Here we are with the sixteenth issue of the Journal. Run your eye over the titles on the contents page and you will get an impression that themes based on children, teaching and learning—core concerns in any journal of education—are surrounded by themes such as nature, space, spirit, touch, retreat and looking inward. How are these connected with education? That there is a vital link between all these themes and the educational enterprise is what I wish to show.
To take a step back ... Recently, a group of students of an MA programme in education spent several days at one of our schools. After some days of curious and critical observation, they posed a question: We notice that students and teachers look relaxed, alert and engaged in purposeful activity and learning … We would like to know, what are your educational aims and what assumptions about human nature inform these? This was not an easy question to respond to, and it set me thinking. Must educational aims be based on assumptions about human nature? Perhaps in the main they are.
Look at various contemporary forms of the educational enterprise. To take three broad categories: schools founded by religious groups seek to base themselves on the certainty of a received world view, with their adherents at the centre, along with a derived morality and practices; schools that are more commercially-minded consider students and parents as consumers and cast themselves as service providers in the education market; government and government-aided schools—in theory beholden to the ideals of the Indian constitution—must aim at inculcating a sense of national identity, along with democratic values such as social justice and equality (…that the reality is far from the aims is a different matter!). Each category of school here bases its aims on a certain definition of human beings and society; this in turn rests on some assumptions about human nature.
What assumptions about human nature inform the educational aims of the schools from which this journal emerges? While holding this question, I am led to reflect on the major preoccupations and common threads that run through the articles in this issue. One concern of the teacher-author of Close Encounters of a Natural Kind as well as the scientist-author of the Calendar of Nature is of renewing a vital relationship—that of young people with nature. In the context of climate change and other kinds of human impact on nature, both see the role of schools and education as key in developing a deeper emotional connection, along with intellectual comprehension of processes in nature, which will motivate change in our behaviours. On the Threshold of Touch leads us through the meditations of a forest-dweller on this theme of human–non-human contact, with implications for human relationships as well. The sensibilities alluded to in these articles derive from a basic premise—that human nature is intimately tied in with nature. The educational concern that follows is the need to awaken this sense of relatedness, with multiple consequences for our behaviour and lifestyles.
Space and Spirit shares the pithy observations and musings of an architect who questions the quality of psychological and physical spaces modern living has led us to construct, and suggests creating a spirit-based design that honours nature as well as our deeper human potential as spiritual beings. To the extent that our schools echo these concerns, we might ask: Are these our assumptions about human nature too?
One might say that at the centre of the educational enterprise are children, and more than one article presents perspectives on the nature of children and their learning, with implications for our responsibility as adults. We have two educationists exploring these facets through rich images and metaphors, in Singular and Plural and Child as a Kite. Their viewpoints, centred on the uniqueness of children, perhaps underlie assumptions that many teachers in our schools instinctively adopt in the primary and upper primary years. What is also poignant is the description of the journey made by a selfavowedly traditional school in Goa, which undertook to begin to ‘protect… children from the harmful stress of achievement and yet allow for learning to take place’ and to bring back the ‘smile on their faces’.
When it comes to the secondary school years, how does our responsibility shift or widen in its scope, given the fact of syllabi, examinations and life choices in a complex social structure? That there is a shift in approach demanded by the students’ growing maturity and their approaching engagement, as young adults, with a fast-changing world is implicit in the accounts presented in Self and Society and Project-based Learning. In Learning in Friendship and Leisure, the writer speaks of a shared learning journey of an altogether different kind, lightly raising questions about the limitations imposed by the structure of school itself. And if school has its limitations, what about university? In Teaching at University, the author, while critiquing a university system that is focused on examinations, certification and careers, also suggests the possibilities for deeper learning that higher education could offer. She bases this on the assumption that young people often come ‘thirsty for authentic learning, for authentic life’, and suggests that teachers as well as the system need to be cognizant of the responsibility to find ways to draw in their wider life concerns into the teaching-learning process.
In many of the above pieces one senses an underlying perspective that places a capacity for inquiry at the heart of education, suggesting that inquiry, this truth-seeking, is itself intrinsic to human nature and must therefore be open to education. Can this inquiry—at a fundamental level—be into human nature itself? The author of An Invitation to Look Inward proposes that this may be the most valuable thing we may attempt to draw ourselves and our students into, and suggests some concrete ways in which a whole school’s practices may be conducive for this. An Experiment in Self-Observation draws directly from Krishnamurti’s pointers to share a specific way of approaching this, while From the Mind’s Attic documents a teacher’s struggles to be aware of his own inner movements. On Retreats speaks of the value of ‘taking time out’ or ‘stepping out of time’ and takes us through a brief tour of approaches to retreats, from those based on spiritual traditions to more open-ended occasions for free observation and inquiry.
If I were to now respond to the MA students of education, I would say that a deeper aim of education is to enable us—teachers and students—to inquire into our own human nature, including our assumptions, thinking and actions, and seek creative responses to the challenges of life. It is in this perspective that the varied themes of these articles are connected. We sense that it is such inquiry that releases insights and energies that could have a healing and transformative effect on human lives as they are lived today.