Tue, Oct 04, 2011 - Page 8 News List

Teacher’s Day honors authority

By Herbert Hanreich

On Sept. 28, the birthday of Confucius, Teacher’s Day is celebrated in Taiwan. On this day, teachers receive congratulations, often together with small gifts from students and parents to express their gratitude. One may wonder why a specific professional group deserves such a public honor, as if teachers, who are already privileged with respect to salary, holidays and social reputation, are a particularly precious species. There is, for instance, no Doctor’s Days or Shoemaker’s Days.

It is of course true that formal education lies behind any profession. There is no doctor or shoemaker who did not have a teacher at various levels and stages of their (professional) education. And later, they may become teachers themselves when conveying their professional knowledge and experience to a new generation. Teaching is an important job indeed.

However, just like it is with people in other professions, there are good teachers and bad ones. Teacher’s Day, semi-officially celebrated across the island, honors teachers no matter if they are good or bad.

One may wonder why this ritual, which is repeated every year, continues without dispute, despite growing discontent — especially among young students — with regard to the qualifications of teachers.

It seems, therefore, that what is honored is the teaching profession itself. This might be explained by the prevailing Confucian culture that holds teachers in high esteem, with Confucius as the Sinic patron saint of educators.

The Confucian culture is a teacher’s culture; “teacher” in a broad sense, that is. In “thick” traditions, ie, in cultures with a strong respect for the past, professional expertise is seen as closely tied to personal experiences, in ways, however, that differ from modern ones. In thick cultures, teachers (often implicitly) believe that their personal experience is the crucial path leading to knowledge, which they themselves received from their teachers, and so on.

This long line of succession of “experienced” teachers, they insist, deserves respect, and the only option they offer to their students is simply to follow their personal examples as the safe path to truth. Students become disciples; life and learning form a unit; the best teachers are considered to be those with the richest life experience.

Life cannot be taught like facts; it needs to be emulated, a process which takes time. Respect and obedience, traditionalists think, are therefore the most important ingredients for a student’s success in learning. With such a pedagogical constellation the teacher becomes the super-ego for learners, with little room for students to explore things on their own.

This might explain why the term “wisdom” is still present in the contemporary educational discourse in Taiwan, guided by, as he is still respectfully called, Confucius the “sage.” Hence the remarkably high respect held for older teachers in this culture — as if they know better today when they often only know how things have been done in the past.

Modern thinking and science do not work like this. Scientific and social progress is made by breaking with past models and concepts. In modern learning, the teacher inspires and facilitates, rather than functions, as the path. The life experience of others is of less value in a world where it is important to be different and to understand differences. The modern world is a world of individuals, not of clones.

This story has been viewed 4717 times.

Comments will be moderated. Keep comments relevant to the article. Remarks containing abusive and obscene language, personal attacks of any kind or promotion will be removed and the user banned. Final decision will be at the discretion of the Taipei Times.

TOP top