Sovereignity of the Child (March 1999, Auroville) - Audio

Now again there can be a dogma and say this is the method of teaching as against the other one. The most important thing that we have to learn and what I understand today is that here in Auroville there is a tremendous effort to combine many methods. Fortunately there is not so much controversy here; at least I did not find it on the surface anywhere that this method is better than that method. There may be underlying currents somewhere but at least in my observations I did not find teachers being bound by this dogmatic assertion of this method or that method. I found that there was a great flexibility. Now as we made an experiment we had come to a very important stage and it was at that stage that Mother sent a message in writing. Now I don’t remember all the words accurately, so that I do not say that I am quoting the Mother but she had said the following: in my personal life this message came to me, when I had understood the birth of ideas. You know I was a student of philosophy at one stage of my career and we had to learn what is called ‘Plato Theory of Ideas’, what is a concept, what is an idea, what is a thought, all these questions are very well discussed by Plato. But it was only now when I was in the Centre of Education that I began to experience what can be called the birth of ideas in the mind. So psychologically I was at that stage where there was a real joy of the experience of the birth of ideas in the mind and at that time; this must be valid for many, many teachers because suddenly Mother had sent a message to the school in which she said: ‘At present you are thinking with words, a little later I shall ask you to think through ideas and still later I shall ask you to think through experiences.’ So three stages she delineated in which she said, at present you are thinking with words. Now this knocked me out first of all saying that I had begun to think that I was thinking with the birth of ideas. But here was a message which said that at present you are thinking with words. A little later, I will ask you to think with ideas and still later, I shall ask you to think through experiences.

Now this gave me three insights. At least as far as my personal education was concerned. The first was the use of words and very often we feel that words are basically not so important, what is important is the idea. But even with words I began to feel that if you concentrate upon a subject then you begin to have this experience of going beyond words and arriving at ideas but when the idea is grasped they begin to express through words which you have not even imagined. You begin to have a capacity to express yourself in special kinds of words, which automatically burst out with ideas. The moment you utter a word that is of such a nature is like an outer clothing of an inner soul of an idea. So I began to feel that when you begin to have the ideas even the words become transformed. You begin to have ideas as to how to explain a certain thing.

In fact at that time I was working on some students who had asked me the question: what is an explanation? And I was contemplating on it and suddenly the word came to my mind ‘handkerchief’, it may seem very strange but it is a fact that when I was contemplating on explanation, the word occurred to me ‘handkerchief’. And immediately there was before me the plot of Othello, you know the whole story of Othello is based upon a handkerchief. And then when I went to the class I gave the example of a handkerchief. I said supposing I drop my handkerchief from my pocket and I throw it, it is just dropped and I pick it up; it is an insignificant event but in the case of Othello, presentation of handkerchief, what a significant event in his life and the life of Desdemona. In what way the two things differ from each other, both the cases is the handkerchief, the handkerchief has just fallen down and you pick it up and the handkerchief is presented to Othello. In what way the two things are different? In the case of Othello, the handkerchief was an instrument of explanation to him it explained, whereas merely picking up a handkerchief explains nothing. Of course, I gave a long lecture on this subject later on but I can tell you that this word ‘handkerchief’ was just born in my mind, when I was trying to see how to explain to students the idea of explanation.

The statement which Mother had made a tremendous meaning to me thereafter and I said that the teacher should be constantly in search of such words and they cannot be searched by a dictionary or by going through books, unless you think over a subject very, very deeply, the real word will not emerge. It was later on that I learnt when Sri Aurobindo has written on word in The Secret of the Veda and where Sri Aurobindo says: that word and vision of the truth are interrelated to such an extent that when the vision becomes intense the right word to express that vision also automatically emerges out and that is why the words of the Veda are immortal. The vision of the truth and the word are interrelated, immortally. So if you are at the level when you are thinking with words, we are at such a stage that we have to make a real jump into the realm of ideas, when the real words will be born from the ideative consciousness. Then of course when you go to a still higher level of experience then even ideas themselves and the train of ideas are the by-products of the experiences. Now this is a program in which I myself am engaged because even to go beyond the realm of ideas is difficult. To enter into the realm of experiences and to speak to students from the level of experience is a very difficult task. So if I have to tell all friends here together as to what should be the program of education in Auroville, I think one of the most important programs should be this.

We need a large number of people in Auroville. It is one observation that I would like to make that the number of teachers available to our Centres of Education here is not adequate. We need a large number of teachers. This is one of the reasons why many students at a certain stage of maturity want to migrate. Just as in the Ashram we had eminent persons to teach, I would like to invite eminent people of Auroville to consider that they should come to teach at the centres of Education, whether it is kindergarten, or transition, or Last School, or even beyond because we want to develop higher levels of education. It is only when a large number of teachers come into the field that these developments of going from words to ideas, from ideas to experiences, that this program can be implemented. It is only when this flight takes place that students also when they grow up, they will be taken up.

After all, what do students want? Many people say: well parents are afraid of the future of children; if they don’t get certificates then they feel the children might be left in the lurch afterwards, if they want to select an ordinary way of life. To my mind this is not a correct answer. I don’t think that the parents of Auroville are afraid, this is my inner feeling, I have not talked to many parents. It is not out of fear; it is because we do not have a sufficient number of teachers who can fly with the students at higher levels of thought and experience. I know that in the community of Auroville, I met for example eminent persons in CSR, ‒ Centre for Scientific Research, very learned people; they are extremely top in their fields. There are engineers here, who are top engineers, architects of the highest order. Many of you have read the books of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, therefore I can say that in the field of knowledge many of you have reached quite a good, not only acquaintance but a good mastery over certain things, if not everything. You have a centre for Savitri, you have a centre for Agenda; I mean, Aster for example has a marvellous centre for Indian Culture. And now Deepti was telling me about the program of Human Unity. All these possibilities exist in Auroville. There is a need to marshal these possibilities. No child would like to leave a school, if the child knows that here is a teacher who can make me fly. This is a fact, even if the parents say: now you go out, the children will refuse to go, if this is the condition of things. Therefore my request to you is, particularly to all those who are exploring in their respective fields. Please come together. As I said in the beginning, children in Auroville are happy because they are being looked after, but one remark which is critical, which I can make and you permit me to do so and I make it only because I am your brother, is that children are not in the centre of Auroville. They are happy, they are being looked after and this is where a new emphasis needs to be laid in Auroville. If children are kept in the centre, that is to say, all our energies wherever we are, whatever we are, if that is to be used ‒ please pour that on the children.

Mother has said that when children are in the field they should be in the centre. The moment they are in the field, even if they are in the periphery please bring them into the centre. And no activity should be allowed in a society which will injure the child’s growth, this is another responsibility, no activity in the society should be conducted, should be promoted, which would injure the children and their growth. This means the discipline on the part of all the elders. In fact this gives the meaning to the statement of the Mother that Auroville is a sight of continuing education, endless education and eternal youth. If we ourselves become students and if we look upon our own work as a work being conducted by students, for the sake of students, we shall have gained a great access to the real meaning of Auroville. In fact there is no place in the world where children are in the centre. You go to any country, any town, any village, anywhere; children are not in the centre.

In 1976 when I joined the Ministry of Education, one of the first things that Indira ji asked me to do was, to write for her speeches on education which she wanted to broadcast to the nation. And when I thought over this question the one title which flashed before my mind for these speeches was ‘Sovereignty of the Child’ and then I wrote six speeches for her on this theme, ‘Sovereignty of the Child’. Now this concept of ‘Sovereignty of the Child’ is, I told you that I didn’t, it is not coined by me, it just flashed before me, then I began to realise why this word flashed out in my consciousness. Then I found that our present society is a society in which sovereignty is of the consumer. If you read books on economics, you’ll find it as if it is a law; the law of economics is ‘The sovereignty of the consumer’. As if it is a law everywhere, wherever there is an economy it must be so. It’s a false notion that has been created that if you study economics the first principle of economics is ‘consumer is the sovereign’ of any economic activity. It’s a false notion; it gives a wrong orientation to the whole social development. In fact, thinkers like Ruskin and others have written biting criticism against this concept of ‘sovereignty of the consumer’. But this criticism has not yet helped people to come out of the spell of ‘sovereignty of the consumer’. Then when you read political science there is another spell in political science as if that is the law in political science and that is ‘Sovereignty of the Parliament’. This is another big spell as if all political science, as if all that is political, ultimately must be judged by the ‘sovereignty of the parliament’; the parliament is supreme, everything else is it’s subordinate. Now these two principles today in the whole world are in currency. There is no third concept and this stressed in my mind and I thought if Indra ji could give the country this concept that India wants to establish a society in which sovereignty lies in the child, child is the sovereign of the whole nation, and the nation will do nothing which injures the child. On the contrary today everything happens which injures the child, not in Auroville necessarily, but this is the general currency everywhere. Unless we in Auroville who have been given a tremendous privilege to start, to redesign society right from the scratch as it were; as Mother said: only those need to come to Auroville, who are convinced of the futility of all the past notions of economics, politics and social existence.

Now this is as it were on a blank page, a blank page is given to us, on which we are still to write our new existence. Therefore my request to you is ‘please make Auroville a place where child is sovereign’. Unfortunately at the time when I had written those speeches for Indira ji, soon thereafter her own power fell, so the whole program also fell. Maybe that we were not yet ready at the national level but here, this is our own Mother’s creation and Mother herself has spoken of the centrality of the child, therefore I would very much urge upon you. One critical remark I make is that although children are happy, children are being looked after; Auroville has not put the child in the centre. I may be wrong, you kindly correct me, if I am wrong but this is my observation. Please make me convinced that a child is sovereign in Auroville.

You know there is another concept in the western world which is now developing as an alternative to consumerism and that is called learning society ‒ concept is of learning society. And I like this concept very much. And I believe that it is only in the learning society that the child is the sovereign and when Mother said that Auroville is a sight of continuous education and education means to remain ‘child’ forever and therefore we all are children in this land. In which what is supreme is to be a child and to put the child all the time in its sovereign place. This is all that I want to say this evening and I am very happy that the great opportunity given to me to be with you, to share some of my aspirations and my feelings and I request you to now, work on such programs of education in such a manner that children do not wish to migrate from here for education, they may directly migrate anywhere, we should give them all the possibilities here. Everyone wants to be, to achieve perfect manhood or womanhood, everyone, and if that is being given here and why should it not happen, I do believe it will happen. It is with this hope that I make the prayer for all of us together.