No one is better at protecting civilization and knowledge than those who protect children from uncivilization and ignorance.

Voja Žanetić

Her name was Andjelija Lelicanin.

She was an elementary school maths teacher, in this past century.

She recognized the glasses-wearing boy had a talent for calculations, formulas and problems, so alongside continuous praise and encouragement, she recommended him to move onto the Mathematical Gymnasium. Thus, the boy suddenly got the hope that he would stand out in something in his childhood; along the way, he gained additional respect from his astonished parents, who either did not have that mathematical talent or perhaps no one had revealed it to them.

A few dozen additional math lessons later, the boy passed the entrance exam for admission to the recommended school. And several dozen years later, an elderly gentleman with glasses writes this editorial for Okruženje, and this week’s topic is about educators. The old talent has been “embedded” in another skill. If the recognition aforementioned recognition didn’t happen, these lines wouldn’t have been here either.

Thank you, teacher.

* * * * *

Then… Ann Sullivan was her name.

She lived at the transition from the 19th to the 20th century, and history remembers her as the teacher and mentor of Helen Keller, an American author and activist who, from the age of nineteen months until the end of her life, was both blind and deaf. Helen – despite all her disabilities, and with the help of Anne, her personal educator – managed to learn to communicate with the world, and then to create, publish and teach. Helen Keller supplemented all her talents – developed despite all the limitations – by fighting for the rights of the disabled, as well as by advocating for the rights of those who were disenfranchised for other reasons. Helen Keller has gone down in history as an example of abilities that come from personal struggle, perseverance and energy. None of this would have happened if it hadn’t been for Anne Sliven, the teacher, who needed the same amount of struggle, persistence and energy to help turn a Helen into Helen Keller.

Teachers are people who know much, but what they know best is what kind of people young people can become.

* * * * *

Those who teach our children in this century have very tough competition. Alongside the school blackboard, there are three other blackboards, which both children and parents look at: the small telephone board, the medium computer board and the large television board. The whole situation of upbringing and education has been made even more difficult with two principles of social organization that have sneaked into the current civilization and dominated it: consumerism, which turns us into increasingly empty wallets; and the precariat, which turned us all (again) into slaves of those same wallets, which are getting harder and harder to fill. And since the end of last year, Artificial Intelligence has also appeared on the horizon of the Omniscient, so it’s only a matter of days until the always frugal state apparatuses will realize that robots are actually ideal educators. They don’t ask for a higher salary or less work, they don’t go on strike, and they are better at “catching” children copying from ChatGPT. Plus they don’t retire, they “upgrade”.

And this little dehumanizing digression in the last sentence hides what is perhaps the biggest pain in the education system: the increasingly obvious lack of humanity. The conditions in which most “educators” are increasingly working are inhumane; the tasks that are increasingly placed before all of them are inhumane; the frameworks that new technologies, new media and new society put before education are inhumane; violence that is growing in society and schools is inhumane;  conditions for economic, communication and any other progress of the families themselves are less and less humane. So now, of all the teachers we need, perhaps we most need those who will teach us how not to be left without teachers in times to come. Otherwise, the following lesson would be remembered forever: No one is better at protecting civilization and knowledge than those who protect children from uncivilization and ignorance. Therefore, it would be wise for us to preserve them.

If we had any wits.