THE BEGINNINGS OF LEARNING - PART II CHAPTER 2
CONVERSATION WITH PARENTS AND TEACHERS
It is really a very beautiful country with its high snow covered mountains, its vast blue valleys, the rivers, the deserts, the rich red soil of the earth, palm trees, forests and the disappearing wild animals. The people are concerned with politics - one group against another group - the encroaching poverty, the squalor, the filth, but very few talk about the beauty of the land. And it is very beautiful in its variety, in the innumerable colours, in the vast expanse of the sky. You can get the whole feeling of the country with its ancient traditions, the mosques and the temples, the bright sunlight, the parrots and the monkeys, the thousands of villagers struggling with poverty and starvation, with lack of water until the rains come.
When you go up into the hills the air is cool and fresh, there is green grass. You seem to be in a different world and can see many hundred miles of snowcovered mountains. It is startlingly magnificent and as you come down a narrow path poverty is there and misery; in a little shed there is a monk talking to his disciples. There is a feeling of great aloofness from all this. You meet people with brains that have been cultivated through many generations in religious thought and who have a peculiar capacity - at least verbally - to grasp the otherness of life. They will discuss sharply with you, quoting, comparing, remembering what has been said in their sacred books. It is all on the tip of their tongue, words piled upon words and the rich waters of the river pass by. You get the whole feeling of this extraordinary beauty, the vast mountains, hills, forests and rivers of the immense population, the varieties of conflict, the intense sorrow and the music. They all love music. They will sit listening by the hour in the villages, in the towns, absorbed in it, keeping time with their hands, with their heads, with their bodies. And the music is lovely.
There is tremendous violence, increasing hate, and a crowd around the temple on the hill. Millions make a pilgrimage to the river, the most sacred of all rivers, and come away happy and weary. This is their form of enjoyment in the name of religion. There are sannyasis, monks, everywhere. Serious ones and those who have taken to the cloth as the easiest way of living. There is endless ugliness and there is the great beauty of a tree and of a face. A beggar is singing in the street, telling of ancient Gods, myths and the beauty of goodness. The workers on the buildings listen to it and give of their little to the man who sings. It is an incredible land with its incredible sorrow. You feel all this deep down in yourself with tears.
The politician with his ambitions, everlastingly talking about the people and their welfare, the various petty leaders with their flocks, the division of language, the intense arrogance, the selfishness, the pride of race and ancient forebears, it is all there; and the strangest thing is children laughing. They seem to be so utterly ignorant of all this. They are poor and their laughter is greater than that of the rich and stuffy. Everything you can think of is in this land - deception, hypocrisy, cleverness, technology, erudition. A little boy in rags is learning to play the flute and a single palm tree grows in the field.
In a valley that is far from towns and noise, where the hills are the oldest in the world, a parent had come to talk of his children. Probably he never looked at those hills; they seemed almost to be carefully carved by hand, huge boulders balancing on each other. The sky that morning was very blue and there were several monkeys running up and down in the tree outside the veranda. We were sitting on the floor on a red carpet and he said, "I have several children and my troubles have begun. I don't know what to do with them. I have to marry off the girls and it is going to be very difficult to educate the boys, and" - he added as an after-thought - "the girls. If I do not educate them they will live in poverty, without a future. My wife and I are very disturbed about all this. As you can see, Sir, I have been well educated; I have a university degree and a good job. Some of my children are very intelligent and bright. In a primitive society they would do very well, but today you need to be highly educated in some special field in order to live a fairly decent life. I think I love them and I want them to live a life that is happy and industrious. I don't know what that word love means but I have a feeling for them. I want them to be cared for, well educated, but I know that once they go to school the other children and the teachers will destroy them. The teacher is not interested in teaching them. He has his worries, his ambitions, his family quarrels and miseries. He will repeat something he has learned from a book and the children will become as dull as he is. There is this battle between the teacher and the student, resistance on the part of the children, punishment and reward and the fear of examinations. All this will inevitably cripple the minds of the children and yet they have to go through this mill to get a degree and a job. So what am I to do? I have often lain awake thinking of all this. I see year after year how children are destroyed. Haven't you noticed, Sir, that something happens to them after they reach the age of puberty? Their faces change; they seem to have lost something. I have often wondered why this coarseness, this narrowing of the mind should take place in the adolescent. Is it not part of education to keep alive this quality of gentleness? - I do not know how to put it. They all seem suddenly to become violent and aggressive, with a stupid feeling of independence. They are not really independent at all."
"The teachers seem to disregard this totally. I see my eldest boy coming back from school, already changed, brutalized, the eye already hard. Again what am I to do? I think I love them, otherwise I wouldn't be talking this way about them. But I find I cannot do anything, the influence of the environment is too strong, the competition is growing, ruthlessness and efficiency have become the standards. So they will all become like the others; dull, the brightness gone from the eye and the happy smile never to appear again in the same way. So, as a parent among a million other parents, I have come to ask what I am to do. I see what effect society and culture have but I must send them to school. I can't educate them at home; I have not the time, nor has my wife and besides, they must have the companionship of other children. I talk to them at home but it is like a voice in the wilderness. You know, Sir, how terribly imitative we are and children are like that. They want to belong, they don't want to be left out and the political and religious leaders use this and exploit it. And in a month's time they are walking in parades, saluting the flag, demonstrating against this or that, throwing stones and shouting. They are gone, finished. When I see this in my children I am so depressed I often want to commit suicide. Can I do anything at all? They don't want my love. They want a circus, as I did when I was a boy, and the same pattern is repeated."
We sat very silently. The mynah bird was singing and the ancient hills were full of the light of the sun.
We cannot go back to the ancient system of a teacher with a few students living with him, being instructed by him and watching the way he lives. That is gone. Now we have this mechanical technology giving to the mind the sharpness of metal. The world is becoming industrialized and bringing with it its problems. Education neglects the rest of man's existence. It is like having a right arm highly developed, strong, vital, while the rest of the body withers, is weak and feeble. As a parent you may be an exception, but most parents want the industrial, mechanical process developed at the expense of the total human being. The majority seem to win.
Could not the intelligent minority of parents get together and start a school in which the whole of man is considered and cared for, in which the educator is not merely the informant, a machine which imparts a particular knowledge, but is concerned with the well-being of the whole? This means that the educator needs education. It means creating a place where the educator is being educated, and the help of a few parents who are deeply interested. Or is yours only a temporary, despairing cry? We don't seem to be able to apply ourselves to seeing the truth of something and carrying it out. I think, Sir, that is where the trouble lies. You probably feel very strongly for your children and how they should be. But being aware of what is happening in the world doesn't seem radically to affect you; you drift with society. You merely indulge in complaint and that leads nowhere. You are responsible not only for your own children but for all children and you have to gather up your strength together with others to create the new schools. It is up to you and not up to society or governments, for you are part of this society. If you really loved your children you would actually and definitely apply yourself to bring about not only a different kind of education but also a totally different kind of society and culture.