Monday, September 5, 2022

Why I stopped celebrating Teacher's Day? And should you too?

It's that time of year again in India (September 5th) when you see a flood of happy teacher's day messages on social media. These messages are all genuine and come from a place of deep respect and gratitude that people have for their teachers. However, it's been quite a while since I stopped celebrating teacher's day, despite myself being in the teaching profession. 

I have been teaching full-time at a university in the USA for over a decade now. And I absolutely love my job as a teacher. I also think that teachers deserve all the respect and appreciation that they receive on the different days designated to celebrate teacher's day around the world. Then, why do I seem to be against the celebration of the Indian teacher's day?

Well, before I answer that question, let me dial back the clock to one of my most memorable teacher's day celebrations. That was the year when I was a high school senior. It was a tradition at my school (Kendriya Vidyalaya) that on this day the high school seniors gave the teachers a break from teaching by taking up the responsibility of teaching all the lower classes. The teachers observed us while we were teaching and gave us feedback on how we did. I don't remember what I taught that day but I must have done a fairly good job because Ms. Binodini Mishra, one of my favorite teachers at school, who incidentally observed my teaching that day, was full of praise for me afterward. Not sure if I deserved all the praise but I was elated nonetheless. Who knows, but those positive feelings might have also influenced my decision to become a teacher later in life.

In any case, coming back to the question of why I have stopped celebrating teacher's day, let me share three main reasons.

Teacher's day in India is celebrated in memory of Dr. Sarvapalli Radhakrishnan who was the 2nd President of India. Interestingly, this tradition did not start after his death in 1975, but in 1962, the year he was elected to the office of the President of India. What kind of self-aggrandizer selects his own birthday as a national holiday to be celebrated in his honor while he is still alive?

Maybe Dr. Radhakrishnan didn't have a role in it and the Prime Minister's office decided it as a way to honor him. Choosing Dr. Radhakrishnan's birthday was in many ways appropriate. After all, he had held professorial positions at various universities in India and abroad, and was known to be a good teacher. He had also written several books on philosophy and religion. So, it must have made sense to celebrate teacher's day in India on his birthday. However, even this argument does not hold water, because in India we already had a day to celebrate teachers, which was Guru Poornima.

India has had a long tradition of honoring teachers. It is probably the only culture where teachers have been equated to the status of God. A teacher isn't literally God, but s/he is considered God-like (गुरु शाक्षात परब्रम्हा) in the Hindu tradition because of the critical role that teachers play in removing our ignorance as well as in helping realize our best self.

For thousands of years before 1962, we honored our teachers on the day of Guru Poornima. In the Yogic tradition, Guru Poornima is the day Lord Shiva became Adi Guru (or the first guru for mankind) by teaching the Sapta Rishis (the seven sages) who formed the foundation of Sanatana Dharma. Guru Poornima is also the birthday of Veda Vyasa, who not only authored the Mahabharata but was one of the rishis who made the Vedas and Puranas accessible to mankind. Even the Buddhists celebrated this day because Gautam Buddha gave his first sermon on this day. The vibrations of the Guru Tatwa  (or the energy of the guru principle) is said to be at its peak on this day, which makes it ideal for us to connect with a guru and receive his or her grace. 

What was the need to create another teacher's day when we already had a long and venerable tradition of honoring our teachers on Guru Poornima? It was most likely another one of those attempts by Nehru to remove everything Hindu from India and replace it with "secular" symbols and traditions.

Celebrating Radhakrishnan's birthday as Teacher's Day is also problematic because he was accused of plagiarism. The worst part is that he stole from his student's thesis. Radhakrishnan was one of the examiners of the doctoral thesis written by a brilliant Calcutta University student named Jadunath Sinha. In a letter published in the January 1929 issue of The Modern Review, Sinha alleged that Radhakrishnan had plagiarised his work. He provided forty examples to back up his claim and cited another seventy instances of plagiarism in the next issue. The dispute escalated to court. Dr. S. Radhakrishnan had a lot of influence, and Jadunath Sinha was under a lot of pressure to settle the plagiarism case outside of court. In the end, Sinha succumbed and settled out of court through a decree of compromise, although the terms of settled were never disclosed.

I haven't personally compared the works of Radhakrishnan and Sinha, so I can't say for certain whether or not Radhakrishnan committed plagiarism. However, the fact that he was accused of plagiarism by a student who published 110 concrete instances of plagiarism in a leading journal of the times lends some credence to the allegation. It raises serious questions about Radhakrishnan's character. Should we continue celebrating his birthday as Teacher's Day, knowing that he may have stolen from his own student?

To sum up, I believe that we should go back to celebrating Guru Poornima as Teacher's Day. It is a day that has been steeped in tradition for thousands of years, and it is a day that honors all teachers, not just one individual. What do you think? Let me know in the comments below.

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