The ‘uncharted territory’ of my title is the world within us. As Krishnamurti has pointed out, the world without is merely a reflection of the one within; and so, we can learn about ourselves by being fully aware of the reality outside of us, the chaotic world in which we live and act in relation to other people. Exploring that unmapped, or unknown, world within us in the classroom—that is, in our actual, everyday school setting—is however a formidable challenge. This is not necessarily so just because that inner terra-incognita is inherently difficult to explore. Perhaps it is, but that’s not the first problem that confronts the dauntless explorer in a school setting. It is tremendously challenging because the classroom itself, the world without in which we are actually learning, is fraught with conditions that effectively militate against any real learning. These include the pressures to conform or the temptation to compete! And yet, as a fifth-grade teacher at Oak Grove School, that world without, is to me, in my experience, the classroom—so that is mainly what I’ll be drawing your attention to in this article.
Before I begin describing my own little day-to-day world, I want to try to put it in the greater context of The World Within. This is the title of a recent publication of a collection of Krishnamurti’s dialogues with visitors to Ojai during the War years of 1939 to 1945. In meeting a wide variety of people who brought a range of problems and conflicts to discuss, Krishnamurti turned their attention inward towards the private, psychological world within, to address their concerns about what was happening outside. In fact, the sub-title of the book reads, The Story of Humanity. Krishnamurti told one of his visitors:
There is only one humanity and one righteousness, and the way to its realization does not lie through any other path, through any other person, save through yourself. Seek your own deliverance, and then you will be delivering the world from its confusion and conflict, its sorrow and antagonism. For you are the world and your problem is the world’s problem.
What that means to me as a teacher is that I can only do my duty—that is, help to provide an environment in which my students can learn—by learning myself, about myself, and openly, with affection, sharing that experience with them. In each of the three major Krishnamurti Foundations—in India, the UK, and in this country—the serious study of Krishnamurti’s teachings by adults has been combined with the education of children and young adults. And these two settings—the schools, on the one hand, and the adult study-centres, on the other—present distinctly peculiar challenges.
The challenges facing the schools—that includes the students and teachers, the parents and administrative staff—can be much more daunting and confusing than those that confront the adult study centres, where participation is, for one thing, wholly voluntary. This is simply because, while the primary objective that we are aiming at—understanding our lives—is the same in both cases, the agents in the classroom—the teacher, students, administrators and parents—are caught in a complicated goal-oriented relationship made further complex by the ‘financial’ element. Our young students are required by society to undergo an education in one way or another, their parents are required to provide the fees, and the teachers are paid to do the job. So we teachers, in turn, are required to fulfil that legal obligation. There is a ubiquitous element of the pressure of these involuntary requirements from society. So the classroom, by its very nature, seems to present obstacles to learning and teaching in the unique sense that Krishnamurti used those terms!
The classroom does not represent positively ideal conditions in the context of Krishnamurti’s teaching. When you take the most fundamental activity of a Krishnamurti study-centre—dialogue—and try to implement it in the classroom, there are bound to be some conflicts with the very structure of the classroom, which cannot allow dialogue to take place naturally among young students. Since they are placed in a room with each other day after day, there are bound to be issues amongst them that are sometimes brought over from yesterday and have to be dealt with.
How do we deal with this complicated situation? I describe here two practices that we have attempted at Oak Grove School. We have a dialogue session with students in the first hour of each Wednesday. The general topic under discussion for that week is already written on the board. When the students first come into the room that day they write down their first reflections on the topic in their journals. Then we sit together for dialogue and pass around a ‘talking-piece’—for us, it happens to be a small, sand-filled object of some weight—that only the person presently speaking holds in his or her hands. In this way the pressure and ambiguity over who is speaking and who listening is removed, allowing each student to have an opportunity to share something they are thinking or feeling about the topic under consideration. In this way they are able to share something of their inner lives, and also listen to others. Even those who may not have anything to say at the moment hold the talking-piece for a short while.
A shorter variation on this procedure is something we practice at the close of each day, which we call ‘Council’ (named after a Native- American custom). Here, one student is designated to make a selection from a box of ‘Council topics’—ideas for discussion by the whole class that have previously been submitted in written form by the students themselves. When the topic is chosen, we pass around the talking-piece to whoever may have something to say on the subject. Such regulated, or organized constraints on free speech and behaviour may not be required for more mature adults gathered together on a voluntary basis. But they do help my young, impulsive students to look into their inner world. So that is the way we engage in dialogue in the fifth-grade at Oak Grove School.
Even more challenging is the practice of meditation. To put it briefly, we do that by expanding our classroom to include all of the Oak Grove campus and its pristine surrounding environs. We take various kinds of ‘mindfulness walks’, on and off the school grounds every Friday afternoon. We also engage at times in some ‘quiet games’ in order to try and appreciate a more relaxing, yet fun-filled, awareness of others, as opposed to the mere stimulation of competition.
Thus, both in our talking and in our walking at Oak Grove School we attempt to go beyond the constraints imposed by the classroom, in order to engage in serious thinking about that unknown ‘world within’ ourselves in relation to others.