Silence, lectures and learning - Audio

Once Mother had told me that when you see children happy that is the sign that children are progressing. And one general remark I can make is that every child that I saw was happy. Even in New Creation the children who have come from surrounding villages exuberance, they gave a dance performance and the force with which they danced and the rhythm which they produced, they expressed tremendous joy in their heart. So I feel that children are being looked after very well. I had the chance to meet children like Jivatma, who is here before me; and Isabelle and Shakti, and I think I am now remembering many, many names because of the imprint they have made on me. You know when children enter into your being, it means that they are vibrating with so much of the awakening that they can communicate with you without words and there was one child when I was speaking was so concentrated, I have hardly seen such a concentration. I felt that every word that I was speaking was absorbed like the dry land receiving the rain so that is my first observation about what is happening in education here. This is my personal feeling. Similarly I found amongst teachers a great sense of responsibility and dedication. I can tell the parents, your children are in very good hands. The teachers are looking after children with full heart. The kindergarten which I visited this morning was a marvellous experience. It is perhaps the ideal structure, ideal environment and the children were so happy; I have told Sanjeev that he should give me a blueprint of the structure of the architecture of the kindergarten. It can be a good thing which can be replicated in the country, so well organised, so well arranged. I am sure much thought has gone into the organisation of the kindergarten. I have gone to Transition, I have gone to Last School. The further question that is in my mind is – if such is the condition, why should some parents feel that their children should be now sent away from here? I had some marginal discussion on this question with some people and although I am not satisfied with the answers that are given, I can understand to some extent why this is happening. But I will not go into this question now, what is needed now is to take this experiment farther. I went to Miramukhi for example this morning. It is a marvellous work; how silence can be the instrument of awakening the children. The tranquillity that reigned in that area and the speech is so soft it’s almost like whispering.

We had again in the Ashram School at one stage a very powerful wave of experimentation where the one word which was supreme was ‘Silence’. There was a period when all lectures were suppressed in the school, at all the levels and the idea behind it was that it is in the atmosphere of silence that the true knowledge is born. Knowledge is not an article that can take birth when the mind is agitating itself; there is a place for the mind in agitation but we do not have the power of silence. That experiment was a kind of a revolution, Mother had warned us in advance saying that in a few weeks, or in a few months that storm will sweep over the entire school and teachers will find themselves, earth slipping away from under their feet and I can tell you at least for me that when this experiment was proposed the earth really slipped away from under my feet. It was a fact. How to suppress all lectures and yet communicate and yet to educate, the answer that was given at that time was that whatever the teacher wants to speak, or whatever he wants to communicate should be written down. This experiment was to start in the month of December, it was in October the decision was taken and teachers were required to write down their first lesson in a special form which was called worksheet. Within a period of one month and a half and the very first day I was required to give in a typed form seven hundred and fifty worksheets at different levels of study. It was not only a tremendous feat on the part of teachers, who had no background of writing worksheets at all but it was like a big workshop where teachers were writing down, correcting, getting typed and again retyped, a tremendous amount of work was done within one month and half. I cannot tell you and cannot communicate to you the atmosphere that reigned in our school at that time. Particularly when this whole idea was challenged in our own school by a number of teachers – how can you teach without talking, what is wrong in talking, what is wrong in lecturing? And this debate went on at the school for nearly four years. In the meantime there was a great effort to prepare what is called worksheets of various kinds and the more important variety of worksheets was what was called heuristic worksheets. And we all learnt for the first time what a heuristic worksheet is, at least I never knew the word heuristic. It was Pavitra da, who took me to his room and explained to me what a heuristic worksheet was. And I discovered that a heuristic worksheet was one in which the teacher presents the learning material in such a way that while reading the student has to make a discovery, unless the child makes a discovery at every few steps, the child cannot read the worksheet. You write a sentence, you write another sentence and leave a gap, you write a third step and put a question mark, you write a fourth sentence and you give some facts by application of which you will be able to fill the gap and the answer the question. Everything is there in the worksheet, the answers are there, questions are there but they are all hidden and the teacher has to write in such a way that the child when he reads, it must be first of all interesting, otherwise people won’t even read. It must be interesting material and it should be written in this fashion.

When we speak of educational research, I think it was one of the greatest experiments in educational research where hundreds of worksheets were written, hundreds of worksheets. And after Pavitra da had explained to me, he gave me the charge now you explain to all the teachers how to write. I had only learnt for one day and immediately he asked me, now you explain to all the teachers how to write heuristic worksheets. So within about a week's time I had to attain some kind of mastery over heuristic writing and then teacher after teacher, I used to meet them and explain to them. And the ultimate aim had to be remembered that this is to encourage silence of the mind. Intellectual activity which was involved in reading the worksheet was one side, but the ultimate aim was to develop silence of consciousness. Writing should be such, so as to induce the calm and the silence not agitation in the mind; this was a much more difficult task. How to write in such a way that there is no agitation of the mind, there is inducement of calm and tranquillity and discovery of knowledge as if it were rising up. I myself wrote a number of worksheets at that time and I can tell you that in four years time when this debate raged in the school, it was like Mahabharata. It was a controversy, I can see that when education is disturbed, everybody is an educationist, everybody has studied, everybody has experience of education and everybody feels that the way in which he learned was one of the best ways. When you look back, you always find that Oh! This I think struck me very much because it was in this condition therefore that is the right method of learning, and if you put twenty teachers together, everyone feels that this is the right way. This method as opposed to lecture method occupied our experimentation for a long time and there was an irony, in the sense that the teachers who advocated the silence, some of them at the end of the experiment said ‘il faut parle’, il faut parle’, il faut parle’, this was the irony. That shows how much experience was gained and there was a real synthesis.

You have to have a kind of an understanding that there should be no rigidity. While silence can be the source of knowledge, it is not only by suppression of speech that alone that can bring you silence. There are deeper means of silencing and different levels at which silence of the mind can be attained. At one time, you know this method was applied also in engineering. You know, in engineering particularly this was a big challenge, even in the higher level of education and we had very eminent teachers for engineering, those who are eminent engineers. There was Prabjot da, who was the chief electrical engineer of one of the biggest projects of India and he was the teacher of electrical engineering in our school. Udar as many people know Udar very well, he was also one of the teachers. Vishwanat da was a teacher, all of them eminent engineers. Now they had very difficult questions in their minds – how to teach engineering without talking? And as you know engineers are always very inventive. In fact Udar took a question to the Mother and said: Mother, please tell me: what is the relationship between speech, writing worksheets, communication and birth of knowledge, in the state of silence? And Mother’s answer was as follows: it is very enlightening: you first of all raise a question and put it before the students as a project, then you tell the children the relevant material which they should read to answer that question. When that material is gathered in the mind, then the mind should be silenced, it is not as if all the time you attain to silence of the mind but for that specific question, once you have read a good deal of material and collected it, then you try to silence your mind, don’t agitate, don’t cogitate, but there is a deep sense of inquiry that is to say your material give you a deep sense of inquiry and put that question and then keep absolutely quiet and Mother said: in that state of quietude the answer will be born and the real learning experience will take place.

In fact this is the answer which reconciles the conflict between teaching through worksheets and teaching through parlant, by 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, your 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 versus this, then the other one is excluded. But we 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 may 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 a 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, on what is going on outside in the world. Like the young boy in the story of Tagore (I 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 out of the room, he is almost like in a prison. And the boy is 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 the 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 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 now to 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. In fact I always feel that the text books are the worst enemies of education because textbooks give you a very defined, it is not that the textbooks are useless but textbooks as something to be presented to the child is wrong. Once we had a very good insight into this subject, when a very beautiful book on mathematics appeared in France, mathématiques modèle that 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 the 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 has to be 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 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 a subterfuge 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 the question of language is very minor, after all 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 you know 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 a 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 it could be seen that it was transparent, impartial and there was no weightage given in this way or in that way. And the Mother kept the book with her for two days, both the French book and the English book, both – this was costly, that was cheap, both the books were kept. 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 a 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 therefore not switch over to English books? But then came a reply which has struck in my heart very deeply and that is relevant to the question of textbooks. Mother said: that textbook 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 for the 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 that history should not be taught in a textual manner. According to the questions that the students have in their mind, a teacher who knows history quite well, 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 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. It is to 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 to be individualised, that 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 that 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 which you can broadcast to thousands of people at one stroke, it can create a tremendous wave of electricity in fact, and lots of insights can be created, that also is possible.

One thing that I learnt and what 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: ‘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 raging of a battle then I realised the meaning of this that a 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 that I visited. Every teacher knows that he or she is making an experiment. There is a search. In fact, since Mother has said that Auroville is a field of experiment, a field of research and if 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.