Thursday 9 November 2006

Why, Teachers?

We Vietnamese do not foster the “criticism culture”, and teachers are typical examples of intolerance. I have scarcely ever heard a teacher say sorry to his/her students. However, I am not going to judge their personalities or qualifications. Instead I am paying more attention to a teacher’s attitudes. Although I did not excel at any subject, I was much interested in physics, and the more I loved physics, the more I hated to attend class. Should you like to know how good an education system is, take a look at how applied sciences are taught there.

As we all know, in Vietnamese schools, students shall take an oral test before every lesson. A friend of mine, when asked by our teacher in an oral test, “What is light dispersion?,” answered, “Light dispersion occurs when light is ‘pulped’ into 7 colours when it goes through a prism.” (“Hin tượng tán sc ánh sáng là hin tượng ánh sáng b ‘tán’ ra thành 7 màu khi đi qua lăng kính”). The teacher, and then the whole class, burst into laughter while the student stood there, blushing up in shyness. I laughed, too, (merely because everyone else was laughing), although I felt a bit angry with the way the teacher made joke about her poor student. I did not know how she could make fun of the student whereas she should have asked herself what she had done to get students love physics.

Physics is an applied science that has very close links with realities, I mean the material world. It is not too hard to associate whatever we learn at class with natural phenomena. Light dispersion is the seperation of electromagnetic waves (including light) into different wavelengths, and this sepration is made by anything that works like a prism, not necessarily only by an artificial prism. That means dispersion can be present almost everywhere as long as light goes through a transparent, three-mensional mass. Dispersion can be seen in every part of our atmosphere, because each transparent molecule in the air can act as a prism.

These would have been much more easier to comprehend if our teacher had been intelligent (or exactly, enthusiastic) enough to broaden the definition instead of clinging to the definition available in our textbooks. And things would have been all the more understandable if she had been intelligent and/or enthusiastic enough to show us the link between theory and reality.  She might, within her limited faculty of thought, have applied the definition to realities and explained to us dozens of natural phenomena. Why is snow white? Why is the sky blue? Why is the sun red at dawn and dusk, and glowing in the daytime? Why is that the higher we fly, the darker the sky turns? In sum, why do we see this world in colours? But the answer was nothingness, because there were no questions nor suggestions to ask. And I cut class whenever possible, though I loved physics. The more interested in physics I was, the more I tried not to be influenced by boring lessons and the hateful teacher. I would soon give up the idea of going in for physics after finishing high school.

Teachers need not be geniuses. But I wish to see them doing their job with all their heart and soul. We may not be sensible enough to judge teachers’ qualifications. But we can always feel from the heart of a devoted teacher their love of life, their love of wisdom and knowledge, of the job they are doing, of the students to whom they are giving lectures. As “manipulators” of our soul, first of all, they must show us their soul. We need to see them work wholeheartedly, saying true words, giving us soul-felt lessons, firing our imagination, evoking in us the love for life. If they can’t, they’d better quit their job.

Hey, teachers. Don’t ever say you can’t change anything, you can’t do differently because you are made to do what your superiors tell you to. You might not be allowed to refer to politics, freedom, and democracy in your lessons, but no one can ever prevent you from expressing your zeal and love and honesty in each lesson. But, no, you stay unchanged for decades. You are real professionals in practicing obscurantism. You do not let us be true to ourselves. You spoil our critical thinking, by that you murder our creativity, if we were fortunate enough to have any. How can you be so proud of yourself, being honoured as “manipulators of souls”?

Why, teachers?