In the United States, the first full week in May is Teacher Appreciation Week.
But October 5 is World Teachers’ Day, an observance that began in 1994 and has been picking up momentum as an international celebration ever since.
Why October 5?
October 5 is the anniversary of the day in 1789 that the women of Paris marched on Versailles in what became known as the “March on Versailles”, in order to…
“confront Louis XVI about his refusal to promulgate the decrees on the abolition of feudalism, demand bread, and have the King and his court moved to Paris.” (wikipedia.org)
But that has nothing to do with Teachers’ Day (though it does sound like something we should have learned in school).
No, best we can tell, the October 5 date may have something to do with the fact that most school years start in September, and by early October, the kids haven’t yet driven their teachers absolutely insane. (That comes mid-November).
“Education from the earliest school years should be directed to the allround development of the human personality and to the spiritual, moral, social, cultural and economic progress of the community, as well as to the inculcation of deep respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms…”
We doff our caps to those who have chosen teaching as their full-time profession!
The Czech Republic and Slovakia celebrate Teacher’s Day on March 28 to commemorate the 1592 birthday of:
a. Frederick Scantron, inventor of the multiple-choice test.
b. Dixon Ticonderoga, explorer and discoverer of the graphite mountain from which all pencils are hewn.
c. Jan Amos Komensky, teacher, pastor and writer who was expelled from his own country to spend 42 years in exile.
d. All of the above
If there’s anything I learned in junior high school, it’s “when in doubt, pick ‘C’.”
Today is the birthday of Jan Amos Komensky, better known by his Latin name Comenius.
M: Come, Boy, learn to be wise.
P: What doth this mean, to be wise?
M: To understand rightly, to do rightly, and to speak out rightly all that are necessary.
So begins Comenius’s Orbis Pictus, a “Nomenclature and Pictures of all the Chief Things that are in the World and of Men’s Employments therein.” The first illustrated encyclopedia for children.
“…it differed from all previous text-books, in being illustrated with pictures, on copper and wood, of the various topics discussed in it. This book was universally popular. In those portions of Germany where the schools had been broken up by the “Thirty years’ war,” mothers taught their children from its pages. Corrected and amended by later editors, it continued for nearly two hundred years, to be a text-book of the German schools.”
— History and Progress of Education, by Philobiblius, N.Y., 1860, p. 210.
The Orbis Pictus covered subjects ranging from anatomy:
“The Head is above the Feet. below. the fore part of the Neck (which ends at the Arm-holes,) is the Throat, the hinder part, the Crag, The Breast is before; the back behind; Women have in it two Dugs, with Nipples…”
“His Followers refrain themselves from Wine; are circumcised, have many Wives; build Chapels, from the Steeples whereof, they are called to Holy Service not by Bells but by a Priest, they wash themselves often, they deny the Holy Trinity: they honour Christ, not as the Son of God, but as a great Prophet, yet less than Mahomet; they call their Law the Alcoran.”
“…are those which differ in the Body from the ordinary shape, as the huge Gyant (1), the little Dwarf (2), One with two Bodies (3), One with two Heads (4), and such like Monsters. Amongst these are reckoned, The jolt-headed (5), The great-nosed (6), The blubber-lipped (7), The blub-cheeked (8), The goggle-eyed (9), The wry-necked (10), The great-throated (11), The Crump-backed (12), The Crump-footed (13), The steeple-crowed (15), add to these The Bald-pated (14)”
It’s inspiring that someone with Komensky’s childhood should have penned the primer by which all others would be judged. His father died when he was 10, his mother a couple of years later, followed by his sisters. “Comenius was thus left an orphan at an early age, and his guardians appear to have robbed him of any small fortune that his father had bequeathed.” [The Great Didactic, Introduction by M.W. Keatinge]
Referring to the schools of his youth as “slaughter-houses” of the young, it wasn’t until he entered Herborn University at age 19 that things turned around. He studied at Heidelberg, traveled to Amsterdam and Hungary, taught at his old Latinschool in Moravia, and became a teacher-pastor in 1618, at the outbreak of the Thirty Years War.
Things did not go well for Komensky during the war. As a member of the Brethren of the Unity, a Protestant group based on the the theology of Jan Hus, Komensky and his circle were persecuted. Spanish soldiers burned his village and most of his possessions, including his library and his own writings. His wife and two children died during an epidemic. And he was forced into exile.
Komensky’s exile would last the rest of the his life. Bad for Komensky, but good for Western education.
“Surrounded by the chaos and destruction of war, Comenius believed that guns were no way to restore order—what the world really needed was a revolution in learning. He envisioned a liberal-arts education that would create citizens, rather than specialists, and proposed a new teaching system based on the novel principle of ‘school through play.'”
Emphasizing self-discipline as motivation for learning rather than physical punishment, he disseminated his progressive vision across the many lands he traveled while in exile, including Poland, England, Hungary, the Holy Roman Empire, the Netherlands, Sweden, and Lithuania. He never made it to the Americas, turning down an opportunity to head up a new university called Harvard, in favor of an offer by the Swedish Ambassador. And in the 1650’s he supported the Sweden’s takeover of Poland, a move that led once again to the burning and destruction of all his property, this time by angry Poles. Decades of his writings went up in smoke.
Still, his Janua, Orbis Pictus, and The Great Didactic were among many works that survived to form the basis of elementary education in Europe. He is credited with redefining the curriculum and learning environment used in Western education for hundreds of years.
The Comenius Medal for education, established in 1992, is one of UNESCO’s most prestigious awards. And though he was never able to return to his homeland, the people of the Czech Republic and Slovakia honor Komensky on his birthday by celebrating the noblest of professions: Teacher’s Day.
Before embarking on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.
Today is the (observed) birthday of the man whom many believe to be the greatest teacher ever, Master Kung, K’ung Fu Tzu. Or as he’s known in English: Confucius.
Compared to his legacy, the circumstances of his life were somewhat underwhelming.
He was born in 551 BC in Lu, China, into a poor, once noble family. His father died when he was three. According to the Chinese philosopher Mencius, Confucius worked as a storekeeper, and also tended to oxen and sheep in the public fields.
A large chunk of Confucius’ life is missing from the record, as can be expected from a non-royal figure who lived 2500 years ago. But these gaps have been filled in by millennia of legends. We do know that by his early fifties, Confucius was in the employ of the Duke of Lu, Ding, as Minister of Public Works and as Minister of Crime. But Confucius left Lu and the court of the Duke at age 52. Whether it was because of some moral ambiguity on the part of the Duke’s, because of a social snub toward Confucius, or because of animosity from those vying for the Duke’s power, we can’t be sure.
Confucius spent the next several years traveling through China, to the states of Wei, Song, Chen, Cai, and Chu.
He returned to Lu in 484 BC where he lived out his remaining years. By the time of his death he had amassed a sizable following of students, who would formalize and carry on his teachings.
Like I said, underwhelming. But by the next century, Mencius would write, “Ever since man came into this world, never has there been one greater than Confucius.” Confucius was remembered as a sage who should have been king, in a world too shortsighted to see that.
Confucius once said he was not a “maker” of knowledge, but a “transmitter” of it. “I am not one who was born in the possession of knowledge; I am one who is fond of antiquity, and earnest in seeking it there.” (Analects)
Though his teachings and philosophy were based on studies of history, they were vastly different from those that came before.
He taught that rulers who governed by example and by virtue would have more loyal subjects than those who governed by force alone. That the society governed by the former system, and the people within it, would eventually lean toward goodness. And that humans are similar by nature, but their habits and practices “carry them far apart.” (Analects)
He defined the practices of virtue as Gravity, Generosity of Soul, Sincerity, Earnestness, and Kindness.
He condoned strong attachment to family and respect toward elders and ancestors.
And he put into words the Golden Rule of reciprocity: Don’t impose upon other what you would not want for yourself.
“Ancient scholars studied for their own improvement. Modern scholars study to impress others.“
There are an estimated 6 million followers of Confucianism around the world today, but these are a small minority of those who follow the teachings laid out by Confucius over 2500 years ago. Confucianism remains a dominant philosophical system in Chinese life. His philosophy and teachings fundamentally influenced Eastern thought since his lifetime, as well as Western thought following Confucianism’s introduction into Europe by Jesuit Matteo Ricci in the 16th century.
Since the 1990s, birthday ceremonies in honor of the Great Teacher have flourished in China, after decades of repression.
Created by a group of China’s most esteemed professors, Teachers’ Day was celebrated in June in the 1930s. The Manifesto on Teachers’ Day explained the professors’ hope that the holiday would inspire the nation to:
In 1939, the Ministry of Education moved the holiday to August 27, the birthday’s of China’s great teacher Confucius. (Taiwan still celebrates Teachers’ Day on Confucius’s birthday, which is now observed September 28.)
In 1951 the new Communist Chinese government bumped Teachers’ Day to May 1, Labor Day, but as you can imagine, the event was overshadowed by one of China’s biggest holidays.
In December of 1984 the Beijing Evening Paper published an article citing a suggestion by Professor Wang Zikun who proposed that teachers be given their own day once again. The idea quickly gained support and a September 10th Teachers’ Day was put into law the following year. Why September 10th?
All across India hundreds of millions of schoolchildren celebrate Teachers’ Day. In many schools, children dress up like their teachers. Teachers meanwhile, sit in the back of the room, like students, as the students lead class, and roles are reversed for a day. Students have a chance to see from their mentors’ eyes, and teachers remember what is was like to be a student, to have the one other job as important as teaching: learning.
The lesson plan may include a look at the man behind Teachers Day, Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan.
Born on this day in 1888 in Tamil Nadu, India, Radhakrishnan became one of the leading philosophers of the 20th century. According to George Conger:
“…Among the philosophers of our time, no one has achieved so much in so many fields as has Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan of India … William James was influential in religion, and John Dewey has been a force in politics. One or two American philosophers have been legislators. Jacques Maritain has been an ambassador. Radhakrishnan, in a little more than thirty years of work, has done all these things and more… Never in the history of philosophy has there been quite such a world-figure…. like a weaver’s shuttle, he has gone to and fro between the East and West, carrying a thread of understanding, weaving it into the fabric of civilization.”
Radhakrishnan taught subjects including philosophy, ethics and comparative religion at the Universities of Calcutta, Oxford, and Ahndra.
In 1952 he was elected the first Vice-President of India. Ten years later the philosopher became India’s second President.
When his friends and former students wished to make his birthday a holiday, Radhakrishnan did not forget his first calling. He replied, “Instead of celebrating my birthday, it would be my proud privilege if 5 September is observed as Teachers’ Day.”
Throughout the rest of his life, Radhakrishnan went on learning and teaching, holding true to his most firmly held belief:
“The true seekers are those who never end their quest. Even at the termination of one’s life one is still searching. Fulfillment is a distant goal.”
Today the country of Finland celebrates Finnish Language Day, also known as Mikael Agricola Day.
Mikael Agricola may not have started Finnish but he is celebrated as a national hero for creating and codifying the written version of what was largely an oral tradition up until the 16th century.
Agricola was appointed Lutheran bishop of Turku in 1554. One of the tenets of the Reformation was the translation and reading of scriptures in native languages.
Agricola translated the New Testament into Finnish in 1548.
Some of his top Finnish language hits include:
ABC-kiria (The ABC Book) The first book in Finnish, published in 1543. It was a primer of the Finnish language. [I’d like to say it taught kids to read Finnish, but as the first Finnish book, it taught everyone to read!]
Se Wsi Testamenti — the aforementioned Finnish translation of the New Testament, Agricola’s greatest achievement.
Three liturgical books (1549). Two include prayers, services, and rituals. The third is an amalgamation of the Four Gospels, detailing Christ’s suffering.
Agricola hoped to translate the Old Testament as well. But his life was cut short. Returning from Moscow where he had negotiated a peace treaty, Agricola became ill and died on April 9, 1557. He was 47.
He’s remembered each year on April 9 as the Father of the Finnish language.
The major languages of the Scandinavian countries—Swedish, Danish, Norwegian, and Icelandic—are all related except for Finnish. Near as we can tell, Finnish isn’t related to anything except perhaps Hungarian and Estonian. Finnish isn’t even an Indo-European language. The Finno-Ugric languages are their own distinct branch, though from what tree is anybody’s guess.
It’s possible that if Agricola hadn’t come along when he did, the language of Finland would have been overrun by the languages of its more powerful neighbors.
Finnish is known for being a ‘genderless’ language, and for lacking articles such as ‘a’ and ‘the’. Also, there is no word for ‘to have.’