Wednesday, February 1, 2012
Respect for the Academicians
When I was small over half a century ago, the teacher was the most respected person around. Even royalties respect their teacher, the most learned person around at that time, whether he (or she) was an ordinary school teacher or a religious teacher. At the university level the teachers became known as lecturers and professors, enjoying the same respect which I had for the teacher in my village school. Other public officials in the government were more feared than respected, especially the law enforcement officers and the "tuans" who determined many aspects of your life.
With the rise of nationalism in the 1950s, politics became the burning topic of the day. The political agitators and leaders became the heroes of the time. There were many teachers involved in the political struggle for Independence. Many of our earliest Ministers were fondly called "Cikgu" (teacher) like Cikgu Khir Johari, Cikgu Senu Abd Rahman, Cikgu Ghaffar Baba, Cikgu Fatimah etc. Many were respected more for being teachers at the initial stage rather than politicians.
But today, the political leaders, the successful entrepreneurs, the professionals and the high government officials are respected (or
just given more attention) than the teachers, the tok gurus (religious teachers) lecturers or professors. Except for those who have been pulled into politics or given an official posting or some consultancy status by government, these teachers, lecturers, associate professors and professors remain almost unknown. Until they say or publish something controversial. If the government like what they say, they get praises and become wellknown. (I don't know whether they are rewarded at all!). If the government doesn't like it, watch out. You'll be pushed to oblivion and if you had been honored with any awards or honorifics before your name, they might be taken off. You're lucky if you're not dismissed from your job and are just stripped off your honorifics.
It doesn't matter whether you've said or published something entirely true and you can prove your point or not. It doesn't matter whether your standing as a respected teacher, tok guru, lecturer, or professor had all these years been unblemished in any way way at all. No one is interested in checking or investigating further whether what you said or published is based on facts and unadulterated truth or not. The government or some big guns don't like it, you pay for it. But if your've your own big cables to exonerate you from blame, the matter might just be swept under the carpet and be forgotten.
What is worrisome here is that knowledgeable and learned people will begin to avoid saying what is true if the truth is not palatable. And critical truth unfortunately has that tendency of being unpalatable like everything else that is critical. Only praises and niceties are sweet and delicious, even when they are said with a tongue in cheek or with a naughty smirk. We don't get changes and improvements if there are no critical evaluation of things around us, things that affect our life. If certain critiques are not justifiable or not based on facts, why not call on the authorities to correct them. After all teachers, tok gurus, lecturers and professors are not always infallible and need to be corrected to at times. If they can misunderstand a certain situation the likelihood of others falling into the same boat will certainly be very great. So explain the situation rather than punish those who misunderstood it. If the untruth or false thing said is done with an unacceptable or dangerous motive, then prove it before punishing the initiator of the falsehood.
What is at issue is the freedom to seek and to know the truth. If unpleasant truth cannot be revealed when do we begin to examine ourselves in order to improve? If we start punishing people with academic knowledge and experience who question certain accepted beliefs that appeared to them unfounded, then we'll never correct the untruths that threaten our lives.