Saturday, January 17, 2004

Notes from a teacher’s diary
Reeta Sharma

Samuel Edward Pickett
Samuel Edward Pickett 

ONE would want to have teachers like Samuel Edward Pickett in India. Besides being knowledgeable, he has the skill to ‘handle children with care’ while imparting education. This widely travelled teacher was recently in Chandigarh.

Six feet plus, he greeted me with Sat Sri Akal, which he picked up from a Sikh family with whom he had been staying. On the subject of education, this quiet man elaborated, "Degrees do not educate any child. I have come across many lettered people who are totally uneducated when it comes to performing duties. A child who has not been educated on the inter-locked relationship of rights and duties is primarily ignorant and dangerous."

Born in the West Indies, Samuel’s family had immigrated to the USA when he was only five. The next 15 years he spent completing schooling, and then put in four years to complete university degree in linguistics and Masters in Education. The adventurous streak in him coaxed him to join Peace Corps, an NGO under the United Nations which works for the under-developed countries. Samuel went to the Virgin Islands and Senegal in West Africa with the Peace Corps. Later, he worked for four years in Niger and one year in Dakar. Armed with knowledge and experience, Samuel moved on to Morocco to try his hand at teaching children.

He taught English to children even as he continued to educate himself. "After having witnessed blatant racism, Morocco taught me how to co-exist in a peaceful, harmonious way. In this country, Jews, Arabs and Christians live, respecting and loving each other. To understand them, I learnt their languages Arabic and Hebrew."

Was it quest for knowledge that made Samuel leave Morocco? Even though he loved teaching children in this country, he decided to leave for Japan. "You see, I had witnessed the poverty of Morocco and now I wanted to learn about people who had resurrected their country to the greatest height of affluence. Japan was the ideal example."

Oblivious of Japan’s hi-tech luxurious life, Samuel once again busied educating himself as well as teaching English to Japanese children. For five long years, he not only studied Ikebana, the well-known art of flower arrangement, but also learnt the traditional mask dance of Japan, known as Noh. About his experience, Samuel had this to say: "Experiencing various cultures expands one’s mind. It is this vast experience that allows me to hold the attention of my students. The complete sense of bewilderment that I see in their eyes when I share my experiences with them, is my reward and satisfaction as a teacher."

Samuel bade goodbye to Japan after five years and went ahead to undertake another voyage — this time to New Zealand. "I fell in love with New Zealand by simply looking at a pictorial book and reading about it." He joined Victoria University of Wellington to further enhance his knowledge about linguistics. But soon, a teaching job came his way, once again. Within one year of his joining as a teacher, he reached the top position by doing crash courses in five local languages of New Zealand.

This is Samuel’s second visit to India. "I first came here in 1997 and stayed in a village in Ropar for seven weeks. Experiencing village life in India was very interesting. Do you know that India has much in common with the culture of the Pacific Islands? They have the same style of grooming and cooking, besides having squat toilets."

What does Samuel think of Indian system of education? "One thing I gathered and which puzzled me is that in India anybody could become a teacher. I think the system is more geared towards chasing employment than teaching for the love of it. I am shocked to learn that 98 per cent of the schools in India have no counsellors for students. If a student is not behaving properly, there has to be a reason for it. And the counsellors have to play a role here. Ideally speaking, every teacher should be a counsellor. But often teachers have the load of the entire class, hence counsellors are a must. Only policy-makers can introduce these urgent changes."

And what is Samuel’s opinion about corporal punishment? "A teacher, who picks up the stick or indulges in humiliating his or her students, is a teacher who has entered this profession by mistake. Students are like delicate buds to be handled with utmost care by the teachers till they flower. Corporal punishment is inhuman and should be dealt with complete condemnation and contempt. How can we physically assault students or mentally humiliate them in this century when even hardened criminals have been granted human rights? Those teachers who indulge in corporal punishment are a blot on the teaching profession."

What does Samuel think of racism? "Racism is never inherited but is always taught. It has many shades, forms and even opinion and it will never leave this universe. Of all the countries and the people I have visited and interacted with, I discovered the Japanese were the most racist. They have lived in a mono-cultural society far too long to grow out of the racist way of thinking. However, racism in the USA and many other parts of the West is rather brutal."

When asked to view the present world from a teacher’s point of view, Samuel promptly replied, "Today, money is controlling everybody’s mind. Everybody seems to be chasing money and not knowledge. No wonder, people are not enjoying their life and their profession."