Thursday, March 11, 2010


From Socrates in 400 BC to Barack Obama in contemporary times, the teaching profession has given more transformational leaders than any other profession.

The correlation was known for many years. But it took a spate of recent examples for pushing the premise beyond argument. Call them spiel gurus or spin doctors or plain and simple professors, the fact is that the teaching profession has regularly, over centuries, provided transformational leaders unmatched in the history of mankind.

Of course, the supremely confident and inspirational Barack Obama is the most recent and perhaps most brilliant example of this qualified hypothesis. Obama, a graduate of Columbia University and Harvard Law School, used to teach constitutional law for more than 12 years (1992-2004) in the University of Chicago. But if the 2009 Nobel Prize winning Obama is impressive, you’ll be amazed at the number of trailblazing tutors in history who’ve moved mountains and masses in their endeavours to changes the world.

Socrates, an iconic Athenian philosopher who lived around 400 BC, was a teacher who spawned students equally iconic, like Plato, and value systems that have become legendary discourses of today – one, which holds relevance till date and beyond, without any footnotes to the preacher, is where Socrates implores the community to focus on self development rather than on the objective of gaining material wealth.

America is replete with similar examples. The most charismatic William Jefferson Clinton, better known as Bill Clinton, went to law school and after passing out, became a law professor at the University of Arkansas-Fayettville. His teaching career is said to have contributed significantly to his political career. He’s one of the few Presidents of the United States who were elected twice to the position. It’ll be hard for any person to deny the command Bill Clinton holds over masses till date. Dixy Lee Ray was the 17th Governor of the U.S. State of Washington. She was Washington’s first female governor. After getting a master’s degree and later a PhD from Stanford University, Ray became a marine biologist and was a professor at the University of Washington for 26 years till 1972. James Abram Garfield (1831-1881) was the 20th President of the United States. In his earlier years, not getting his preferred job as a principal of a high school in Poestenkill, New York, James joined the Eclectic Institute teaching classical languages. For that matter, John Quincy Adams, the sixth President of the United States, was a professor at Harvard. The list of member representatives within the US Senate, who have been or still are professors in American universities (Vernon James Ehlers, Berkeley; Samuel Hayakawa, University of Chicago etc), is growing by the day. The Federal Reserve head, Ben Bernanke, used to teach at the Stanford University’s Graduate School of Business.

Even beyond America, the essence of education and belief in professors is noteworthy. The largely anti-American Mahmoud Ahmadinejad is the current President of Iran and enjoys an unassailably huge majority within Iran (despite all talks to the contrary by western media). He’s into his second term and is none the better when it comes to diplomatic talk. This son of a blacksmith holds a Ph.D from Tehran’s University of Science and Technology and used to teach in the University as a lecturer before becoming Iran’s premier. In the same breath, Vaclav Havel – the tenth President of the Czech Republic – is a close qualifyer being a chemical laboratory assistant for almost four years.

In the corporate front, Dr. Craig R. Barrett, retired CEO and Chairman of the Board of Intel Corporation used to work as an assistant professor in Stanford University before joining Intel. Post retirement, he has now joined the faculty at Thunderbird School of Global Management in Arizona. Barrett ushered in what is considered the most dynamic times in the history of Intel.

Ask yourself. Do you remember anyone in your life, apart from your family and close friends, who has been a significantly large – if not the biggest – influencer in modulating the way you think, and in the way you perceive situations? High chances are that you’ll have a school or college professor in your mind, one whom you would not forget even after years of disuse of the topics taught.

Millions across the globe idolize Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi, Mahatma to all of us. Single handedly, he generated a revolution out of the weakest link in our personalities, that of non-violence. His charisma and vision are what India owes its existence to. Given that, not many know that Mahatma Gandhi once wanted to take up a job as a high school teacher.

Looking at more recent times, this man is an MA, DPhil (Oxford) and DLitt (Honoris Causa). He was a senior Lecturer in Economics (1957- 59), Reader in Economics (1959-63) and Professor in Economics (1963-65) at Punjab University. Later, he became the Professor of International Trade in the intellectual hub Delhi School of Economics, University of Delhi. He further became an honorary Professor at Jawaharlal Nehru University, New Delhi, in 1976. The man is none other than Prime Minister Dr. Manmohan Singh, who led the globalisation wave into India and earned an image that is highly value based.

Clearly, if a country wants a radical and transformative change amongst its citizens and within the nation, it has to focus first on generating outstanding quality professors, without whom the change exercise is futile. To that effect, honourable Union HRD Minister Kapil Sibal has a hitting point when he says that there is a huge dearth of quality teachers in the Indian education system. This is actually an extremely worrisome issue as not only does it hinder the generation of quality professionals to join the corporate industry, it also stymies the nation’s development considerably as there are fewer and fewer thought leaders who can say, “Yes, we can,” and move a nation ahead with them. And that is the call of the day that India needs to address if it wants a revolutionary approach to developmental issues.