A CASE FOR THE REVIVAL OF INTELLECTUALISM IN NIGERIAN ACADEMIC COMMUNITIES PART 2

By Bamidele Salako

Read Part 1 of Speech here:

https://writerly.me/category/social-ruminations/

Being text of a speech that was NOT delivered at a Nigerian tertiary institution during said school’s annual Students’ Week because the students preferred to have a week full of reveling less any form of intellectual engagement.

See the following quotes by great men n the role teachers are supposed to play in the education of students:
F. W. Robertson: “The true aim of he who aspires to be a teacher should be, not to impart his own opinions but to kindle minds.” It is to fire up the imagination of their students. But truth is – it is impossible for a teacher whose own mind has not been first kindled by the fire of knowledge and a thirst for continued knowledge and skill acquisition, to kindle other people’s minds.

Michel Montaigne – a French writer, who is regarded as the originator of the modern essay, says: “In the education of children there is nothing like alluring their interest and affection; otherwise you only make so many asses laden with books.”

Perhaps, the reason why many of us failed woefully at math and in the sciences was because our teachers fell short of stimulating our interest in and affection for said subjects.

Ancient Athenian Philosopher, Aristotle, who was the teacher of the great Macedonian emperor – Alexander the Great said, “The one exclusive sign of a thorough knowledge is the POWER of teaching” and that power is demonstrated in the ability of teachers to arouse students’ interests in intellectual discourse and scholarly engagements.

The teacher must be able to imbue his students with a passion for learning – not just learning in class but learning independently. And this can only happen if the teacher is himself well-versed, inspired and bristling with knowledge and a passion for imparting the knowledge and experience that he has garnered over the years and is still garnering with each passing day.

Horace Mann, a United States educator who introduced reforms that significantly altered the system of public education in America said, “The teacher who is attempting to teach without inspiring the [student] with a desire to learn is hammering on cold iron.” When lectures are uninspiring, drab and boring, it is impossible for students to be fired up for intellectual activities. It is teachers who must help facilitate this intellectual revival that we are talking about in the classrooms and on our campuses.

Buttressing the foregoing point, English writer, Bulwer-Lytton said, “The best teacher is the one who suggests rather than dogmatizes, and inspires his listener with the wish to teach himself.” Again, French writer of sophisticated novels and short stories, Anatole France says, “Let our teaching be full of ideas. Hitherto it has been stuffed only with facts,” a point to which American fiction writer and founder of Scientology, Elbert Hubbard lends voice when he said, “The teacher is one who makes two ideas grow where only one grew before.”

So, rather than restrictive tutoring and an antiquated insistence on rote learning and the memorization of texts for tests and exams, teachers are supposed to unlock the doors of the minds of their students and set their minds free to run wildly with ideas that can transform their whole lives and nations. Every class should be a wellspring of knowledge that opens the minds of students to new vistas of possibility. Every class should unlock something in them that makes them want to go out to fulfil their highest potential – not imbuing them with a fear of failure or a fear of exams.

Listen to what the great English philosopher, John Locke said about the model teacher: “He that has found a way to keep a [student’s] spirit easy, active, and free, and yet at the same time to restrain him from many things he has a mind to, and to draw him to things that are uneasy to him, has, in my opinion, got the true secret of education.” There are three things here in Locke’s statement [explain].
Knowing that what we have today is a hedonistic generation of students who worship pleasure and entertainment and who couldn’t care less about the rigours of personal and intellectual development – students who would rather party and play and watch movies than read and groom their minds with intellectual material, it becomes the responsibility of the teacher to set them aright. And it won’t come by threatening them with exam-failure but by deploying a combination of soft-touch and tough-love dynamics to create an environment in class where students can catch the fire of intellectualism. But remember, the teachers must be intellectuals themselves who are wellsprings/fountains of ideas.
Again, is it any surprise that we are not witnessing any real development in the country because it is simply impossible to have development without research? Those two go hand-in-hand like a horse and carriage. I used to watch a sitcom called “Married with Children” back in the day and the theme song went like this: “Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. This, I tell you brother, you can’t have one without the other.” Same goes for R&D. You can’t divorce the one from the other. Research is the fuel that powers the engine of individual and national development. Abroad, you have students initiating research under the supervision of their professors. Here, it’s a struggle for us students to start and finish “ordinary” project at the end of our two or four years of study. What you find mostly in the end is a great deal of plagiarism of other people’s works – a major crime for which you get sanctioned in foreign schools because that is called intellectual property theft.
That’s why we have students cheating in exams. We find it hard to devote the time that it will require to read and study hard. You have no business being in school if you have to cheat to pass exams, because it’s not as though you’re dumb but rather, you’re lazy and purposeless and don’t know why you’re in school. And so all you want to do is pass exams and get the certificate – a certificate you will fail miserably at defending in the real world. Note this: You can cheat your way to the top but you can’t cheat your way to staying on top. American cyclist, Lance Armstrong, cheated his way to seven tour de France titles, all of which he forfeited when it became clear that he had been doping. What about Nigeria’s removed governors who hijacked the mandate of voters in their states only to be disgraced out of office by court rulings which adjudged them to have engaged in electoral malpractice.

What we don’t know is this – exam malpractice is just the beginning. It will evolve to electoral malpractice; it will evolve to falsification of documents and facts; it will evolve to plagiarism and if everybody is doing it, how can we as a nation progress?
It’s no surprise then that after two years or four years of higher education, most Nigerian graduates lack the intellectual and professional capacity and competence that will guarantee employment or that will kindle the fire of entrepreneurship and enterprise to create jobs where they can’t find them. I didn’t have to have been at the Nigerian Institute of Journalism two years or four years before I was writing columns and news items for a newspaper. It took just a semester of four months and it wasn’t because I was a genius and I wasn’t the only one either. A colleague interned at The Punch with over a hundred by-lines and a column to his credit, and this was just after two semesters of journalism training.

If you have passed through school for two or more years, and you still have to sell your body for money or engage in questionable practices to get money, then you my friend, regardless of how much money you may be making from your illicit trade, are a successful failure.

So, basically, what I am saying is school was supposed to imbue us with an enterprising spirit and an inquisitiveness and curiosity about the world and how to make our world a better place. Learning should not all be theoretical – a garbage load of facts, figures, theories and definitions; learning should incorporate the latest technologies, the newest knowledge, the newest trends; in fact, learning should be bold enough to venture into the realms of analysing trends and predicting the future development of those trends.

Learning should endeavour to infuse the pioneering spirit into students and arm them with the kind of knowledge and exposure that will stand them in good stead in the post-school world.

For example, at the University of California, Berkley, undergraduates are offered the opportunity to conduct cutting-edge research as early as their freshman year and outside of their major. Then, under the school’sUndergraduate Research Apprentice Program, a model that I believe every right-thinking forward-looking institution should adopt, students are offered the platform to advance their research skills by assisting on faculty-initiated research. Also, every department in the school provides opportunities for student-initiated research. Listen to what the school says: “Our vital research community infuses the classroom, where new knowledge and breakthroughs enliven the learning process.”

And the schools, the teachers, if they are worth their weight in gold, and have the best interests of these students at heart, must pioneer this change in every way they can because according to English Writer, G. W. Curtis,“The sure foundations of the State are laid in knowledge, not in ignorance; and every sneer at [a quality] education, at culture, and at book-learning which is the recorded wisdom of the experience of mankind, is the demagogue’s sneer at intelligent liberty, inviting national degeneracy and ruin.”

On his part, Kossuth says, “It is on the sound education of the people that the security and destiny of every nation chiefly rest.” Already, we are at a competitive disadvantage with our counterparts in the developed world and it’s not as though we’re dumb but we are limited in our exposure. Everywhere you go abroad, you’ll find Nigerians who are excelling tremendously in every field of endeavour. And yet we who are here in Naija who can’t travel out to access the kind of education they’re getting, we’re playing our futures away! There’s work to be done o!

School was meant to refine you, polish you and make you cultured and decent members of society with a goal to contribute meaningfully through your work, to society’s development. It’s supposed to be a total package guys! These days, it’s hard to tell the difference between some graduates and stark illiterates or even touts in the motor park from their speech and carriage.
You know what they say about those who can’t read and those who can read but won’t or don’t read – there’s no difference between them.

It is appalling how students become suddenly animated and energetic when a football or entertainment topic is raised in a conversation but how lost, clueless and dazed they are when they have to talk about, write or analyse a burning national topic revolving around a bad government policy or decision that affects their own futures negatively. The tragic thing is this: even in discussing the entertainment item, you can hardly spot logic in their argument so as to be able to say that these are youths whose minds have been cultured and moulded by a quality formal education. It is usually always baseless, unintelligent and frivolous chatter that does the mind no good.

And so we have a lot of people passing through school without ever having school pass through them because we do not understand the purpose of school in the first place which made E. H. Chapin to say, “Do not ask if a man has been through college; ask if a college has been through him – if he is a walking university.”

And when purpose isn’t known, it is hard not to subject an instrument of great use like education to abuse. School isn’t meant to prepare you to pass exams; school is meant to prepare you to pass in life. Don’t get it twisted friends.

H. J. Van Dyke said, “The true object of education should be to train one to think clearly and act rightly.” Listen to Daniel Webster, “Knowledge does not comprise all which is contained in the large term of education. The feelings are to be disciplined; the passions are to be restrained; true and worthy motives are to be inspired; a profound religious feeling is to be instilled, and pure morality inculcated under all circumstances. All this is comprised in education.”

Lending credence to Webster’s assertion, H. L. Wayland wrote, “A true education aims to implant a love of knowledge; an adherence to truth because it is truth; a reverence for man because he is a man; an enthusiasm for liberty; a spirit of candour, of breadth, of sympathy; and above all, a supreme regard for duty.”

What you need to do today is to take time out to reflect deeply and reassess why you’re here because this little exercise of reflection will determine the course of your life in the days ahead. You need to ask yourself: At the end of my two years or four years here, what do I hope to have been able to achieve intellectually and professionally? What kind of a person will I be after 2 or 4 years? The kind that can walk into any media organisation in the world and pick a job instantly or the kind that is still at a loss regarding what to do with his or her life. What’s your plan for post-NIJ? It’s not a tea party out there. You need to figure it out.

Listen to these profound words by Thomas Carlyle, “What we become depends on what we read after all of the professors have finished with us. The greatest university of all is a collection of books.” Are you constantly learning? Are you constantly improving?
Reed Buckley: “If you are not continually learning and upgrading your skills, somewhere, someone else is, and when you meet that person, you will lose.”

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow once wrote, “Heights by great men reached and kept were not obtained by sudden flight but while their companions slept, they were toiling upward in the night.”

According to the National Bureau of Statistics, youth unemployment is at 54% meaning one in every two youths is unemployed. Of the employed, another 50% are underemployed. Then, a majority of the unemployed are unemployable. Will you be going out to add to the numbers? Will you be one of those many unemployable graduates out there who are a burden to themselves and to the nation or will you be a graduate that will be spoilt for choice because of your unquestionable ability? And this ability that gives you a competitive advantage in the marketplace does not come by accident. It is a product of conscious, deliberate and rigorous self-development and grooming of your professional capacity. These are the kind of people that our nation needs today, will you be one of them? You must be consciously and deliberately seeking the knowledge, skills and opportunities you need and must not be lazy about it.

This is my case for intellectual revival.

(Part 2 of the speech first appeared on Securenigeria365.wordpress.com on October 9, 2014)

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