The right kind of education begins with the educator, who must understand himself and be free from established patterns of thought; for what he is, that he imparts. If he has not been rightly educated, what can he teach except the same mechanical knowledge on which he himself has been brought up? The problem, therefore, is not the child, but the parent and the teacher; the problem is to educate the educator.

So, what is the right kind of education, and how are we to bring it about? It obviously cannot be brought about through somebody saying, “This is right education,” and all of us merely agreeing and following the pattern, but rather the teacher and the parent, the whole lot of us, must sit down together and f i n d out what right education is, which means that the parent and the teacher have to be educated as well as the student.

J Krishnamurti

Looking back at my own school days, the only time my parents visited school was for academic meetings called by teachers after a term-end exam (particularly if I had done badly), or for Parents’ Day, and only if I happened to be participating in a play or a dance. My parents took charge of my academics only when they saw that I wasn’t able to do well in tests and exams in a particular subject. They would organize some tuition or take it upon themselves to teach the difficult subjects. As for those subjects I was ableto do well in, they left well alone.

In most schools, the meeting with parents is over their individual child, because the teachers have found the child encountering academic or peer difficulties, or because the parents are concerned about the child’s progress. Other meetings are often held with the PTA and are largely concerned with a school report that lists the school’s achievements and students’ examination performance.Y et other meetings are ‘Open House’, where parents voice theircomplaints and the school responds.

The mandate in Krishnamurti schools is somewhat different. In many of his talks and writings, Krishnamurti has spoken interchangeably about the parent and the educator. He has spoken of both of them as learners andresponsible adults in the life of their children.

Having taken on this responsibility, here we are, a group of teachers trying to bring about the kind of school that Krishnamurti wanted:

… these schools are not only to be excellent academically but much more. They are to be concerned with the cultivation of the total human being. These centres of education must help the student and the educator to flower naturally.

The School (KFI) is a day school in the middle of a metropolis, with parents who come every day to school to drop and pick up their children. Working here, we have felt the need for some kind of formal, sustained engagement with the parents. We have many kinds of meetings with parents. In this article, we focus on one kind of parent-teacher dialogue (initiated in the mid-1990s) with a special aim: the theme meetings.

Theme Meetings: spaces for exploration

The theme meeting was born out of a need and a wish. The need was to find a forum of engagement that would be a neutral meeting, a conversation space for teachers and parents, not about an individual child and certainly not over a problem or a concern. The wish was to help parents understand and grow with the school in its intentions and philosophy. Parents are often helpless and dependent on teachers: If you tell my child to do this, she will. Parents seek not just succour but also wisdom from the teachers. But can parents intelligently question the school, raise the bar and challenge us to truly be the school Krishnamurti wanted?

Theme meetings are wonderful because the space is for conversation that has only one context: we are both together responsible for the child growing in this school. The urgency is not over a problem, a specific child or even because of an emergency. It is leisurely in the sense that we are not agitating and attempting to find solutions, but together attempting to look deeply and seriously at themes that concern our children.

Over the decade and a half that these meetings have happened in school, the themes and modes have been many and varied. We have explored topics such as learning, fear, anger, jealousy, comparison, notions of childhood and play. The process of creating a theme meeting and seeing it come to fruition has been an exciting journey. The conversations among teachers have been rich, diverse and exciting. There is a sense of greater understanding of why we are here and what our struggles and challenges are. Conversations often help heighten observation. We also involve the children in our questions and have found that they are deep and ready thinkers.

A case in point: this year’s meetings

This year, the themes for the middle school were freedom, sensitivity and discipline. Difficult words, often not understood easily, and yet at the core of what Krishnamurti had spoken about.

We began speaking about the themes in our section meetings as early as September. The theme meetings were scheduled for November. We decided to look at these themes in various ways, to explore each of our questions and perceptions regarding freedom, discipline and sensitivity. We also read Krishnamurti and other thinkers on the subject. We came up with many questions and perceptions. Surely, freedom is not independence? Children often ask for the granting of their ways: free play, something other than what we usually do ... and so on. Is saying yes to these requests actually freedom?

We questioned ourselves too: How can we be truly not authoritarian in class? Is saying ‘no’ exercising authority? Is sensitivity based on cultural perceptions? In one culture, it is okay to call an adult by name; in another, it is rude. Is there something called ‘core sensitivity’? What’s really wrong with discipline? Is it because it is often associated with an outside intervention … and often in the form of punishment?

Organically, we began sharing these questions with children—asking them what they thought was freedom, discipline or sensitivity—and exploring scenarios with them. If we had no rules, would we still function in a sensible and sane way?

Some students even had conversations with their parents: Is freedom really choice? The teachers’ enthusiasm was infectious! Students began connecting these ideas with what they had heard or spoken about earlier, such as the campaign led by Anna Hazare against corruption. Their parents told them that true freedom was never choice. Another parent spoke about how limited choice is, using the example of an older sibling who had chosen subjects inclass 11 and later lost interest in them.

Together, the teachers created formats to suit our themes and intentions. We deliberately arranged it so that, for example, a junior school teacher might anchor the discussion with the parents from middle or senior school.

The first theme was freedom, and we began by asking parents to answer two questions for themselves on a slip of paper:

  • What is freedom, according to you?
  • What freedom is it that you want to experience and also want for your children?

Then, using two scenarios we took up these questions:

  • Is there a lack of freedom here? If so, how do we ensure that our children are good, safe and thinking for themselves, and also free from authority?
  • How do we ensure freedom is not indulgence?
  • How can we help children learn about freedom and how to be free?

Finally, we shared what the children had written about what they felt freedom was or was not. It was revealing that their questions were similar to our own.

We left the meeting with these questions: Is it possible for us as adults to trust children? Is it possible to think deeply about freedom, choice, indulgence and individualistic ideas? Can we actually work along with our children and learn about freedom together?

For the second meeting on discipline, we began with these thoughts: When do we ask or expect children to be disciplined? When we want them to do things in an organized way, sit properly, behave in a certain way and so on. But while outward order may be established or ensured to some extent, how does one go beyond that and work towards inculcating self-discipline? Howdoes one move away from the cycles of consequence and punishment?

The following three questions were put up on the board and we used a ‘fishbowl’ format to generate a conversation that was later opened out to the whole group (a ‘fishbowl’ format involves a few people in a larger group having a discussion that the rest observe):

  • What are the commonly held views of discipline?
  • What are the ways of ensuring discipline?
  • Do we want obedience? Does it have a place?

The conversation moved from asking whether enforced order was discipline at all, to looking at discipline as action with understanding. We looked at culture and discipline and inner order. Some of the questions weended with were as follows:

  • When there is fear, can there be love?
  • Why does a child tend to move away from discipline in a group?
  • Can there be inner order, and can we trust that a child has it?
  • Is there an inner sense of order in a child that we are not willing to explore?
  • Why do we break rules? Is it because of impatience, greed and laziness?
  • Is it possible to see discipline arising out of a feeling of sensitivity and affection?
  • Can the norms of discipline be seen as a matter of relatedness?

The final meeting on sensitivity included two fishbowl discussions inwhich we posed the following questions regarding specific scenarios:

  • Where do we recognize sensitivity in the situation?
  • What are your responses to the situation? How would you help the child observe himself or herself?
  • What interactions can we create? What are some affirmative points?

The rich discussion had us asking questions such as these: Can sensitivity be ‘taught’? What makes us sensitive at times and completely indifferent at others? We tend to associate sensitivity with gentleness, but can’t a ‘negative’ emotion such as anger be a sensitive response? Is being sensitive and expressing sensitivity different? What determines the importance we give to sensitivity: culture? Our contemporary notions of success?

We came upon some valuable insights. Sensitivity is not fragility, and it cannot be acquired as a habit; it is shown in action and understanding. It is also about bringing attention to relationship, and about listening and responding to emotions.

The theme meetings may not be spaces that fundamentally transform us all, but they do allow for the process of exploring and thinking together. The mind is engaged for a short while in these vital questions of life. The meetings help bring about a better understanding of being human, of being a parent, a teacher: someone responsible for another small human being.