The day goes by
Activities friends and classes.
I only pause to see the evening sun again.

Vaishali’s poem, class 10
Pathashaala Newsletter 2018

Can school be a place of radical change? Krishnamurti spoke about radical, fundamental change as the keynote of all learning—this learning is not in doing but in intense observing of oneself and reflecting upon it. Vaishali speaks of one such moment of perception of a day gone by, a day of lived patterns, of structures of thoughts, attitudes and feelings. The ‘pause’ she talks of is her lived inquiry, her inner life, which she shares poetically. The ‘inner’ life of Pathashaala is thus not in the schedules of school but in its scope and space that allows for such moments of reflection. In his Public Talk 3, Brockwood Park, 6 September 1980, Krishnamurti asks, “Why is there this inward disorder, which naturally must express itself in outward disorder?”

This ‘inner’ conflict, replete with emotions, holds the key to all the disorder in the world, and to the resolving of that disorder. Krishnamurti talks about the first step being the last step and ways of ‘ending’ conflict. He speaks poignantly of flowering in goodness, of awakening the intelligence that will look at that disorder and in looking, end it. The inner space of Pathashaala is the arena of such churning. It is a journey with no known end that is framed within a work-in-progress structure.

In following Krishnamurti’s vision of the whole of life being a process of learning, there are many questions that K schools have raised in the world of schooling—Does one automatically become intelligent by pursuing academics? Does one learn the art of healthy relationships and social skills purely through being with peers for a few hours each day?

Can one compartmentalize the flowering of goodness? Does playing of games always result in building good teams? Does going to school ensure that one learns values such as openness, listening, compassion, respect and sensitivity? Aligning our inner and outer worlds as learner and educator is vitally linked to these possibilities in many ways.

Pathashaala is the youngest of the KFI residential schools, a mere eight years in existence, situated in the village of Elimichampattu on a flat piece of land about eighty kilometres from Chennai. However, Pathashaala too shares questions and experiences that may be common to all other K schools. I have attempted to reflect on the inner life of a residential school, through my own perceptions and those of my colleagues and students at Pathashaala.

There does not seem to be any aspect of life in a residential school that does not involve feelings or awareness, in the practical, transactional sense of these words. Priya, a resident EL (Educator-Learner) at Pathashaala says, “Any hat I wear, be it one of EL, LE (Learner-Educator) or parent, the possibility of education devoid of any emotion just ceases to exist. That said, I also face the challenge it brings, to be present to these emotions that might at times possibly erode the space of freedom; open sharing; the spirit of caring and that of listening; as these emotions would bring to the surface the conditioning that we all carry.”

The interactive space of the school appears to extend and permeate multiple frames of being and learning—in the dorm, in the playground, in the classroom and in the assembly hall. Alongside this, is an inner space within which one carries a sense of aloneness—a child walking along a familiar path but deep in thought; an EL and LE sitting together in a quiet moment and psychologically far from the hustle and bustle of the dining hall; eyes on a book, contemplating a sunset, staring into the dark in bed after lights-out. There is constantly the challenge of the unfamiliar, the unknown, and the need to cope with it. This sense of one’s aloneness seems embedded in rituals of engagement and patterns of constructed relationships.

As Aparnna, an EL profoundly put it, “Journeys, the real ones, are never smooth”. She continues, “Jealousy, fear and anxiety at times overpower the virtue of education, thus shifting our focus to the search for an end product rather than reiterating that education is an ongoing journey connecting outer reality to inner self.”

Feelings are the raw core of all interactions, and developing an awareness of them seems as important as learning. What does this imply in terms of K education? Can wellness at school be planned and executed through protocols and frames? What will ensure vulnerability and order? Inquiry, curiosity, observation, persistence, the invitation to reflect…How is one to ensure that these are present in the atmosphere of school? One approach may be through acknowledging thoughts and feelings themselves; raising questions for clarification rather than moving on, based on unarticulated assumptions; voicing what has been understood; building the possibility of “if I were to do it again”; and thereby negotiating collaboration and respectful engagement. This is not always easy.

When asked how emotions were addressed in the learning space, an LE at Pathashaala put it thus, “There is space given to be with the emotions. When one person’s emotions affect another person, it is not always addressed. Probably, it is due to the affected person not speaking enough about it. But, when a group of people get affected, it is addressed and discussed sufficiently. Situations of dysfunctional expression of conflicted emotions need an inner space to resolve. It is difficult to evoke this in a collective space without many repercussions, both outer and inner. What does an individual do in such a situation?”

K says, “Don’t be afraid of your strong feelings!”

Yet, as we all know, individuals in most contexts approach intense feeling with wariness. All religions seem to have a pejorative approach to feelings such as anger, jealousy, intense desire, hate, loneliness, aversion, smallness, sadness, sexual desire etc. This is seen in the ‘advice’ or ‘means’ to eradicate such feelings or manage them. Krishnamurti asks, “Can you watch anger like a jewel?” The drama of life in learning is enacted around questions like these.

A junior (class 6) LE of Pathashaala says, “Sometimes my emotions are uncontrollable and so I act violently. I act from my subconscious mind. I am able to talk about it. The sequence of handling this in school is warning, time out and out of the school for some time. In general, I have only 50 % space for sharing emotions. We could express our emotions in our letters to our parents and in our diaries, if we want. I have seen that we vent out anger on plants.”

Another LE who was then in class 10 reflects, “Initially, I thought emotions had no place in education. Now, I am realizing that they play a major role. When I feel sad, when I have a fight with someone, fear kicks in and therefore, I am not able to study properly. Sometimes, it is the other way around. When I am not able to study, fear comes in and I feel sad. Education also helps in bringing good feelings in us. Sometimes I really enjoy studying and I want to learn more. Personally, there is some struggle dealing with emotions. Sometimes, I feel I can deal with them. Sometimes, I need help by way of just talking to someone about my feelings.”

Through discussions, ELs in Pathashaala felt that there were four pillars on which a reflective inner life could be constructed—structures for healthy and safe living; term plans and teaching-learning strategies that disallow put-downs and foster resourcefulness in ELs and LEs; participation with transparency and without hierarchy; and processes that build choiceless engagement with the challenges and opportunities of working together.

Within this configuration, each EL and LE evolves ways of being aware and facilitating awareness. This is a path that keeps challenging one’s creativity. Personally, I have found the following ways: I have allowed expression of feelings and validated the existence of feelings; I have helped students understand and respect diverse approaches without allowing peer harassment; I have facilitated theatre as a way of owning the disowned. It is, and has been, a tough demand to sometimes see the struggle of individuals, and unconditionally support the being of the person, however much the feelings challenge oneself. As Bhavya, a senior LE succinctly put it, “Discussions help, sometimes emotions go under the carpet, I think.” In conclusion, these questions from Gautama’s insightful article on ‘Transitions in School Education’ may help the journey along …

Do you know how to be with another constructively?
Do you know how not to be invalidated by your friends?
Are you clear that respect for the other is not a conditional matter for you?
Do you know how to intervene in an ongoing process effectively, healthily?
How do you understand your feelings and those of others?
What happens when you feel something that troubles you?
How is insight different from an opinion, a point of view?