Solarizing The Systemic By, Toyin Falola
Because of five red emotional buttons anything that has to do with education often triggers in the deepest point of my heart, the invitation to deliver this convocation address could not be turned down under any circumstances because it was in accordance with my long-held principle of adding value to our institutions for the purpose of advancing the course of humanity—the fact of which, I must confess, has become something of an obsession.
First, Dr. Tai Solarin (who was born and named Augustus Taiwo Solarin) is (I can’t even come to terms to think of Tai Solarin in the past tense!) a living example of an educated or enlightened soul. Through his wonderful deeds as an educator par excellence and as the famous columnist of the Daily Times newspaper’s “Thinking with You” column, he still lives among us.
It is similar to great deeds such as those of the youngsters of Ghana’s Young Pioneer Movement in the days of the late President Osagyefo Kwame Nkrumah, who used to scream at the top of their voices as part of their pledge: “Nkrumah never dies!” To the critics of the Ghanaian leader, that was impossible. Yet Dr. Nkrumah has been dead since April 1972, yet his soul marches on, as his books are being used in schools and the ideas and socialist policies of Nkrumahism keep on popping up every now and then. In fact, some Ghanaians and other Pan-Africanists long for his reincarnation. And it is the same with Dr. Tai Solarin, whose name honors your great institution! “Tai Solarin never dies!!”
Second, from the time Dr. Solarin left Molusi College, my own alma mater, in the early 1950s to establish The Mayflower College at Ikenne, he had lived true to the character of a teacher who did not merely tell but instead showed and demonstrated. Tai Solarin, as a pilgrim, taught by example. He was also like an eagle and, as you and I know, eagles not only soar high, but they also fly alone. They are the only birds known to fly head on into the eyes of the storm! Furthermore, pilgrimage is for the bold and courageous, not for the chicken hearted. Eagles do not keep the company of chickens, whose idea of flying is hopping on the curbs!
Tai Solarin’s sojourns, odysseys, and audacity as a pilgrim to move away from all the luxuries and comforts his guaranteed and secure position in Ijebu Igbo to the unknown Ikenne wilderness with all the risks of going solo to establish Mayflower College was no less a pilgrimage; he was accompanied, at the time, by only his dear wife, British-born Sheila Mary Solarin (née Tuer), whom he married in 1951 while in the United Kingdom after serving in the Royal Air Force during World War II. But a pilgrim is someone on a long journey or search, especially of something of exalted purpose or moral significance. It may interest you to note that Mayflower was the name of the ship on which the Pilgrims sailed to America in 1620.
The life and works of Tai Solarin not only demonstrated that we too can make our lives sublime, but also showed us what a huge difference one person who was willing to walk his talk could make to change the world and create opportunities for others. Many alumni of Mayflower College have made a considerable difference and have chosen to live above board and carry on Tai Solarin’s torch of integrity and probity, even in our decadent and unpredictable Nigerian society.
Third, your university has just not been rightly named after our national heroic legend and pioneer of proper education Tai Solarin, but it is the first university of education in Nigeria. And no nation can rise above the quality of its teachers. Hence, without competing with Oyo State, whose motto is “pacesetter state,” your university—as the first educators or teachers’ university—is, to say the least, the yardstick to measure where Nigeria is at the moment, and how far in the future Nigeria can go! Why? Because teachers make the nation, and Nigeria, as a nation, cannot go beyond the quality of your product: the teachers. You, as teacher trainers and trainees, are the pacesetters for every sector of our economy.
From early years to the university level, you mold the character and quality of our nation. You build the nation. The influence your graduates have in the lives of all the children that will pass through their classrooms will determine the quality of health service, architecture and infrastructure, goods and services. Your burdens and responsibilities are, in some ways, not enviable because our nation’s destiny is in your hands. As teachers, the past, present, and future of Nigeria are in your hands. You have quality education to dispense, and we are happy that your great institution is named after Dr. Solarin, who himself valued education. He used post-war benefits to earn his own high-quality education from the Universities of Manchester and London in the United Kingdom.
Fourth, the entire world, not just educators, is at the historic crossroads. And the challenge of managing the associated confusions of being at the crossroads while at the same time directing, guiding, and compassing the entire world in choosing the appropriate route to take depends on teachers! For ages, the world has historically used property ownership as its yardstick to measure success, and as the compass to guide our movements on the chessboard of the political economy. Now and then, crossroads arise when there is a regime change of property ownership. To appreciate what creates or constitutes the crossroads, and what they mean in our times and in the new Internet virtual and real global village, let’s cast our minds back in history. In the fifteenth century, Christopher Columbus journey to the West, accomplished without dropping into the oblivion, debunked the religious myths not only that our planet earth was not flat but also that it was not the center of the universe.
Consequently, the British naval power and shipping industry automatically enthroned Britain as the world’s mercantile imperial power, trading in goods and humans. Medieval mercantile aristocrats lived side by side and in harmony with the feudal lords because vassals, with scattered farm or village settlements, and small workforces served the mutual interests of the feudal lords and mercantile aristocrats. Might was Right. Everyone knew his or her place, either in the king’s courtyard or within the larger society. And, on one hand, no one dare crossed the lines separating the slaves and the drivers supervising the slaves from the vassals, and on the other hand, no one crossed the boundary between vassals, the feudal lords, and mercantile aristocrats.
However, the industrial revolution came with mass production, larger workforces, and urbanization. Thus, the worlds of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries witnessed another crossroads as property ownership changed from landowners to industrial entrepreneurs. Industrial relations, too, changed from the agrarian vassals to organized trade unions and corporate management.
The confusions at the crossroads led to the two World Wars, and attempts to navigate through the worldview on who should own or control the economy and the new factors of mass production generated the crisis between free market enterprise and socialist-communist dialectics. Breakdowns of family lives and the close-knit village neighborhood relations and social norms and rules began to change to anonymous town and city lives, with associated sophisticated new forms of entertainment, crimes, and associations. As the role of women changed from full-time housekeeping to working in offices, sewing and textile industries, and hospitals and health care industry, marital relationships began to change. Marriages began to breakdown. Women also challenged male chauvinism as women began to fight for the franchise, equality, and liberation.
Since the 1980s, the world has come to another crossroads with the new era of virtual Internet and real global village. The Cold War between the West and East came to an end. Technology changed the way we run our lives. The operational systems of capitalism, socialism, or communism had broken down. Technology had become power. Property has, therefore, changed from land, industries, bonds, and stocks to intelligence, property, and knowledge economies. Ownership of property and work relations also had changed from industrial entrepreneurs, investors, and speculators and their professional wealth builders and managers (engineers, accountants, lawyers and medical professionals) to techies and website architects and designers, and virtual property developers.
It may interest you to note that, like the backyard workshop and experimental industrialists of the Ford Generation, both Bill Gates and the recently deceased Steven Jobs, the vanguards of the new beginning in the Internet and computer era, do not have university degrees. Workforces, too, had changed from trade unions to social networks. Hours of work had changed from 9 to 5, five or six-day week to 24/7 all the year round. Why we do business, what business we do, when we do business, where we do business, who we do business with, and how we do business have all changed!
There have been greater advancements in knowledge and technology in the last twenty years than the aggregate of what the world has experienced in all of human history. Perhaps, no one has graphically captured our new world better than Daniel H. Pink in what Malcolm Gladwell described as a “provocative and fascinating [book].” Using the imagery of a computer to illustrate our new world, Pink has metaphorically stated that just as computers have operation systems, which are susceptible to breakdown, so also societies have operation systems.
He writes: “The laws, social customs, and economic arrangements that we encounter each day sit atop a layer of instructions, protocols, and suppositions about how the world works. And much of our societal operating system consists of a set of assumptions about human behavior.” Pink argues further: “As humans formed more complex societies, bumping up against strangers and needing to cooperate in order to get things done, an operating system based purely on the biological drive was inadequate. …And so in a feat of remarkable cultural engineering, we slowly replaced what we had with a version more compatible with how we begun working and living.”
Pink illustrated the most powerful twenty-first-century “open source” business model with the encyclopedic showdown between Microsoft and Wikipedia. In his example, “Wikipedia’s triumph seems to defy the laws of behavioral physics.” Thus, he demonstrated that the Microsoft represented the outdated market assumptions of how to do business while Wikipedia represents the most powerful new operating system—open source. He concluded that, “Our current system has become far less compatible with, and at times downright antagonistic to: how we organize what we do; how we think about what we do; and how we do what we do.”
Fifth, I believe that everyone needs just one opportunity of awareness to change his/her state of affairs or fate, and therefore to change his/her condition in life. And, as an obsessed, humble student and teacher—indeed, as a farmer would do—I have always considered it as an opportunity and privilege to be in a position to sow the seed of encouragement for my budding colleagues.
The foregoing reasons gave me intimidating butterfly feelings of how could I adequately honor Dr. Tai Solarin and, at the same time, do justice to your short notice request. Yet, I was ready to honor the invitation because of my enormous respect for the university and its wonderful and well-meaning management.
This is also an opportunity to recognize and celebrate Mama Sheila Solarin. Mama Sheila Solarin was the co-anchor or co-captain of the Mayflower “ship.” She and Dr. Solarin founded Mayflower and were it not for her ardent support and deep intellectual acumen, Tai Solarin would have produced something less than what we have come to know Mayflower for. If one does not already exist, there should be a Sheila Solarin Hall on the campus.
I started this lecture with words about the great Tai Solarin. Let me close also with words about him. In our search for the new pathways to the new beginning in education, we really do not have to reinvent the wheel. The indomitable and sagacious Dr. Tai Solarin, whose great name adorns your institution, has left us a roadmap and a compass to navigate our ways from the southern tip of society to the true north.
In my endeavor today, it is my abiding hope that I have provided enough materials to throw some light on the roadmap and compass left behind by Dr. Tai Solarin, whose great societal ideas can make one exclaim, as it was done in Ghana about the late president Nkrumah (as I mentioned earlier in this speech) that “Dr. Tai Solarin never dies!” He has given us enough guidelines to create the basis for change. His life and works at the Mayflower College is nothing but a blueprint for educational reforms or new pathways to create a new generation of entrepreneurs dedicated to cultural, agricultural, industrial, commercial and overall economic development will promote the welfare of citizens, consolidate an emerging middle class, and bring prosperity to our city, region, and country. There must be institutional autonomy, strong and enterprising leadership to enable revolutionary changes that will enrich the experience of students. Let me close with a few features of the Mayflower College, which I summarize below:
Mayflower gave our youths real-world skills in order to help them become gainfully employed after graduation. Dr. Tai Solarin was the master and his students were apprentices on how to live and be a useful citizen and member of their community. Mayflower was an apprenticeship and trade school.
By establishing the Mayflower College, Dr. Tai Solarin has demonstrated that a short-term financial discomfort would be compensated for over the years. Our educational goals should be able to make food available, plan cities, supply energy, and run services.
It is fair to underscore that Dr. Tai Solarin dedicated his life to the education of our children and people. I vividly recall that sometime in 1977/78, Dr. Tai Solarin single handedly removed the decaying corpse of a hit-and-run victim and deposited the coffin at the door of the Commissioner for Health in Ibadan. This was a demonstration of public-spiritedness that is lacking in most of us today. That was both boldness and civic duty.
I challenge TASUED to design programs on community service and teach the students to imbibe the habit of public servanthood, regardless of their vocation after leaving this university. For all his life, Tai Solarin chose education as his number one priority. Even though an atheist, he declared that if the devil offered him a scholarship, he would accept it and, in the end, choose to serve God with his education. Dr. Tai Solarin believed that well-trained people should be able to think critically, and use their skills anywhere in the world. As Frederick Harbison, an educator, correctly stated and inter alia I quote him here: “Education does contribute to growth but growth also makes it possible to expand and develop education. It is both the flower and the seed of economic development.”
TASUED has given its students the seeds to plant to contribute to our collective growth. The plants will grow to produce more seeds for others to sew. I congratulate you all, staff and students, management and the state government. I wish you all the best for the future.
Prof. Toyin Falola, University Distinguished Teaching Professor and the Jacob & Frances Sanger Mossiker Chair in the Humanities at the University of Texas at Austin, Texas, is also the President, African Studies Association. He gave this excerpted lecture at the convocation lecture, “Education at the Historic Crossroads: New Paths for a New Beginning” delivered at Tai Solarin University of Education, Ijebu-Ode November 26, 2014