The ‘mover and shaker’: The teacher as a holistic transformative intellectual and creative atypical deviant. A biographical case-study on Suvro Chatterjee: A contemporary Indian teacher

Shilpi Sarkar, Purdue University


The qualitative sociological study employs the biographical and case study approach to focus on Suvro Chatterjee, a contemporary Indian teacher. The study identifies the exemplar as a holistic "transformative intellectual", and in so doing unpacks the theoretical concept forwarded by Henry A. Giroux (1988) and extends it by exploring in-depth the empirical instance of the real life Indian teacher: his multiple roles and identities, the intimate link amongst his dichotomous but connected ensemble of values, philosophical orientations and self-expressed through his identity and primary aims as a teacher – and his reflections on his work pursued as a "calling". In so doing, the study unpacks the levels, the content, and the many-dimensioned creativity of Suvro Chatterjee: a creativity which bridges the knowledge domains and relations domain and is born of a fusion of the four "creative types" as expounded by Howard Gardner (1993, 1997) as Master and Maker of knowledge, Instrospecter, and Influencer, and "self-actualized healer" as forwarded by bell hooks (1994). At different levels, the study through the contemporary teacher's varied essay excerpts presents the wider operating social forces and the immediate social context within which the he works and lives. The study thus directly puts into practice the call raised by C. Wright Mills more than half a century ago: the need to apply the "sociological imagination" (1959) and to engage in empathetic sociological research through the study of individual biography amidst the operating criss-crossing and conflicting social forces. Through a journey that explores the multi-faceted nature of his everyday living, instances of his manner, modes and methods of teaching, his micro-interactions, his musings, and his interconnected writings – reflective, pragmatic, insightful, introspective, humorous, critical, and trenchant – his many-layered identities as teacher, tutor, mentor, father, husband, family-man, friend, guide, modern day guru, master and maker of knowledge domains, philosopher, social thinker, social critic, public intellectual, educator, and writer emerge and sometimes merge. While his essays span divers knowledge areas, the current study focuses especially on those excerpts where he specifically critiques the current goals and values of education while he elaborates upon the intimate connection of holistic education with the multiple 2 arenas and levels of social living. Suvro Chatterjee critiques, among other matters the overwhelming value placed on the narrowly utilitarian goal of education in procuring a job and the over-emphasis upon a restricted and segregated form of technological and technical knowledge which is being promoted through the educational goal and primary values of elite education within the Indian nation (and also worldwide). He points out just why and how this is pernicious connecting it, among other matters, to T. S. Eliot's words on the "technological savage" to the dwindling value of knowledge and the rapid fragmentation of knowledge in the name of specialization. He systematically notes how at the collective level the goals and values of education are producing a teeming mindless but "educated" middle-class cognizant of little else other than their identities as consumers. He also elaborates among other aspects of how the education standards within the nation cannot be improved without strenuously improving the quality of the teachers and without a major shift in the collective consciousness, which no longer deems the market to be the sole and final arbiter of what contains value and worth and of what counts as progress and development. As he critiques, Suvro Chatterjee also forwards detailed alternatives of what matter in the making of genuine civilizations, such as "…the respect for language as the greatest invention of all time, the love of knowledge in its entirety, good virtues like courtesy, diligence, cleanliness, quietness, punctuality and keeping promises and hating gossip, the importance of the right and power to make up one's own mind, informed concern for the neediest in society, appreciation of art and literature, fascination with history, admiration of justice and contempt for the merely rich…" The unfolding study also locates why and how the contemporary Indian teacher is a creative atypical deviant yet cast in a different mould from the social or political activist or the radical social thinker. First, he consistently connects across the micro, meso and macro arenas of social living, and the structural, the collective and the individual while looking constantly at the "many sided fluid nature of reality". And secondly, staying away from any single dominant ideological strand or school of thought, he seeks to initiate change that spans the pedestrian and profound levels of social living and one that is directed at the level of ideas, and at the level of the mind, conscience and consciousness from which spring action, and at the level of the individual as a composite being. (Abstract shortened by UMI.)




Jackson, Purdue University.

Subject Area

South Asian Studies|Social structure|Education philosophy

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