We admire well regulated, ordered lives. My student who submits his homework first thing Monday morning, my neighbour who is on her last lap at 6 am while I stagger on to the balcony with my first cup of tea. I need to finish all my tea drinking at home because my young colleagues at school are vegans and they look on with bemused pity at their senior colleagues, their desperate needs and their lack of discipline. All gentle, mellow and accommodating.
I suddenly remember my days in school where things were not that pretty. There was the discipline of the uniform - I once missed three weeks of school because I had left my blazer with the school badge at my aunt's place, and you just could not attend school without your blazer. I remember the whole class being caned because the school could not discover who had committed a petty theft. I remember being hauled up with several others for being late to assembly even though I travelled on the school bus and somebody did not discover that the whole pick up needed ten more minutes. Such things to laugh about as adults but made monstrous in the life of a student, not because each school has its own quirks but the near-universality of fear, shame and punishment which is the face of discipline.
I discovered that the word, just the word, had a root meaning so different, as a young college student. We had a few teachers, bright, liberal and passionate about their subject, and, in what used to be a General English class for all undergraduates, one of them ensured that we heard the Greek or Latin roots. But it was academic exercise, interesting for the bookish to learn how meanings got 'corrupted' over time, and forgotten by the vast majority before the period got over.
Several years later I heard Krishnamurti use the word. Every once in a while he would remind his listeners of its root meaning from the Latin, discere, which means, to learn:
I am using the word discipline in its right sense, its right meaning-which is, to learn. Discipline does not imply, in the original sense of that word, conformity, suppression, imitation, but rather a process of learning.
So, about the time I stepped into a K school there was no running away from the fact that this word discipline had a definition and significance of enormous consequence for a teacher. A casual glance at the word on the net lists the following meanings:
Noun: Something, such as loss, pain, or confinement, imposed for wrongdoing: castigation, chastisement, correction, penalty, punishment, reward/punish/deserve. An area of academic study that is part of a larger body of learning: branch, specialty. See part/whole.
Verb: To impart knowledge and skill to: coach, educate, instruct, school, teach, train, tutor. See teach/learn. To subject (one) to a penalty for a wrong: castigate, chastise, correct, penalize, punish. See reward/punish/deserve.
Why both the noun and the verb forms have such divergent meanings might be a fascinating study; regrettably it links school and teaching to correction and punishment.
We know that discipline implies the act of learning a craft or learning to enquire in a particular subject. We talk of the disciplines of mathematics, the sciences and the humanities, the discipline of a carpenter, a potter or a dancer. Here it is not the taming of an unruly mind but the honing of a capacity of the mind to explore in a rigorous and creative manner. Indeed without the rigour the creativity does not have much relevance. It becomes flabby and incapable of discovering anything significant. Discipline here is an antidote to self-indulgent subjectivity. In this usage there is a perceived alliance between discipline and the freedom to explore. Even so there is a hint of a tension between discipline and the natural movement of the mind. Discipline is something that has to be imposed from the outside or by oneself.
Krishnamurti approaches discipline in a different way. Although it has much in common with the root meaning of the word, in his understanding discipline is inherent in the movement of learning. So a mind in a state of learning is also simultaneously discovering its own discipline. The key word is discovering - the action in the present and continuous.
And for all of us engaged in the education of children he would say no matter how unavoidable it may seem to a teacher-who means to be very kind and nice-to force and compel (for the child's own good) the seeds of conformity are being sown which in turn leads to imitation and fear.
Discipline is an easy way to control a child, but it does not help him to understand the problems involved in living… (when) you try to understand him, you try to discover what are the motives, the urges, the drives, that are behind him or her and by understanding him, you bring about the right environment…all that is implied when you love a child; but we don't love children...
- J Krishnamurti
Work and Leisure
Is it possible for a school to run in a leisurely way? (Interesting that the language forces the school to run, not walk!). Students have a great deal of work on their plates - classes, studying and homework. Teachers have to prepare and take those classes, set and correct homework, and in most schools set and correct tests as well. If we think then, as Aristotle apparently said, that 'the end of labor is to gain leisure', and if we define leisure as the time left over from all this work, it will seem woefully little. It will not be at all surprising if we feel dissatisfied with our lot, and in a few short steps, resentful of the work itself. This can and frequently does happen to students and teachers alike.
We are all used to dividing our days into the nice bits and the not-so-nice bits. Even in a school such as ours, where learning is almost always fun, the children still say, when a class is cancelled: 'so then can we be free?!' Telling them that they are anyway free in the deepest sense of the word is a bit of irony lost on them. The truth is, I love it too when for some reason a class is cancelled and I'm free. But I wonder if it is meaningful and healthy to make such a division; I suspect it takes away from well-being. Both for myself and my students, it is worth examining the 'versus' in work versus leisure. When a dichotomy seems false, what is an intelligent way to resolve it?
Perhaps one could examine one's state of mind when at work and when at leisure. Often, there is no difference - it is the same agitated brain, or the same relaxed, or excited, or absorbed brain, that applies itself to work or wanders through a period of leisure. At these times, it seems to matter very little whether you call what you are doing work or leisure. Yet the very fact that we distinguish the two, approaching one with resistance and the other with pleasure, hints at a difference. There could be two reasons why work is often approached with some amount of resistance. One is that there is a sense of a demand, an expectation out of one's work. Effort is required to fulfill this. And the second is that we often see the source of this expectation as outside ourselves. The best thing about leisure is that no one, not even yourself, expects you to produce anything at the end of it.
In the school day, we can try to provide significant spaces where no demands are made on a student. An immediate challenge is whether this translates to 'doing just what you please', and clearly in any community this is inadvisable. So begins the careful delineation of allowed and disallowed leisure time activities, ending with the worst-case scenario of monitored leisure time! But even if we negotiate all these, and manage to create such precious spaces of leisure for our students, we must be careful not to fall into the trap of evaluating the 'effectiveness' of leisure time! Humans are always seeking alternative paths to the same end. We are willing to give a person a holiday, but hope that his productivity will increase as a result. So we may grant a student free time, but secretly expect that she will spend it sketching rather than chatting. Our expectations will kill our joint exploration of leisure.
However, part of giving leisure to young people is that we follow it up with dialogue. Again, what is the state of mind when external demands are removed for a time? Preoccupations and worries do not drop away on request! These can make any leisure time unbearable, so that young people may seek to quickly fill it with some entertainment or the other. And on the other hand, many students experience periods when work flows; when meeting demands is enjoyable and the outcome satisfying. Thus, through dialogue with our students we can explore the nature of leisure. Does it really lie in external conditions such as free periods, and is it really impossible to be at leisure when you are working hard?
When Krishnamurti speaks of leisure, it is as a state of mind: “A school is a place of leisure where the educator and the one to be educated are both learning. This is the central fact of the school: to learn. We do not mean by leisure having time to oneself, though that is also necessary; it does not mean taking a book and sitting under a tree, or in your bedroom, reading casually. It does not mean a placid state of mind; it certainly does not mean being idle or using time for day-dreaming. Leisure means a mind that is not constantly occupied with something, with a problem, with some enjoyment, with some sensory pleasure.”
Kamala V Mukunda
Gaining knowledge is seen as reaching the pinnacle of achievement. Both in the materialistic world as well as in the spiritual one, the aspirant looks to knowledge of one kind or another as the highest goal. If I want to be Chairperson of a company, knowledge of how to make things, sell them and run the organization in the most efficient manner possible, is the way I would go about it. On the other hand, in the non-material realm, I would look for it in 'knowing' God or arriving at knowledge of the highest truth or of the other world etc. 'Information' is trivial and purely utilitarian, and 'wisdom' is the far-off ideal. Meanwhile, what I want is knowledge, broad, deep and updated! Saying 'I don't understand' is not half as humiliating as saying 'I don't know'. In the former, part of the burden of guilt can be shifted to the person or thing sought to be understood. In the latter it is my lack of knowledge that stands exposed. Not knowing the way to Mahabalipuram or Ladakh creates its own disturbance - “don't you know?” When we get ourselves into a mess in our private or professional life, we tell ourselves that “it is lack of knowledge that has landed me in this, and it is knowledge that is going to get me out of it.” This is the sub-text of anything that we actually say. Further, knowledge in oneself is a source of strength but knowledge in others is a constant threat, hence I need to 'update' myself.
On the other hand, there is Krishnamurti pointing out that knowledge is always limited and anything that flows out of a limited entity is in turn limited. Of course, Krishnamurti was not interested in getting into what he called 'semantic' issues. However, he did emphatically say that “self-knowledge is the basis of thought”. I suggest that, for him, 'knowing about ourselves' was another way of saying 'learning about ourselves'. I am intrigued by T S Eliot's lines in 'East Coker' (Four Quartets):
There is, it seems to us, / At best, only a limited value/ In the knowledge derived from experience.
The question that immediately springs to mind is: Is there a knowledge that is not derived from experience? Perhaps this kind of knowing is what Krishnamurti calls self-knowledge and for him the only other 'valid' kind is 'technological knowledge', that which gets you from here to there, and so on. He showed us that the (psychological) knowledge that says, “I know you”, “I knew you will say this”, etc. is based on experience, moored in the past and thus becomes a barrier to understanding, which is always in the now.
Now it is not difficult to see that the recording process of the brain, the habits that we form and the essentially regimented nature of our lives, together create insurmountable psychological problems for ourselves and others. We are nevertheless loath to let go of this powerful, in fact 'empowering', force ('tool' is hardly an adequate word to describe it). It is precisely the overwhelming presence of knowledge all around us that makes us incapable of letting go of it. This is one beast we are frightened of but still want to keep as our pet.
If I do not end up making a problem of this, what is the way? Is it possible for me to lighten the burden of (psychological) knowledge, not by attempting to jettison it (which at any rate is a tall order) but deal with it intelligently so that it sits lightly on me? We may not be bothered by knowledge as a body of books or ideas but 'knowing' (not just recorded knowledge) as a process is common to all the 'higher animals'. Intelligence, understanding, wisdom, perception - they all point to the one faculty that intervenes in helping us to separate the wheat from the chaff. (Incidentally, this chaff has the quality of passing off as wheat, which causes most trouble in human relationships - opinions coagulating into prejudices which we assert as facts and so on.)
Most vitally for educators like us, we realize knowledge is the raw material that we need to employ in many ways, if we want to help children understand the natural world. Consider the world of astronomy and, say, biology. How do the heavens move? Are they subject to laws? What may these be? Is evolution by natural selection a plausible explanation for the rich variety of living things that we see around us? How does it work? These are questions that teachers and students explore together. Accurate knowledge of basic facts is brought into play in order that the student may see and ponder over the connections, thus leading to understanding of natural laws. The humanities are not so straightforward. In history, we piece together records of all kinds and wonder how people of a bygone age lived. There is a great deal of speculation and issues become contentious, no doubt, but it is a challenge thrown at our vaunted claim of being 'objective'. Every subject under the sun has its own rigour and discipline and it is the role of the teacher to help the child understand the structure of any subject. The content is less important. In this process, knowledge acts as a gateway to understanding. Krishnamurti recognized that there are only the scientific spirit and the religious spirit. In our quest for an understanding of the external world, knowledge is an essential aid. The rest is silence.
'We encourage creativity in our students'. A statement such as this, made in the context of school education, is often quickly associated with offerings in the curriculum such as 'arts and crafts' (especially drawing and painting!). It also connotes opportunities for display of talent in dance, dramatics and singing at school programmes. Occasionally, it may also indicate a space within language teaching for what is known as 'creative writing' (usually taking the form of short stories and poetry).
However, the notion of creativity is in fact much wider and deeper, and we ought to re-consider its implications in and for education. We may note, to begin with, that the idea of creativity need not be restricted to specific fields of production and expression, such as the ones indicated above. One could also think of creativity being exercised in fields such as mathematics and science (for instance, in the generation of an elegant proof of a theorem, or an ingenious hypothesis that suggests a plausible explanation of some curiosity observed in nature). Perhaps one could consider as being creative an approach to problem-solving in any field, which results in novel products or expressions that meet (and at times, exceed) the standards of that field. We could thus think of a creative gardener, a creative football player, or a creative businessman, as well as a creative mathematician or scientist. And should not school education have a hand in nurturing all of these, as much as creative writers, artists or musicians? For it is through the endeavors of creative minds that all fields of activity are advanced and human society is enriched.
This points, therefore, to a wider demand on education: that of nurturing a creative quality of mind in the young. What could be the nature of such a quality of mind? One could suggest the following: a capacity for attention and deeper engagement with a field of inquiry or action; an ability to critically re-consider, re-imagine the existing realities, or patterns of knowledge and skills within the field; an ability to come anew, afresh to the situations presented; being able to hold a creative tension between the 'known' and the 'unknown'; allowing for 'space' or 'silence' in which new patterns or expressions may originate; and the skill to bring these impulses to fruition. These then may be some essential qualities to nurture if our students are to become creative practitioners in diverse fields.
We may, however, discern a deeper demand on education in looking beyond the ideas of creativity suggested thus far. Given the heightening conflict and destruction evident in the relationships of human beings with each other and with the natural world, it is imperative that we invoke another notion, that of a creative human being. Such a person would be capable of relating with empathy and responding with flexibility to rapidly changing social and environmental situations; the creative human being would find a way of life that is socially responsible and allows for creative energies to flow into action; the person would remain in dynamic engagement with deeper layers of existence, unfolding a holistic, integrative dimension that is the essence of the religious mind. Unless such human beings are nurtured, there is every reason to project an escalating path of destruction for humanity.
Education (and upbringing) hence needs to contend with a challenge far greater than what has been perceptible thus far. In seeking to meet such a challenge, perhaps the starting point is the very intent of establishing 'creative relationships' within educational communities: between teachers, students and parents. An atmosphere of affection and support, alongside a culture of critical re-appraisal of received ideas and norms of behaviour, is the ground on which a feeling of cooperation can grow. Adults need to find ways of learning together with children, and teaching should uncover for students and teachers alike the 'living quality' of various fields of study and activity. As they grow older, students need to be helped to find avenues for creative individual expression, and discover the means by which they may contribute to the larger good. This also implies a mutual engagement of young and old with understanding the deeply ingrained movements of self. In learning to put aside its destructive potency, we release our creative potential. Human beings, in being educated, need to come upon the 'creative silence' in which a living sense of unity and interconnectedness is a perceived reality and not just an idea to aspire to.