It is an often heard comment that teaching is a noble profession. Noble could mean aristocratic, dignified, righteous, self-sacrificing among other things. On the whole, it gives a splash of elitism to the expression. Are we to assume that teachers are a distinct breed and all of them carry a homogenous trait of nobility?
Well if we reflect on to earlier times, teacher indeed was a rare entity in case we assume this type to include only those who teach how to read and write and the offshoots thereon. In this process have we not overlooked a huge swathe of professionals who guide their apprentices to learn the skill that they practice, e.g. a carpenter or potter? Are we open to accept that these professionals are carrying the halo of nobility around them?
This precisely is the crux of the issue. Elitism got attached to teachers of the ‘knowledge peddling’ variety and this genre was indeed a rarity in olden times as there was a class barrier to those who could openly acquire knowledge. To preserve this privileged status, many dimensions were added and the aura of nobility was fixed to it.
In this age of liberal and democratic polity, what is the relevance of ‘noble profession’? If we look deep into the characteristics of each profession – teacher, carpenter, doctor, driver, lawyer, brick layer, you name any; every profession has an exclusive body of knowledge and skill. The knowledge could be codified and explicit with the so-called ‘white collar’ professions and uncodified and implicit with the so-called ‘blue collar’ professions.
The white collared professionals command a special privilege in the social hierarchy for various reasons that include a power to negotiate favourable returns. Perhaps because of this, the tag of nobility hovers around them. The blue collared, who form a proletarian group have obvious disadvantageous of being in larger numbers and thus easy to pick and chose, which prevents them from developing a bargaining power except in rare occasions.
This again brings us back to the original question – is teaching a noble profession. I would prefer to add a tagline – should we think of a different model for teaching profession. If we have to break from the conventional and medieval brands and march ahead into the future, we also have to rethink on a variety of social constructs.
In this context, developing a skill based and value added model of teaching / training can hold key to many of the ills that plague education system. Education has to move out of the confines of elitist academies and get entrenched into the environs of practice. Experience has to feed ideas and innovations must generate from freedom to think and do. There are many anti-establishmentarian movements in education – a notable example being the concept that Ivan Illich popularised. In fact the concept of home schooling that is catching up as an alternative educational method and flipped classroom which is a reformative development within the conventional education system are examples of how the forces of change can impact our lives.
Do we teachers of the white collared variety have the openness to admit that winds of change are wafting across our ivory towers and we will one day or the other come under its spell.