As a teacher, I am increasingly getting confused. As a teacher, I must provide my students with necessary knowledge of the discipline, and help them develop independent thinking capabilities, along with other abilities and skills with which they can compete in the world in a fair manner, and thereby be successful in life.

The keyword above is, as I realize now, is competing ‘in a fair’ way. And while defining fairness, I opt for moral judgment of it than limiting myself with the legal definition of it. William D Cohan (You’re Welcome, Wall Street) provided some help in seeing the difference, while in doubt.

The confusion that I face (in India as a teacher) is probably the confusion that most teachers face in India. We, the teachers in India, don’t talk about it because we don’t see any solution to this confusion in present day Indian reality.

It is not getting any better, it rather is worsening. Alternatively, it is probably as good or as bad as it has been in the recent past – the skeletons at times come out of the cupboard, and get reported in media.

The confusion is all about the seemingly unending trade-off of becoming successful in life while remaining honest and fair as well. It is all about ethics, or call it business ethics as it makes a come back in B-school curriculum post the 2008 greed fiasco of the Wall Street.

Prof. Nitin Nohria of Harvard conceptualized an MBA-oath akin to the Hippocratic Oath of the medical professionals.  We can sub-categorize ethics into business ethics, governance ethics, etc. – but it essentially does not dilute the basic importance of ethics.

Last couple of months – in India, we have seen CommonWealth Games Scam (CWG scam), then scam in Adarsh Housing Society in Mumbai, and now on the 2-G spectrum allocation scam. I am deliberately missing a few more. Some section of media now have dragged the 2-G scam to unethical behavior of journalists, and even to a larger section of reputed corporate biggies and also to the overall Government and to the all important task of Governance itself.

‘India, the republic, is now on sale’ – thus opens an article in a (relatively) mainstream Indian media, reporting on the latest rounds of one of these many scams of India. The more I have grown older, the more I have become skeptical about Indian media. Truths, myths and outright falsified propaganda – they all have their wrongful places in Indian media as news stories to op-eds. Only a Pollyannish would believe in pure journalistic motives of most of these media stories!

The same media, also routinely covers, not on the front-page but somewhere deep inside, how a petty thief was murdered by the mob who caught him in the act; or how a poor student committed suicide because his parents could not afford a full pant for the school or a bag to carry books to school.

No one gets to the bottom of the truth involving the multi-billion dollar scams in India. Not the media, nor even the Government or its pillars of democracies – including, probably, the Judiciary. In present age, we increasingly have a short memory. Old unresolved scams get buried under new ones without fixing due accountabilities or without desired punitive actions being taken against the culprits. Talking about preventing future such scams by reforming Government or its regulatory powers in this context seems to be far-fetched ideas.

As a teacher – under above realistic circumstances, do I have any right to suggest my students to be honest, more so when I realize that it is hardly possible for one to be successful in life, more so in India, by following honesty and ethical means?

Am I therefore preparing my students to be unsuccessful in their professional lives compared to their individual potentials? What right do I have to do so? It is altogether another matter to discuss what influence a faculty has on a student’s mindset when it comes to the vital decision making process the student faces later in life while selecting one – ethics or success – between the only two alternatives. (I acknowledge that the context may be more complex than the black or white simplified version presented here – however the grey element here also bears an element of unethical behavior, the so-called ‘black’ part in it, right?).

Assuming many of the teachers have that influencing capabilities, should we advise our students to opt for ethical practices without an iota of hesitation?

I have probably been trying to do so. I am sure that there are many more teachers in India who do it much better. But increasingly I look to be a fool in my own eyes. I ask myself whether I have been attempting something as stupid as grooming a lion-cub to give up violence to satisfy his hunger, in support of non-violence. The reality tells me that corruption has become a part of the gene in Indian society as we have constantly and continuously been evolving through corruption.

As teachers on the denial mode, can we remove that gene from Indian society? If no, should we prepare our students to have the right version of that gene in their mindset to be more successful in life?

Ramachandra Guha, one of the rare species of academic voice that one comes across in parts of Indian media on such issues, once blamed the atmosphere in New Delhi to be polluting enough for one to remain ethical in New Delhi (over the years). That speaks volumes on Indian society. As teachers, if we can’t make our students adapt to that atmosphere of our very own capital city, do we deserve our pay cheques?

It indeed is a difficult question. As teachers, do we acknowledge reality and work; or do we avoid reality and live in an idealistic, principled world? Providing up-to-date necessary knowledge and skill-set also happen to be a Key Result Area (KRA) by which media judge faculties in India.

Many members of Indian society and many of us – the faculties follow a different practical definition of success, which has got less to do with money (or exercisable power). However that may not be true for 20-something youngsters of present capitalistic and consumption-centric society. I must respect that view of the young students. We all need money to do what we want to do with our lives, but money never is enough. At the same time, lack of it can prevent us from achieving our broader objectives of life. And every member of society keeps on benchmarking with others when it comes to money, and to exercisable power. Students as present and future citizens are no exception.

Money and exercisable power largely defines success in modern society anywhere. And Indian society, when viewed from these series of scams, offers a naked posturing of that success.

In India, once one has money and/or exercisable tacit power, we no longer question the means by which the person gained that success. In seminars, in conferences – many of those successful people, who probably got it all by wrong means, come and deliver speeches on challenges of society, including on ethics. It hurts, it is unfortunate and painful. But that is the reality and there is no getting away from it. As teachers, we can’t be on the denial mode and hide from it any more. 

The place that Indian academia occupies in those seminars or conferences is at most with the audiences. And in the evening, it happens to be in the drawing room of the faculty when such discussions get beamed over news-channels, involving many of those same lot of questionable people as panelists, preaching values of principles in one’s life and in broader society. One can better change society through the bigger reach and means of the mainstream media, however rarely we do see academic voices on the vices plaguing Indian society in mainstream media or events.

Indian society has confined faculties within the corners of the class-rooms, away from debates on public policies or in its makings (noted here that our honorable PM happens to be a faculty, addressed later in article). In this context, how justified it may be to take the famous letter of Abraham Lincoln to his son’s teacher to Indian class-rooms? Would society, the parents of the students, the corporate that later recruit many of these students, the Government and its various Institutes who also offer employment for these students other than being a proud nation of such citizens – would all these stakeholders, along with the students themselves, permit a faculty to be so naive to quote Lincoln in saying that ‘it is far honourable to fail than to cheat’ in a class-room?

Because, the failure here goes beyond failing merely in an exam or losing an academic year. Can we teach our students that ‘it is far honourable to fail in your life than to cheat’ and be successful, in a society that India presents today? Can we ask our students to believe that ‘for every scoundrel there is a hero’ without mentioning the fates of Shanmugan Manjunath or that of Satyendra Dubey? The stakes in these cases were not anywhere close to billions of dollars!

I am thoroughly confused. As teachers, irrespective of the fields that we deal in, should we all be concerned about basic values we impart in our students? And if yes, how do we do that in the present context of Indian society?

For a moment, I had the temptation to state this article to be ‘An Open Letter from Indian Teachers to Our Prime Minister’. I resisted not because that sounds quite odd against the objectives of this article, but because it involves the broad society – the private corporate, the industrialists, and the media, all of us. It can at best be called ‘An Open Letter from Indian Teachers’ to all the stakeholders of education sector in India.

It would be indeed good, if different segments of stakeholders of education in India ponder about this dilemma that many teachers in India face, more so in higher education areas involving social and managerial studies. One can’t write it off as an insignificant issue that does not deserve time and attention from the holders of the highest offices – be it in Government or in private sectors. 

Coming back to the area, where our Prime Minister also happens to be a teacher does not solve the problems related to lack of academic voices in policy-making or in policy-debates; or in examining possibilities of further involvement of academic voices in many of these critical areas of Governance. The problem is in what we ‘earn’ versus what is ‘given’ to us. We can exercise our free power in what we have legitimately earned in society; however we can’t do the same from a position when that position is given to us not by the broader society, but by a specific person or group of persons. The Prime Minister earned his academic credentials, however he did not earn his Prime Ministership because of any of those credentials. He was given the job of Prime Ministership, not by the society, in its true sense. It is not a question of eligibility or capabilities, our PM may stand above board on these parameters. He is a deserving PM, however he did not earn it. UPA earned it, someone else did not accept it and that’s how he was given the job. Therefore he may be above board personally, however the board of the ship that he is captaining is further and further sinking in the scams of corruptions, involving billions of dollars, with high-level officials from public or private sectors.

As faculties, we understand and empathize the complex problems that our PM and PMO face or the overall Government face. We also understand, and thereby empathize with our private sectors, due to the competitive environment in which they operate. It goes for various other bodies as well.

However it is high time that they also realize the dilemma that Indian teachers face. The problem that we Indian teachers face apparently looks to be much simpler than the complicated nature of the problems that our stakeholders face. We need answers on what values we should provide to our students on ethics. We just can’t be irrelevantly preaching as our students laugh at our naivety through twitter from the same classroom by saying ‘this implies it is esy 2 preach’.

 

I invite you to visit my blog, Wondering Man (or take a look at my book, Wondering Man, Money & Go(l)d that rightly predicted the housing-led economic crisis of 2008, rise of gold prices to the currency war being played now). You are also invited to join me on Twitter.

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