germinate, grow, flower, seed, fruit, wither away and again germinate and flower from seeds. Mankind also is in inimical storm and rain and hail, but civilization and culture won’t die away. The turbulence of our times is harmful to the fine flowers of our culture, but the agents of civilization- teachers- will see to it that they are protected in times of crises.

Teachers are agents of civilization working in this world, making people bold, courageous and learnèd in whatever has gone and whatever may come.

Bertrand Russell was a British philosopher, awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1950. Roads To Freedom, Principia Mathematica, Marriage And Morals and The Conquest Of Happiness are the most famous of his books. Principia Mathematica deals with beauty of mathematics and the others are fine philosophical works. The Functions Of A Teacher is an essay written by him, describing the role of teachers as agents of civilization working in this world, making people bold, courageous and learnèd in whatever has gone and whatever may come. The views expressed by Bertrand Russell in this essay are relevant and current more than ever in the present day world. These views are not something originated from the speculating mind of just a philosophic writer but the seasoned and well-defined opinions of a brilliant teacher with long experience in the field. He also taught in UCLA, the University of California and Los Angeles.

Infiltration of politics into classroom and trade unionism into teachers’ room has wrecked the atmosphere in schools and colleges.

Infiltration of politics into classroom and trade unionism into teachers’ room has been disturbing the peace, quietness and efficiency in schools and colleges for long. One cannot certainly hold the conviction that politics and the social, economic and political happenings in a country have to be kept out of the minds of budding citizens, but they never shall be allowed free reign to the extent of consuming academic life. In matters such as this, it is good for the world to once again listen to what eminent educational philosophers like Bertrand Russell had to say. His famous article on the functions of a teacher as an agent of civilization in a highly organized society is therefore reintroduced here.

This turbulent disorder and confusion of our times do not reflect or represent our fine achievements of culture in the past.

The teacher is an agent of civilization. He is functioning in a society which has become organized more than ever. The turbulent disorder and confusion we see in our times is inimical, enemy-like, to the fine flowers of our culture humanity has produced in the past centuries and may curtail the appearance of those that are going to bloom in future. This turbulent disorder and confusion of our times do not reflect or represent our fine achievements in the past and are opposing and unfriendly to them. There indeed are many obstacles in the teachers’ path. But, Russell hopes, through the dedicated and committed functioning of the world teachers community, the present resistances may be made to vanish and a new civilization made to dawn.

The teacher may, and must, present before his pupils this vast panorama and vision of the cosmic world, so that they too may be able to see this flight of space through time.

The teacher is an agent of civilization as well as being its custodian and guardian. It is the function of the teacher to civilize his generation. Civilization is the enlargement of virtues and spiritual qualities through the development of emotions and knowledge. Knowledge and emotions are the chief constituents of a civilization. Knowledge should be wide, deep and perfect. By having a wider view of the world, the teacher should be able to observe man as a tiny being, leading a short life, in a small planet that flitteth through the infinity of space. A wider view of the world enables the teacher to conceive well the ‘geological epochs and astronomical abysses of the world and the universe.’ He gains an insight into the far past, the present and the distant future, and would find that human glories are but momentary. He would be the only person in our society to see the momentousness of human glories and say so to the loud-braying politicians and economists. When reading these lines, we will wonder how come a mathematician of our times wrote such lines, but we must reassure ourselves that it was the cleanliness and purity of mathematics that made him see the plain truth and pronounce it. The teacher uses this newly-acquired heavy knowledge and vision of the world and the universe to help mankind to see things clearly and foresee its future, instead of using it to crush mankind with its heaviness. The teacher may, and must, present before his pupils this vast panorama and vision of the cosmic world so that they too may be able to see this flight of space through time, an idea endeared to many philosophers and teachers from time immemorial.

It is in the fire of emotions that knowledge is purged and purified into civilization. Without the fire of emotions to burn the human soul in, knowledge is but in vain.

Emotions are generally the least considered as constituents of civilization. There is no use of a head without possessing a good heart. It is in the fire of emotions that knowledge is purged and purified into civilization. It is like iron is tempered in fire into steel to remove its brittleness to make many useful weapons, and gold is purified in fire to make many beautiful ornaments. Without the fire of emotions to burn the human soul in, knowledge is but in vain. Civilization draws strength from the very best of human emotions. Inspired by emotions, great lovers of mankind, supreme intellects and creators of beauty have interpreted life and fought evil.

We have seen great political and military blades wielded in the Second World War which split into two or more fragments Germany, Korea, India and a multitude of other ancient nations.

Tolerance also is a constituent of civilization. Narrow nationalist feelings and collective hysteria hamper and pull back the advancement of civilizations and the evolvement of a healthy culture. Nations politically split and divided by barbed-wire-borders hold back people’s zeal to unite and exchange feelings as before. We have seen great political and military blades wielded in the Second World War which split into two or more fragments Germany, Korea, India and a multitude of other ancient nations. Apart from momentary political retaliation and satiation of revenge, it satisfied and suited none other than aspirants of authority. Instead of one, two prime ministers and presidents could reign and two cabinets could eat into national treasuries. And of course there could be installed two Parliaments, Senates, Bundestags, Reichstags, Knessets- fulfillment of dreams for many half-evolved brains!

One either side of those barriers, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, and wives, looking at each other and cursing those who ruled countries, waited fifty years to speak to each other.

When political figure heads of the Second World War, in their limited mental acuity, could find no other magnificent political solutions, they divided and separated people and erected barriers, subjecting the people of those lands to unending terror for more than fifty years. One either side of those barriers, fathers, mothers, sons, daughters, husbands, and wives, looking at each other, pining in their hearts and cursing those who ruled those countries, waited fifty years to speak to each other. Where was world’s conscience then? The people of these countries gained nothing by way of material prosperity, spiritual enlightenment or cultural uplift by this division, separation, fragmentation. Trains from Lahore to Calcutta bled all the way with bogies full of bodies of assassinated Hindu refugees with those trains side-marked ‘Jinna’s Presentation To The New India’. Exactly similar train gifts were sent to Lahore from Amritsar and Calcutta, bearing ‘Gifts To The New Pakistan’. Gandhi wept and prayed and wished to die, but who will listen? The scenes were more or less the same everywhere. Buddha’s Korea and India and Goethe’s Germany never wished to divide and separate their peoples. It was modern day politicians’ lust for power and thirst for new kind of colonies that divided people. When Berlin Wall was dismantled and fell, the world learnt the lesson: never trust their national political leaders again. Once, national leaders proclaimed loudly that these walls and barriers were safety and security. Today, everyone in this world knows that these barriers across peoples were the greatest betrayal and shame in the Twentieth Century. Those national leaders were consciously cultivating hatred and intolerance among their people, and drawing and re-drawing maps and creating new countries to continue in power, disregarding the sufferings of millions of people.

A teacher’s face, feelings and opinions would print their permanent marks on the little minds seated before him. Therefore his face should be pleasant, his feelings pure and his opinions pious.

Teachers under dictatorships and despotic administrations are not permitted to teach what they know is true. These governments need just propagandists to inculcate their official dogmas among people, clothed as education. Like Topiarian Artists in gardens who create fancy shapes out of shrubs and twigs and tendrils, such teachers are forced to think that the growth of their pupils can be trimmed and twisted to make any shape out of them, to suit the dictator or despot. Such a teacher hinders the natural growth of his pupils and kills their natural vigour. Narrow nationalist feelings and collective hysteria should be de-schooled. Ignorant intolerance is an antithesis to civilization. Tolerance is to be taught if democracy is to survive. The students of civics in America are not taught the truth about the real state of affairs in their country. So they have to seek truth from outside the classrooms, which they indeed do. Had their teachers been intellectually free, they would have arrived at the truth earlier, with less labour. Like the medical man, a teacher should have the right to decide what to administer to the generation, what to teach. A father won’t hide the truth from his children. In a similar way, the teacher also should be affectionate and caring enough to his pupils to tell them the truth about things. His face, feelings and opinions would print their permanent marks on the little minds seated before him. Therefore his face should be pleasant, his feelings pure, and his opinions pious. It is like sun shine falling on rosy petals, making them radiant and active. He should teach them to be satisfied and self-reliant always, and to not rob others of their happiness.

Examinations are a total waste of time due to the unnecessary burden of which teachers and students become overworked, exhausted and imprisoned in class rooms, deprived of sunshine and air.

Teachers cannot do the best they are capable of doing, due to many reasons. Examinations are a total waste of time, and energy. Due to the unnecessary burden of examinations, teachers and students become overworked, exhausted and imprisoned in their class rooms, deprived of sunshine and air. Thus, they lose what is original in them. Without the original in die and caste and mould, we will get only the duplicate and fake for nation building. Moreover, many educational authorities do not know anything about the problems of education. Education Ministers are appointed based on political and communal considerations and Education Secretaries are posted when they could not be given other lucrative positions they asked for; not based on pedagogical achievements and experience. As the famous philosopher, teacher and former President of India, Dr. Radhakrishnan, stated in one of his books, Towards A New World, ‘we are faced with the paradoxical fact that educators have become one of the obstacles to education.’

Intelligent Germans desired truce and saving lives in the WW II, but that mad man Hitler’s blind war machine ordered execution of all officers who stood for truce, and many more millions died.

Organized party spirit also poses many dangers to teaching. It leads men astray. It also fills the minds of generations of people with dogmas and blind belief in the infallibility of their leaders, replacing reason and logic gradually. When these leaders lead people to wars and destruction, the people won’t be able to prevent them from happening, anymore. We know how intelligent Germans, both civilian and serving soldiers, desired truce and saving lives in the Second World War, but that mad man Hitler’s blind war machine ordered execution of all officers who stood for truce, and caused the death of many more millions of people unnecessarily by preventing truce, where it was plain that they were not going to win. It is from the congested minds of politicians that wars germinate. Excessive party work leaves teachers with no time for learning and teaching. Moreover, it aims at teaching dogmas. Therefore, the teacher should free himself and his pupils from organized party spirit. In whichever countries students who ought to have been in class rooms are but heavily depended upon to carry on the day-to-day party work of organizations, where they are burning books instead of learning them, it is an indication of grown up party leaders and party workers in that country leading an abominably selfish and lazy life, devoted entirely to corruption and carnal pleasures.

It was those idle people, who in their time, became the very pillars of civilization and culture, and guarded them from going into smithereens.

As an individual in society, a teacher must be guided by his inner impulses. A teacher who is a slave to external agencies is indeed a shame not only to his pupils but to his country as well. His genius should be turned to making his people truthful and fearless. His opinions should be bold. Lord Halifax once commented that ‘a man who calls everything in its right name will never cross the street, without being knocked down as a common enemy.’ But a teacher shall not fail in naming people and things in the right way, for if he fails in it, there will be no one else except perhaps writers there to do that job as effectively as him. It is not good to teach his pupils to admire a rogue by concealing his roguery. He should introduce to his pupils a rogue as a rogue exactly, however great that person may be in history books. We know how the people of the world, especially those who suffered in the Second World War, viewed Adolph Hitler as real mad dog, in spite of quite a large number of Germans worshipping him as god and saviour. Opinions of teachers should be tolerated by the state and society for the sake of our civilization. H.G.Wells rightly observed that ‘a society will not enter upon the process of civilization until it is able to afford a minority who does no work but just sit, eat and think.’ Therefore the idle lot pictured by society and state as obstacles to civilization shall not be deemed to be so. It was those idle people, who in their time, became the very pillars of civilization and culture, and guarded them from going into smithereens. Russell hopes that perhaps we may have to wait a little for the dawn of a new civilization.

(Prepared as a lecture delivered to literature students in May 1992. Slight modifications made since then)

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Pictures Courtesy: Wikimedia Commons
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author avatar PSRemeshChandra
Editor of Sahyadri Books & Bloom Books, Trivandrum. Author of several books in English and in Malayalam. And also author of 'Swan, The Intelligent Picture Book'.

Unmarried and single. Born and brought up in Nanniyode, a little village in the Sahy...(more)

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Comments

author avatar Phyl Campbell
19th Sep 2014 (#)

You used great images to break up this very long piece. I like Bertrand Russell's writing, usually.

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author avatar PSRemeshChandra
19th Sep 2014 (#)

I like too Bertrand Russell's writings. He was very sincere and complete in bringing out the hurdles teachers face face in the modern world in doing their job and completing their mission. The only other persons who handled this subject equally seriously were Richard Livingston and Dr. S.Radhakrishnan. I will try to reintroduce their articles too. Thank you Phyl Campbell for reading. Had Bertrand Russell lived, he too would have wanted apt pictures to be included in his article, to illustrate and hint what is actually on his mind. But he went away from us when technology such as we possess was not available. Had it been, he also would have done the same thing. When I reintroduce articles and search and select pictures, I keep this angle in mind- what would they themselves had chosen from the available ones. What a persons puts down in an article is the least he can and has to say; the rest rests with pictures. There certainly are more illustrative and apt pictures but they are beyond by humble resources, in time and money.

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