On Education - Sovereignity of the Child (March 1999, Auroville) - Track 4

In fact this is the answer which reconciles the conflict between teaching through worksheets and teaching through talking. In the process of collecting material you can talk to children but not for the sake of creating agitation or cogitation of the mind but by providing material, by raising questions. It is not as if talking has no meaning and no value, even talking or even hearing a talk can induce a state of silence, it is not that when you don’t talk silence is induced sometimes it is the contrary. The mind begins to churn out so many thoughts because there is nothing to hold the mind on any specific point but when somebody talks you mind can be fixed on a topic. So there is no general dogmatic rule about it and that was very important. Normally what happens is and Mahabharata takes place only when there are strong rigid stands taken by people, this verses this, then the other one is excluded. But he had to pass through a long process in which you might say we arrived at the following conclusion – what is the place of a lecture, what is the place of a worksheet, what is the place of silence in the process of learning? As far as my own personal learning is concerned I can say that what I learnt from this experience was that lectures are useful for only a few specific purposes. First when you want to introduce a subject, second when you want to initiate a discussion about a subject, third when you want to create a collective atmosphere with regard to a subject, fourth when you want to give a resume and fifth when you have made a research in a subject and you are fresh with the knowledge and when you communicate through a lecture; as Sri Aurobindo has said in one of his aphorisms: ‘knowledge is invincible when it is fresh.’ When you have made research and you have arrived at certain conclusion and the knowledge is fresh and you speak, it is really invincible.

Now I found that apart from these purposes when lectures are given they are irrelevant, they are boring, children look at the time in their watch all the time or they look out through the window, what is going on outside in the world. Like the young boy in the story of Tagore (don’t know if you have read the story The Post Office) it is a drama written by Tagore called Post Office in which the child is sick and the doctor has come and said this child should not move out even a inch of the room, he is almost like in a prison. And the boy is so soaring out, he wants to fly in the sky and here you imprison the child; the whole story revolves around this idea of imprisoning the child and child’s wish to fly freely. In fact this is the real state of every child basically, unless the child is spoilt, every child wants to fly, that is the movement of the soul, its kinship is with the sky. Because the soul is as the vast, it’s only equivalence is the sky, therefore it is a natural kinship; like a bird it wants to fly. Therefore to imprison the child and lectures could be imprisoning because you ask the child to now sit down and listen to something which is being communicated through a lecture. This is a misuse of an instrument which can be useful otherwise. As I told you if you reduce your utilities of lecture into these five categories then it’s a very useful instrument. But the moment you extend that use into something else, you want to explain something, you go on lecturing. I remember when I was attending, when I was a student of history one time, I was fifteen years old at that time and my teacher of history he started lecturing on history and as you know usually the teachers in the classical method they go in a very classical way expounding what is history, definition of history, and there are seven, eight definitions that are given so and so has said history is this, the children do not even know what is history, they have not read anything and you know very little and you start by saying definition of history which has been given by greatest historians, who have mastered the whole of history. But in the very first lesson you get all kinds of definitions then you are told now discuss who, secondly he started by saying the sources of history, first is definition of history then question is of sources of history and the teacher started saying that there are two very ancient ages of history – the Palaeolithic and the Neolithic and then one of the most important sources of knowledge about this is the stone and the implements which are made of the stone and the terracotta. In fact it was the first time that I heard about terracotta in my life, when you don’t even know what is terracotta and the teacher says that terracotta is a source of knowledge of history but this is the way in which history is taught. So the only thing that happens to the child is he is completely dry about the whole subject of history. You never feel inclined to read history. I always feel that the text books are the worst enemies of education because text books give you a very defined, not that the text books are useless but text books is something to be presented to the child. Once we had a very good insight into this subject when a very beautiful book on mathematic appeared in France. ........was the title of the book, it was a beautiful book and Pavitra da himself was a great mathematician and he had read this book and he suggested that this book now should be introduced in classes v, vi, vii, viii. It was a big book but the book had to be introduced there.

Exactly at that time there was a big controversy in our school about medium of instruction, whether it should be French or English and again there was a Mahabharata on this subject, a real war. I mean so many teachers who did not know French always found that French was being imposed and it was argued that because Pavitra da is a Frenchman therefore French is being imposed upon this was absolutely illegitimate. But you know human nature is like that. Everybody is critical basically, teachers particularly are very critical. And I have seen that when you don’t know a language, you always feel a resistance to it. You always feel that somebody is imposing upon you and a number of teachers in our school they did not learn French sufficiently well. Even for me it took many, many years before I could be thrust into French. To learn a language also is difficult. Now this book was in French and some teachers said that this book: why should it be introduced in our school, particularly when this book is very costly. Now you see how the language controversy, basically it was the question of language; the resistance was to language but difficult to say because it is in French we don’t want it. Then there was the ....... and the argument was when such books are available in English and which are much, much cheaper then why not to teach Mathematics through English. It will be very economical and question of language is very minor, whether you learn in English or French, what difference does it make. Anyway, this controversy raged for about a month. In the meantime these books were not bought and then when the controversy reached a very great climax then somebody requested Pavitra da, ‘Please put the question to the Mother.’ And that too impartially as though he was going to interpolate in favour of and then Mother could be persuaded because of some pressure, if you put it this way, the answer would be this way, if you put it this way, the answer would be that way; these ignorant ideas which were so much, sometimes raging also. So Pavitra da simply put the question, it was written down, so that nobody can say that he put the question in such way that Mother would say: No! No, kindly this is necessary or anything of the kind. Pavitra da himself because I had a very intimate relationship with him and he had told me, he said: Kireet, I have no difficulty at all, if Mathematics is taught through English. Although it was our policy for a long time that Mathematics and science be taught through French, English through English, French through French and History and Geography through English and mother tongue through the mother tongue, this was our normal policy. But when this controversy was very high then this question was put to Pavitra da and he told me that I have no difficulty at all from my side. Anyway he took this question, the question was well drafted, well defined so that so that it could be seen that it was transparent, impartial and there was no weight age given in this way or in that way. And the Mother kept the book with her for two days, both French book and the English book, both – this was costly, that was cheap. After two days Mother said this French book is far, far superior, this was her answer. So it was decided now that the French book had to be studied. Then Pavitra da ordered five copies of the book because it was very costly book so he could afford only five copies of the book. So now came the turn of those teachers who still felt uneasy about it, they said these are only five books, how can we teach our children, we should give one copy to every child. There was a proposal to buy thirty copies of the book and that would mean a tremendous budget, thirty copies very, very costly. So once again Pavitra da went to the Mother and said: Mother this is a big question, shall we not therefore switch over to English books? But then came a reply which was which has struck in my heart very deeply and that is relevant to the question of text books.  Mother said that: text book is meant for the teachers and not for the students. it’s a real illumination in my heart, let the teachers read the text book and then having read it, let them write special work-sheets for the students in such a way that the work-sheets are appropriate in child’s inquiry. At that time I learnt and I remember my experience of my history learning where my teacher was giving lectures on history on a textual basis then I realised history should not be taught in a textual manner. According to the questions that the students have in their mind, a teacher who knows, who has read text books very well should write in a very interesting manner so that the child’s interest in history is awakened. Now this meant a tremendous program for the teachers but I tell you it was so beneficial to all the teachers of Mathematics and students. I think our students learnt Mathematics so well through this method.

Now having said this, the meaning of teaching through work-sheets became much more clear to me. It is not merely a question of keeping silent and yet communicating. This put upon the teachers the greater task of digesting the whole material of the subject and communicating to the child and to every child separately, because if you lecture then individualised learning becomes very difficult, different children have different questions. And education becomes truly fruitful when it is individualised not that every aspect of education is necessary to be individualised it is another dogma because those people who say education should be individualised completely, one to one relationship that is also a dogma. Just as you can say, you can lecture and it is also true in a lecture you can lecture to thousands of people at one stroke and everybody could be benefitted. To say that it is only when you have one to one education then only education is very fruitful that is also not true. There are certain things you can broadcast to thousands of people at one stroke, it can save a tremendous electricity in fact and lots of insights can be created that also is possible.

One thing that I learnt and Mother once told me, she said that there should be no dogma in education, to say that only this is the method or that is the method and then I happen to read at one time, just at that time Sri Aurobindo’s book called The Synthesis of Yoga. In fact this is the book I regard as the greatest book on education because education is yoga and yoga is education, therefore The Synthesis of Yoga is the greatest book on education. There Sri Aurobindo’s one sentence is very powerful that teacher has no method and every method. This is the key sentence, it takes you of all dogmatism about education. In fact if you remember this proposition all controversies about education can cease. I myself learnt this precious lesson after long experience and long raising of a battle then I realised the meaning of this that good teacher has no method and every method. Now I am saying this because every teacher here knows that our field is the field of experiment and this is what I found in every school I visited. Every teacher knows that he or she is making an experiment. There is a search. In fact Mother has said that Auroville is a field of experiment, of research, I think Auroville itself is a field of continuing education. I found this underlying current in all the teachers whom I met, every teacher is trying to find out the right method of communicating. Even in the School of New Creation they are employing new methods of teaching language to Tamil kids, where children are not taught the alphabet but words directly.