Rabindranath Tagore was the one who gave Gandhiji the title of Mahatma. Gandhi in turn called him ‘Gurudev’ in reverence to his wisdom and his learning, and saw him as a teacher to humanity.
Gurudev Rabindranath Tagore gave India a different vision of education, of teachers and the teaching process. It is appropriate to remind ourselves of his views on these subjects on the occasion of Teachers’ Day, Sept 5. Trying to paraphrase him would be useless. So better, I thought, to share a few quotes:
‘A teacher can never truly teach unless he too continues to teach himself. One lamp can never light another unless it continues to burn its own flames. Similarly, the teacher who has come to the end of his subject, and has no living traffic with his knowledge but merely repeats his lessons to his students, can only burden their minds, he cannot inspire them.’
‘Good teachers activate children’s minds instead of helping them to assimilate and collect information, and inspire children through their own self-development. They encourage them to work on the teacher’s own original projects and thereby travel together on their journey to more understanding.’
Gurudev always looked for gurus for his schools and educational institutions, rather than teachers. According to him, gurus are ‘active in the efforts to achieve the fullness of humanity”. They ‘will give their whole selves to their students instead of merely sharing the material as prescribed by the curriculum’.
His message to teachers:
‘Do not be preoccupied with method. Leave your instincts to guide you to life. Children differ from one another. One must learn to know them, to navigate among them as one navigates among reefs. To explore the geography of their minds, a mysterious instinct, sympathetic to life, is the best of all guides.’
He wanted teachers and school administrators to recognize the importance of letting children discover the joy of learning and what nature has to teach them. Nothing sums this up better than an excerpt from a lecture he gave in London in 1933, where he recounts one of his encounters with a more ‘traditional’ educator:
‘I well remember the surprise and annoyance of an experienced headmaster, reputed to be a successful disciplinarian, when he saw one of the boys of my school climbing a tree and choosing a fork of the branches for settling down to his studies. I had to say to him in explanation that ‘childhood is the only period of life when a civilized man can exercise his choice between the branches of a tree and his drawing-room chair, and should I deprive this boy of that privilege because I, as a grown-up man, am barred from it?’ What is surprising is to notice the same headmaster’s approbation of the boys’ studying botany. He believes in an impersonal knowledge of the tree because that is science, but not in a personal experience of it. This growth of experience leads to forming instinct, which is the result of nature’s own method of instruction. The boys of my school have acquired instinctive knowledge of the physiognomy of the tree. By the least touch they know where they can find a foothold upon an apparently inhospitable trunk; they know how far they can take liberty with the branches, how to distribute their bodies’ weight so as to make themselves least burdensome to branchlets. My boys are able to make the best possible use of the tree in the matter of gathering fruits, taking rest and hiding from undesirable pursuers. I myself was brought up in a cultured home in a town, and as far as my personal behaviour goes, I have been obliged to act all through my life as if I were born in a world where there are no trees. Therefore I consider it as a part of education for my boys to let them fully realize that they are in a scheme of existence where trees are a substantial fact, not merely as generating chlorophyll and taking carbon from the air, but as living trees.Ideal Teachers: Gurus vs. Schoolmasters.’
On Teachers’ Day, as we commemorate Dr. S. Radhakrishnan, another of India’s great educators, let us think about what education means in this changing world, and how the role of teachers must evolve.