The crisis in education
Some years ago when the debate was active, as it still is, about what the nature and content of school education in the country should be, R.K. Narayan, the famous novelist, focused our attention on the question with an arresting metaphor. He made a fervent plea in parliament, ‘Reduce the size of the school bag!’
However, while most people were in sympathy with and understood the reasons for this plea—that children should not be made the victims of a monstrous system of information overload and thus be deprived of their childhood—nothing but some feeble expressions of sympathy and agreement came out of all this. Understanding and sympathy were crippled by doubts about the practicality of R.K. Narayan’s solution. For was this not the age of the knowledge explosion, was knowledge not growing exponentially in all fields—in the mathematical, physical, biological and social sciences—and was it not imperative to train the young mind early to absorb all this? Early preparation for such specialized and high-volume training seemed inevitable whatever the price the school girl or boy had to pay for it.
And this price was and remains very high. Quality is pushed aside to make way for quantity, and rote and mechanical learning replace real understanding. Teaching, instead of being innovative and sensitive to the students’ minds, becomes schedule-driven and bound to standard curricula and syllabi, leaving the teacher with very little room for his or her own creativity and imagination in teaching. Further, what can one say about the means to ensure the achievement of these priorities? As everyone knows, these are: competition and the spur that the fear of failure gives. Little thought is given as to what happens to the young mind which is constantly comparing itself to others in the competitive jungle, and as to what happens to the weak that go to the wall in this struggle. We have been witnesses to the pathetic sight of children barely out of their infancy being made to ‘compete’ for places in kindergarten classes by being coached to recite the alphabet and to recognize colours and numbers and so on. The Darwinian principle of the survival of the fittest prevails here and the young become one more species in the struggle for survival.
The young become the means to another end too—they become the greatest national resource in the race for ‘development’. That is, like labour and capital, they become a resource, a factor in the industrial process and are paid the compliment of being the most important factor because they provide the most important input—knowledge. Knowledge too becomes a factor of production. Fittingly and ironically the government ministry which deals with education, is the Ministry of Human Resources Development. The courts declare that schools and colleges are subject to the labour laws that govern industrial labour. This is in keeping with the trend that has seen the sprouting of schools run on commercial lines all over the country in large numbers.
The young thus become a driven generation—driven by the knowledge and information explosion, by the global political–economic process, and by the competitive struggle to survive in this process. The content of school education is determined by political masters of the day with their political and religious ideological agendas. Is it any wonder then that youth in the ‘sophisticated’ atmosphere of the big cities are seeking in increasing numbers to escape from the tensions of being subjected to such educational processes by resorting to drugs, drink, addictive television watching, indulgence in junk food, sleazy web-sites on the Internet and other escapes that a sensate culture offers in plenty?
What happens to the young mind and heart which is subjected to all this? Early childhood is or ought to be a period for stories, myth and fantasy—a period when the boundary between imagination and ‘reality’ is not clearly drawn. It is a fairyland in which fantasy and the ‘real world’ are mixed up inextricably and in which the child would like to wander freely. Instead, the educational process drives a straight railroad through the fairyland and from the railway carriage in which facts and numbers are being drilled into the mind, the child looks out longingly at the fairy landscape outside. In adolescence there is an explosion of the whole being—physical, emotional and mental. Logical reasoning is discovered, and so are religious and metaphysical questions about good and evil, and about ultimate human destiny. The sight of social injustices and evils gives rise to boundless idealism which if frustrated, as often happens, turns into boundless cynicism. Overhanging all this, there is the overwhelming question of sexual identity and one’s relationship to it. In short, the adolescent is a great mystery to himself/herself (as all of us indeed are to ourselves). The first encounter with mystery gives rise to great turbulence. Hence it is that this is the time when the young person should have the time and space to get closely in touch with all these thoughts and emotions, and to feel his or her way from being a boy or a girl to becoming a young man or a young woman.
How the adult world, and more particularly the teachers (which term includes, for Krishnamurti, the parents) will respond to the child’s delicately balanced mental and emotional states will obviously determine the future growth of the child. Will the response be sensitive and nurture inner mental and emotional growth or will it distort and cripple the young minds and hearts? Will the whole being of the growing child be nurtured or will the adult world plump for ‘safety first’ and unthinkingly and unfeelingly put the child through the mechanical educational processes prevalent today?
Surely it is this crisis, this critical question facing us today that is the fundamental one, and not merely questions about the content of syllabi and the best methodologies to impart them to students. And surely this crucial question of the inner growth of the child cannot be successfully met unless the adults themselves are sensitive and attentive to their own inner world of feelings, thoughts and doubts; unless they themselves are capable of self-knowledge and inner growth. If such sensitivity to their inner worlds is not there, the adult generation is likely to become and also to bring up, as the sociologist Max Weber said, ‘Specialists without spirit and sensualists without heart.’
And if this happens we will have to lament with T.S. Eliot:
Where is the Life we have lost in living?
Where is the wisdom we have lost in knowledge?
Where is the knowledge we have lost in information?
Krishnamurti’s vision of education
Some teachers and parents may feel that this account of the state of education prevailing in the country now is exaggerated or even distorted. For, has not education become much more child-centered now than before, at least in the more progressive schools, of which the number is growing? Is not the development of the whole personality of the child one of the core concerns of all good schools in the country— witness the vast range of ‘extra-curricular’ activities which are offered by schools, and the greater number of options which are now available to students as subjects for study? Ways to impart value education is a matter of great concern to all teachers and educationalists, and various ways to incorporate life values into the curriculum have been worked out.
However, while much of all this is undoubtedly true, we have to admit, if we are honest, that the vital centre, the well-spring from which the life-giving waters flow, is somehow missing from all this. To change the metaphor, there are many spokes to the wheel—giving full scope to the skills and talents of the child and so on—but where is the hub? True creativity in responding with our whole being to life and all the trials and travails that life is surely going to bring to every child, surely goes beyond, as Krishnamurti says, the acquiring of mere techniques and skills. It involves as he says, ‘…not merely technological knowledge, but also the immense limitless field of the psyche, going beyond it, that is holistic education. That requires teachers who understand this, who are committed, who are responsible.’
In other words, unless the teachers themselves have explored and tried to understand the ‘immense field of the psyche’ in themselves—their own hidden motivations, urges, fears, desires, aims in life and so on—they cannot hope to educate children in a holistic way. Unless they themselves have attempted the task of being whole, they cannot guide another human being towards wholeness.
Hence Krishnamurti says, ‘The real problem in education is the educator.’ In saying this he is not questioning the competence of the teacher in particular fields of knowledge, but is pointing out the importance of the teacher’s own sensitivity to the totality of the situation—to the growing child’s inner needs and to the forces and influences which are shaping the minds and feelings of both the child and the adult.
...it is only when we inquire into the significance of the values which society and religion have placed about us that we begin to find out what is true. It is the function of the educator to examine deeply his own thoughts and feelings and put aside those values which have given him security and comfort, for only then can he help his students to be self-aware and to understand their own urges and fears. . .. True religion is not a set of beliefs and rituals, hopes and fears and if we can allow the child to grow up without these hindering influences, then perhaps as he matures, he will begin to inquire into the nature of reality, of God. That is why, in educating a child, deep insight and understanding are necessary.
To quote Krishnamurti again:
Unless we are deeply touched by the problem, we will never find the right way of education. Mere technical training inevitably makes for ruthlessness, and to educate our children we have to be sensitive to the whole movement of life. What we think, what we do, what we say, matters infinitely, because it creates the environment and the environment either helps or hinders the child.
As one educator in a Krishnamurti school put it, ‘We teach what we know, we educate what we are.’ In other words, what is being called for, or ‘demanded’ from the educator (which term includes the parent and the teacher) is self-knowledge, inner sensitivity to one’s own motives, the dropping of negative and destructive urges, of all kinds of ‘incoherences’ in one’s own life. And Krishnamurti’s teachings—both those concerned directly with education, and those concerned with the whole field of life—provide a vast and detailed map, one may say, of this inner psychological life of ours. These teachings contain extraordinarily illuminating statements which cast light on both the outer and inner aspects of our lives and help us, if we pay heed to what he says, to clear up our inner ‘incoherences’ and act with clarity and lightness in the outward sphere in our relationship with ourselves, in the family, with children, in institutional situations and in the world at large.
Thus to take but one of his seminal statements, ‘…to be is to be related and one can see oneself in the mirror of relationship’. If we really take this to heart and watch our inner motives, urges and behaviour in our relationships, the watching is bound to reveal hitherto hidden aspects of our being to us, with its many varied and infinitely nuanced strands of self-interest or non-awareness. Again, to realize that the ‘thinker is the thought’ and the ‘controller is the controlled’ is to realize that far from being free entities ‘in charge’ and in control of our thoughts and feelings, we are in fact at their mercy, totally conditioned by ideas and emotions which have been programmed into us by the familial, social, political and ideological milieu in which we happen to live. This brings us to his other seminal statement, ‘You are the world’, which makes clear how, far from being the unique, special entities we believe ourselves to be, we share this universal conditioning with the rest of mankind.
When we meditate on these truths, we are as Krishnamurti asks us to, ‘…inquiring into the significance of the values which society and religion have placed about us and begin to find out what is true’, so that we can help children ‘…to be self-aware and to understand their own urges and fears.’
The process of education, in this vision of it, is not one in which there are any final, authoritative answers. Instead, there is only the natural dropping, for both the teacher and the student, of ‘incoherences’, confusions and conflicts as they are revealed through awareness. This is an ‘open ended’ exploration in which no ‘final solutions’ are being looked for, but one in which the exploration itself is the ‘solution’, for, as Krishnamurti said, ‘There are no answers to life’s questions. The state of mind that questions is itself the answer.’