I assume we are all students and we are trying to study a very important theme, namely what is ideal education. And since we have from Sri Aurobindo and the Mother luminous expositions on education, we return from time to time to Sri Aurobindo and the Mother so that we try to measure our own thinking on the subject to verify, to confirm, to correct and to enrich ourselves.
Now we all have, who have been educated in one way or the other in schools and colleges some kind of illusion, namely we know what education means. I am talking to you in a friendly manner, not to criticise ourselves and I include myself in the criticism because each one of us has been a student, each one has undergone a process of education, therefore this illusion arises. Everyone has an experience of education and therefore we feel, we know what is education? It is later on when we reflect more and more that we find that education is one of the most difficult subjects to understand and that what we think we understand of education is only a partial glimpse, which we derived in our experience which was also a partial experience and we did not have a panoramic view of life, panoramic view of the processes of life and since education is basically a preparation for life and also a preparation for preparing ourselves to do something with regard to life, then we begin to feel that we need to make a quest in the field of education. In any case this is true of me and I can only tell you that since the age of twelve, I have been thinking on education, as a child I was thinking on education, then I came across the first educational thought that came to me was Dayanand Saraswati, one of the great educationist of our times in India. Then I studied Tagore, that was another educational influence on me, then I studied Gandhi, all this I had done by the age of seventeen, I had made studies of educational philosophies of these and then I began to study what is called the Western system of education and then I came to Sri Aurobindo. And then I began to become a serious student of education and even now when am talking to you after fifty years of my study of this problem of education, I still feel I am a young boy knocking at the doors of education. So what I am talking is you can say prattle of a boy and kindly take it as that and I invite everybody on that platform.
Now one of the definitions of education that I have arrived at is the following: first education is a deliberate process, I underline the word deliberate. It’s a deliberate process of accelerating the normal development of human progress. Human beings normally progress even when they regress, it is a movement towards progress ultimately because it is a spiral movement. So in a sense you might say individual even if left by himself, the very process of life is a teacher, therefore it is rightly said that life is the greatest teacher of life, and it is true. We don’t need education as such, because life itself is a teacher, you are living therefore you are being educated by life itself. But that life itself teaches us that you can be educator and therefore as an educator you start looking at life in a different manner and then you ask the question how can life be aided in its own process of educating everybody. And when an educator enters into life process and in conducting life of students then he discovers that there is a method of accelerating what life normally does it in a tardy manner and it is this deliberate process of accelerating, is a very difficult process. If you accelerate too fast, you may kill the child, if not physically even psychologically, you kill the child. If you do not know what is human progress, you may misguide everybody. Therefore you have to know two things, you have to know rightly what is the meaning of human progress and secondly you have to know how to accelerate the normal processes of life, so that human being really achieves human progress as best as one can. Now it is for this reason, this being a very delicate process there are two opposing tendencies, in all educational thought. One is what I call in normal terms process of hammering. This was the system of education in the past, when teachers were supposed to hammer the children. What is called training, hammering, pushing, moulding the child according to your own wishes and so on. The opposite tendency is, you allow the child freely, do not disturb, follow the inclinations of children, they want to do this, they want to do that, allow them, education comes by gradual experience, education comes to the children leisurely, anything that is done very fast in a crashing way ultimately it evaporates. Now both the tendencies are correct and they are truths in both and we do not know how to reconcile these two. Therefore among educationists there is a constant battle, some take this stand, others take other stand.
Now many of us who have been progressive in education they have discarded the hammering process of education. I think all of us agree that education is not a hammering process. We all share this progressive view that education is a process of free growth, a process in which you grow according to inclinations and the task of the teacher is just to help here, a little there and to mould according to the children’s inclinations. And yet all the progressive education is at a certain time come to conclusion, it doesn’t work, it’s a fact.
Bertrand Russell was one of the freest in this field of education and he made a very big experiment in education. He took a number of children in his own home and they were allowed to do whatever they wanted. They even used to sit on his body, they used to deal with his spectacles in any way they liked and he tolerated everything and freely allowed them. Even he ultimately came to a conclusion that this is not all, education is still something else, not this.
You know, once I asked the Mother and this is a very interesting answer that she gave me and this is very helpful, there was a big movement in our own school at the Ashram, children should be given complete freedom, this was the slogan at a given time in our school. Total freedom to the child, no exam, no curriculum and no talks, even lectures, no lectures, no curriculum and no examination. Children should be allowed complete freedom and whatever they want to study, you give them the help to study, or to work. Even if they want to chat, you should allow them to chat. At a given stage Mother even said: you should have a room of chatting, where children want to come to chat they can come and let them chat. Don’t talk, no lectures there was a time when there were no lectures at all in the whole school, excepting for languages, three hours a day, in a given language. But there were no lectures at all.
So we made all kinds of experiments to show that we passed through a very revolutionary period of educational experiment and we had Mother’s constant guidance on many of the things. And then in a very important stage of this experimentation Mother told me: “A good teacher is one, who makes children choose, what he wants them to choose, through his own inclinations”. Now this is a very beautiful answer that I got from the Mother. A good teacher is one, who induces the child to do what you want him to do, through his own inclinations. Now it means what? The teacher has a certain vision. Now it is a very important point. If you don’t have a vision then all teaching is beside the point. Now this also is a very controversial subject. A teacher should be a teacher by virtue of what? In our modesty we say that we are also like children. So we are also students, moving with students. It’s a very modest way of saying it and good way of it, it counter balances the exaggerated notion of a teacher, where normally feels that he is all–knowing and he knows what is to be done and he knows how it is to be done and so on. So in contrast to that this is a very good view and every teacher should have this feeling but at the same time this also is a great truth, you are a teacher by virtue of what? By virtue of the fact that you are at least two steps ahead of your children, at least this much.
As Mother told one teacher of French, he knew no French at all and Mother said that now you teach French in the school. He said to the Mother I know no French at all. So Mother said: I know you don’t know French. So Mother said: ‘every day you learn new words yourself, so you will be ahead of your children and give that knowledge to your children next day and everyday you go on’ and ultimately within two years he became one of the best teachers of French.