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 I 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 about 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 an 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 an 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 the life process and in conducting life of students then he discovers that there is a method of accelerating what life normally does 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 the 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 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 has 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, except 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 a good way of it, it counterbalances the exaggerated notion of a teacher, who 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.
But in case the important point that I want to make is that the teacher is one who is at least two steps ahead of the child. In fact in Sri Aurobindo’s words a teacher is one who is able to uplift the enthusiasm of the child, this is the minimum definition of a teacher. A teacher is one who is able to uplift the enthusiasm of the child. Whatever enthusiasm the child has, is not enough; there is a role of a teacher. The role of the teacher is whatever the enthusiasm the child possesses, he should be able to uplift it by whatever means. Very often you find that many good mothers in knowledge terms may not be very learned but they become great inspirers of their children. Even the learned sons of good mothers derive inspiration from their mothers. Shiva Ji was a great conqueror and a great administrator but his inspiration was from his mother. Now this is because this is the power of the teacher, he should have the power to lift the enthusiasm of the child by whatever means; it may be because of the character one possesses or the great fire of aspiration, great knowledge he or she might possess or whatever. This is what, in terms of Rousseau, he says: taking the hand of the pupil in your hand, that is the mark of a teacher. You should be able to take the hand of the pupil in your hand, that is the mark. So the minimum thing the teacher should possess is this power and this power comes from a certain kind of vision, so a teacher must have a vision and that vision should be capable of lifting up the child. These are the two things that you should possess as a teacher. And then as a result of your vision you should be constantly in search as to how that vision can be further developed, can further be enriched, can further be chiselled, sharpened and can be so expressed that children can understand and can feel that to be a kind of a light, in the light of which the child can progress.
Now this is the background against which I personally would like to make a few statements but this is just a background, that is to say I don’t take the view, there is a view, — should there be a structure of education or no structure of education. It’s a question which Sanjeev has discussed very often with me. Now there is an extreme view that there should be no structure at all. When I was in Ashram at one time they said: no lectures, no curriculum, no examination. It would be a kind of an argument against all structures. But the moment the teacher has a vision and a guideline, already some kind of structure has come into existence. The only question is the structure should be such that it does not imprison anybody and this is a very difficult problem, how to have a structure which is not a structure. It is similar to the question which Mother asked at the highest level of experimentation with her body where she felt that the human body has a skeleton and this skeleton is an obstruction to the development of the supramentalisation of the body, because the skeleton is a rigid skeleton. So actually Mother was asking the question: how to make the body so supple, so very, very subtle so that this skeleton’s rigidity would be broken and yet the individual would be able to stand up. In fact there is a beautiful conversation with Satprem and the Mother on the subject and Satprem says a small child for example, his skeleton is not rigid. Mother says: yes but the child cannot walk. I mean if you break the structure of the skeleton the force of the skeleton then this is the problem. And I think this is the basic problem also with education. You should have a structure and no structure, such a structure which is not serving as a structure and this is a very difficult problem. That is why I said education is a very difficult process because basically a true education is one in which you neither hammer, nor allow the child to go wayward and haywire, this is the contrast, the two conflicting tendencies and we have to bring them into harmony. So in a debate in education I feel I cannot take part because I am neither here, nor there and I believe that both should be there but somehow should be synthesised but synthesised by what and that is the alchemy. And I personally believe that that alchemy is still not known. Auroville is the field were we have to make an experiment.
Now having given this background I put the following questions. I think we all agree that we are here to give a concrete shape to Mother’s dream. I take it, it is an incontrovertible statement and we study Mother’s dream again and again and we want to realise this dream as faithfully as we can. Now Mother’s dream is very clear, where she says there should be a place on the earth, where students do not study to pass examinations and to obtain certificates, these words are absolutely clear and categorical. She has also added that students should study to develop their faculties and to study the secrets of the world, these two very important words she has given, not to pass examinations and obtain certificates but at the same time to develop faculties and also to learn the secrets of the world. Now both these propositions have to be read together. Now developing faculties very often involves passing examinations. You need to pass tests, certain faculties can be developed when they receive a test. So Mother is not opposed to passing examinations or to face examinations, very often therefore people misunderstand and say Mother is opposed to examinations, which is not true. Passing examination as a motive of study is not what is wanted by the Mother. You study to pass examinations, that is not what Mother wants. It doesn’t mean you should not have examinations; you should not pass the examination that is not the correct meaning of it. Development of faculties itself requires passing tests and we knew for example even for sports Mother herself used to measure with tape how much a student has been able to jump, how fast he has been able to run and there were hurdles and tests for sports. So it is not that Mother was opposed to tests, on the contrary, Mother wrote to me once ‘Tests are and will be, but (this but is very important) a silly mechanical mind passing an examination and that too with flying colours is an indictment on the examination system.’ What kind of examination do you want to give to a child? If the child is to pass an examination, which he can pass even with a silly mind then such examinations are out of the court. Now most of the examinations in the world are like that, that is the whole problem. By memorising, by mugging up, you can pass an examination and that too with flying colours and after examination you forget everything that you have learnt. For five days you learn at the last moment, mug up, vomit out and you pass an examination. It is this kind of examination that is out of the court whether here, or there, or anywhere. Then she said examinations should not be uniform, the same examination for everyone. The examination should be adapted to each child and his progress. Examination should come to a child at a time when he is ready for it.
Now these are all the qualifications that Mother has made when she said ‘tests are and will be’. And you can say there is no rigid stand that examinations are to be encouraged or not encouraged. It’s a very subtle process in which examinations have to come in the process of education but the most important thing is that you are developing the faculties of the children and that is an important point. Ultimately whatever you do should develop the faculties and this is a very vast subject. What are the faculties? I’ll come to this a little later.
Second aspect is the student should study to find the secrets of the world. Now this is another aspect, what are the secrets of the world? And if you study Sri Aurobindo’s and Mother’s exposition of the world and the secrets of the world, you find that they put before us the secrets of matter, life, mind and of the worlds which are beyond the mind, and behind the mind, the universe behind universe or the universes behind the universe. In the Kathopanishad there is a beautiful sentence ‘one who thinks that this world alone is, will always go round and round in misery’ it’s a very beautiful sentence. So secrets of the world would mean what, that this world alone is not that there are worlds behind worlds, and universes behind universe. Now this is the meaning of what Mother says to learn the secrets of the world.
Now when you come to the subject matter of the secrets of the world, we come to what is very important educationally and that is what is called subjects of study. This is what normally is called in our whole syllabus or curricula wherever you go, you always ask what subjects you are studying? And this brings us to one of the most important issues of education. Traditionally in India and elsewhere, during the last five hundred years, we are all accustomed to a system of subjects. The idea of faculties has gone back into the background, don’t ask the question: what are the faculties we have to develop? Not that the development of faculties is denied by anybody, No! But it is expected that through the study of subjects, faculties will develop. We are not making a scientific study as to whether this is a true statement. There is no doubt that by studying some subjects, some faculties do develop but we are not asking whether all the faculties that are needed to be developed are developed or not. And what subjects will develop what kind of faculties, in what way will you study the subject by developing what faculties, we do not explain this or don’t undertake this study and that is one of the important problems that we have to face in our development of education here.
Now we have at present in our system of education all over the world, a scheme. In India this scheme was given to us by Macaulay, he wiped out our Indian system of education at one stroke, and introduced a system of education which was becoming very prominent in the West in the form of subjects. Education means you study a few subjects and the scheme is basically, study English, Mathematics, Physics, Chemistry, History, Geography, all the rest is extra–curricular. Art, Music, Drama, you can do many other good things, debate, elocution, dance, everything is extra–curricular but this is curricular’ physical education also extra–curricular. So you can see that the whole system of education has been reduced all over the world only to basically five–six subjects. And education means how much English you have studied, how much History you know, how much Mathematics you have learnt and all the debates in the world on education is centring down on this fundamental scheme. Then some progressive teachers come and say: No, no, no, I will teach Mathematics in a different manner and he becomes a wonderful educationist. He will say: History, Geography should not be taught in the way in which you are teaching now, you should teach them as Social Sciences. So don’t teach History, Geography, teach Social Sciences. Innovations of this kind are going on all the time in the world and this is what is called making education better. And once Mother told us, we are not here to make education better than what it is elsewhere, we are here to do something that is not even conceived elsewhere, and that is our task. What is it that is not conceived, what is it that is not conceived elsewhere at all, is a part of education that is what we want to do.
Now I come back therefore to two important points, — faculties and subjects. On both the points these are the two important parts of the educational process, development of faculties and development of the knowledge that is contained in different subjects, or development of knowledge which is not in subjects which we count. There is a kind of knowledge which escapes all the books. Now as far as faculties are concerned, let us take the faculties of the body, faculties of life– force, the faculties of the mind, the faculties of the psychic consciousness, the faculties of the ethical being, the faculties of the aesthetic being, the capacities of intuition, of revelation, of discrimination, of inspiration, the faculties of comprehension, the faculties by which you go into transcendental consciousness. Now these are a number of faculties which are before us. Now in our educational system, we have made because of the subjects, a selection of faculties.
Largely we teach our children, the faculties of memory, the faculties of reasoning and the faculties of imitation. These are the three important faculties that we develop among our children and that too in a very perfunctory manner, incidentally, because the main thing is subjects. But incidentally whatever happens we teach these three faculties, — faculty of memory, the faculty of reasoning and the faculty of imitation. Imitation is not a wrong faculty, it is a good faculty but we teach these three faculties, out of all other faculties. We have no special study of aesthetic faculties, ethical faculties, intuitive faculties, of inspiration faculties, discrimination faculties, we don’t have any other process by which mind can be silenced, the faculty of silencing the mind, the faculty of what is called development of states of consciousness. There are a number of states of consciousness, which we don’t develop at all.
Aristotle spoke of habits but habit he used the word in a very large and very enlightened sense. He said education is an education of habits and what did he mean? It is actually the development of states of consciousness. Now in the present system of education this idea of states of consciousness has completely evaporated, it doesn’t exist. There are many states of consciousness which require years of training, so that at the right moment the right emotion will arise in you. Now states of consciousness require a lot of development. I require for example to control my passion when I see somebody, whose face I don’t like. As an educated person I should be able to control myself, this is called education, if I start charging against somebody whose face I don’t like, it means I am a barbarian, I am not educated. Now how do I arrive at a point of self–control, when somebody whom I see and immediately I feel charged, now to develop that self–control at the right moment, I have to do self–control even when that face is not before me, number of times I have to control, even while thinking of him, I have to control myself. Then if I have controlled a hundred times, then at the right moment, I may be able to control.
In recent times for example, I am talking freely with you, in recent times AIDS has become a great disease in the world and there are many kinds of prescriptions which are being given as to how to prevent AIDS. And now it is understood that no preventive measures of AIDS are effective, unless people are able to control the impulse of enjoyment, at that right moment. You may do anything, have any kind of means, all kinds of preventive measures but at that excited moment if you cannot control yourself all your measures are gone. Therefore, it is now being felt that self–control is a state of consciousness which is to be developed over years. It’s only when you have done for years and years, and this kind of a self–control over desire to enjoy that at the right moment you can possibly control yourself. It is only an extreme example that I am giving to show the importance of the development of the states of consciousness. Somebody has made a mistake.
Christ taught us for example, ‘Forgive them, as the Divine forgives you’— just as you trespass and the Divine forgets, forgives you, he has trespassed, you forgive him. Now this sense of forgiveness, how will you develop forgiveness, a state of consciousness? It’s not knowledge; it is a state of consciousness. How will you develop compassion, the kindness, benevolence, generosity, you may have a long list of states of consciousness which require to be developed.
Now in our educational system as it is present in the world these states of consciousness have no place, they develop pell–mell in all human beings, all of us. In fact in that sense all of us are uneducated. If education was rightly given to us, right from childhood then we would be much better human beings than what we are. And this is an education in which we have not participated. Therefore when we think we are educationist, we do not take into account this aspect at all. When we begin to advise education, as to what should be education, since we have not been educated in this aspect, we never take into account this aspect to be introduced into the educational system.
So there are a number of faculties and there are many states of consciousness and there are many other faculties about which I hardly speak, for example — the faculty of developing physical stamina. It’s a fact that as a child I always used to shudder from going into the swimming pool. Like most of the children when you say now you go swimming and you try to push the child and the child shrugs, he doesn’t want to be pushed. And somehow you push and ultimately he begins to learn swimming. Now there was nobody to tell me you don’t be afraid, you just go and you fall into the waters and your body itself would react and you will be able to swim. It took me a long time before I could start swimming. So I had no practise of swimming, so as a result I found that when I learnt swimming, I had no sufficient stamina to swim at length. Now this is one of the examples I am giving of myself, my own inadequacy that even if I know swimming now, if I am thrown into the water I will immediately drown after sometime because I had no stamina to swim for a long time. Now many people don’t understand this but I understand it very well that I was not educated properly, my education was so inadequate, so wrong that this capacity to develop my stamina was never given, and therefore I am a very poor specimen of humanity, one who cannot have the stamina to swim and many other staminas I mean supposing suffering of cold and heat is also a faculty, and it is also a human faculty which must be developed. Similarly various kinds of courage that you have; Sri Aurobindo has spoken in the perfection of the body, the hardihood of the body and the kind of experience that comes under tremendous stress of adventure, when you are on top of the hill and you have no oxygen and yet you have to breathe. How does your body immediately come out of the breath, is also a capacity, there are many, many faculties of which we do not normally take into account at all.
Now when Mother says that education should be for the development of faculties, we normally understand only in a very limited sense the word because we are aware of only of memory, reasoning and imitation. As if Mother says that you should develop these three faculties and don’t worry about other things, it’s not true. Mother wants all the human faculties to be developed. Now you can understand there are many faculties, even if you develop there is no examination for them. You cannot have examinations at all. There are many faculties for which there are no exams, or exams that come only once in a lifetime. When shall I examine whether I have self control or not? That examination may come only once in a lifetime. So if all education is for passing examinations, there are certain things which you will never develop because they cannot be examined and that is the reason why Mother says: Education must not be for passing examinations but for development of faculties.
On the other side, let us come to the subjects. As I said, our limited view of subjects is confined to five or six subjects. And we try to do our best even in these five or six subjects. Now the domains are so vast. Yesterday I was seeing what Shelley gave me for the GECE examination, this whole book and also the brochure. Last night and today morning I have been studying this and I feel that if our students can pass these examinations, it will be wonderful. The examination papers which are given here, if our children have the capacity to pass these examinations, it will be wonderful but that is not enough, the conclusion I came to is that this is not enough. This of course but much more and if you have only this syllabus to pass, you will never be able to develop children for other things which are much more important. So if my conclusion was somewhat negative, not negative fully, somewhat negative, it is because of this reason, it is fine to pass this kind of an examination, you require a crash programme of studies, of a certain kind in which your faculty development is crushed. And you have to drill yourself on and on and on, on a particular line of development, which is good but the results are extremely limited. It is like Hath yogi, he also develops tremendous capacities of the body, by doing exercises again and again but he can’t be a Gyan yogi at the same time, he can’t do Karmayoga at the same time, he can’t do Bhaktiyoga at the same time, and much of the time will be lost only in hathyogic exercises, thirty, forty years and when the time comes when you have to apply Karmayoga you’ll be failure. So our education is of this type, we take a lot of time to study a few subjects and attain to a certain kind of achievement, as a result all of us are so lopsided that in the test of life, we fail. We do not know how to relate ourselves to people; we don’t have the right states of consciousness. We don’t have as Mother said the capacity to be silent, when you want to be silent, when you want to have knowledge, you should be able to get the knowledge when you want it, these are the capacities which you don’t develop at all.
Now in regard to subjects of studies, I have been thinking a great deal regarding what should be the subject of studies, what are the subjects of study? Now there are many subjects of study, which are called ‘subjects of specialisation’, if I want to be a medical doctor, I study a number of subjects. If I want to be a lawyer I study some other subjects. If I want to be an accountant I study some other subjects. If I want to be a pilot, I study some other subjects. There are numerous subjects in the world today, numerous subjects and the subjects are multiplying tremendously. Therefore, educationists have come to the conclusion that professional studies later on, you concentrate upon what is essential and what is essential is a very difficult subject to decide. But as I said: now it has been understood that if you learn languages it is essential. If you learn mathematics basically, not all fine mathematics because there are various kinds of mathematics to be learnt, if you want to be a pilot, some kind of mathematics is to be learnt, if you want to be physicist another kind of mathematics is to be learnt and so on. But some mathematics you should learn as a basic equipment. Some physics, some chemistry, some biology and some history, geography. It is suggested that these are essential subjects, which everybody should participate in and study.
I am not opposing this view but I am opposing it in a certain direction, — is it really true that these are the most essential subjects of study? There are essential subjects, is this sufficient, is it all that we should develop, is there other kind of scheme possible? Now we know for example that for a long time in Universities like Cambridge and Oxford there used to be courses of classics. You study only three languages like Greek, Latin and English and study the classical literature of these three, along with the history of classics. And it used to be said that this is a wonderful education, all that you need is contained here. You may not need Physics, Chemistry, Biology, you don’t need to learn anatomy, physiology, nothing, classics. There are people who today believe that if you study only Shakespeare, your education is complete, or they go even to the extent that you study ‘King Lear’, you study “King Lear’ and your education is very greatly completed or what is essential is learnt. Now in Plato’s ‘Academy’, when he started Academy, he put down one very important statement, ‘One, who knows no mathematics, need not enter here’ that was the motto that he had put down on his Academy. He gave importance to Mathematics, so much that he felt that if you don’t know Mathematics, you can’t learn philosophy because his main subject of study in his Academy was philosophy. So he thought you cannot learn philosophy unless you know Mathematics in a very great detail. So according to his scheme of education, Mathematics and Philosophy were the most important subjects of study. Now today in our system of education this importance is not given, philosophy is knocked out completely and Mathematics is done in a very perfunctory manner, except when you take Mathematics A–Level, which I saw the papers for very, very high Mathematics even at the A–Level, it is not a high Mathematics of graduation or under–graduation but it is mathematics of very high level even at the A–Level. But that is if you want to specialise in Mathematics ultimately. I know that Mother used to give a great importance to mathematics in our Ashram School, great importance to Mathematics because she herself was a Mathematician. Manoj for example, has been taught Mathematics by Mother herself. Even at the time of distribution of flowers, if Manoj used to go with his note–book, Mother would stop all the pranams and would solve the problem of Manoj at that time; this was the privilege of Mathematics. Pavitra da himself, he was the Director of Education and he was one of the top mathematicians. So Mother gave a great importance to the study of Mathematics, Sciences and so on.
In the Indian system of education, if you examine what are the subjects which were taught in the Indian system? We have Taittiriya Upanishad, one of the Upanishads where some kind of a glimpse is available, as to what kind of education was given, what were the subjects which were covered. In Chandogya Upanishad also there is a list of subjects which Narada as a pupil knew when he came to his teacher. When Narada came to his teacher, the teacher asked him how much do you know, so he gives a list of subjects, — Physics, Chemistry, Astronomy and knowledge of serpents, the knowledge of skies and of nakshatras and so many sciences, fifteen, sixteen subjects he gives, a list of them. Then he says the teacher says: what do you want to know and why do you want to know further? So he says I know all these subjects but I am gripped with sorrow, that is to say that these subjects have no answer, as to how to overcome sorrow. So all the subjects are beside the point and human beings are full of sorrow and if education is to prepare the children to overcome the state of sorrow then some other education is necessary. And that is why the teacher said to Narada, ‘What you know is only words’ that is the starting point of the education which Narada was given by his teacher Sanat Kumar. What you know is only words but knowledge is beyond words and then he expounds what is the true knowledge.
Now in the Indian system of education the first thing that was taught was pronunciation, a very important starting point because psychologically every child wants to utter words and sounds. So pronunciation was given the starting point in the educational system of India. Every child was initiated into pronunciation and recitation and for a number of years, you just pronounce and pronounce correctly because it was said that if you don’t pronounce correctly, you life will be ruined at a very important moment. There was an example given in one of the Brahamanas that a certain rakshasa, a vital superman of his time wanted to kill Indra and he was given a kind of a mantra by his teacher. And he said 'you kill it' meant ‘Let Indra be killed’ by the power of my mantra. This was his basic formula. Now in Sanskrit the words can be so organised, and if you make a mistake in it and if you pronounce it wrongly, this rakshasa came to pronounce it wrongly and it meant ‘Let me be killed by Indra’, and he was killed. This was just to emphasise the necessity of correct pronunciation. If you don’t pronounce correctly, at a given time in life, it will be ruinous to you. So you should be able to pronounce the words very, very correctly. That was a great place given in the Indian system of education to pronounce correctly.
Even if you find that when you go to an IAS examination interview, you can’t pronounce properly, you are chucked out. You may have good knowledge but if you can’t pronounce properly you are chucked out, your pronunciation must be perfect. And then thereafter, there are a number of subjects which have to be studied in which learn the universe and something that is beyond the universe because as I said Chandogya Upanishad said: this world alone is, you turn into misery round and round. You have to learn that there are many other universes. So this education consisted of many things including the knowledge of the universe and that which is beyond the universe that was a part of the educational system of India. This educational system also included study of Dharma, Dharma of Shastra, lot of science, Mathematics, Physics, Biology, Chemistry, Ayurveda. The whole science of anatomy, physiology and healing and a study of the meaning of life and the study of Yoga, in addition to the study of poetry, the sixty four sciences and arts. For every human for example sixty four arts was a compulsory thing, including how to decorate your bed, is also part of education. How to serve food to your guests, is also a kind of an art which was also to be taught to the children, to the young women and there were many other subjects as a result it was said that a student of India was so developed; thirty two great qualities always rained over the consciousness of Indian students, thirty two states of consciousness.
Sri Aurobindo while writing in his Brain of India, says how is it that India could produce writers like Vyasa? If you read Vyasa there is not a single domain of life on which he does not have scientific knowledge. Scientific knowledge, not only knowledge, scientific knowledge of which Bhagavad Gita is only one Yoga Shastra, yogic science is only one Bhagavad Gita. But when Bhishma gives knowledge to Yudhishtra, he gives the knowledge of political science and the full science, it is not only politics, how it is played but political science was taught. And if you study Mahabharata fully, you will have so many scientific treatises as it were in the Mahabharata. So Sri Aurobindo says, how was it possible for India to produce one Vyasa, because Sri Aurobindo’s statement is that to produce one climax, we should produce hundreds and millions of approximates. Before you reach a climax, you should have hundreds and millions of approximates, then only one of them will be reaching climax.
So this would mean that actually speaking our present selection of subjects is extremely poor and we need to examine this aspect very deeply. In our present circumstances these subjects which we are teaching are good and we find that their efficacy is proved, no question about it. But what place these subjects have to be given in the totality of other subjects which are also necessary and how to organise it and what time you will allocate to all these subjects? These are all very important, difficult subjects. Now it is for that reason I say that I am here as a student with all of us to make an enquiry into this and I want to present to you some of the ideas that are developing in me which can be of some help to all of us.
Only for this, I believe that our education here has to develop a curriculum and curriculum naturally refers to subjects but our curriculum would also take into account the need to develop faculties and states of consciousness. Our curriculum need not be merely subject–oriented. It has to combine all the three, — subjects, faculties and states of consciousness. There is of course a view of which I spoke to you earlier that education should be so free that there should be no curriculum because it binds. It becomes a rigid framework and a student is cast into a curriculum and his freedom to swim freely is lost. And I would like immediately to accept this fact, the truth behind this argument is to be accepted immediately, it is true that a curriculum has this deadening effect. Therefore, a curriculum should be such that it is not a curriculum, that is to say a curriculum of such a nature is so flexible that it does not prevent a teacher or a pupil from developing curriculum according to the need of the moment.
I give you an example: I was teaching history at a given time in the Ashram school and a student came to me and said I want to learn the history of weapons. It was his great wish to study the history of weapons. Now I was absolutely incompetent to deal with the subject but nobody in the school either knew how to answer this question. So I began to study the history of weapons — catapults up to aeroplanes and up to atom bombs. I studied the whole subject afterwards and I prepared a number of work–sheets for one child, which at least for my education was very good. Now if there was only one curriculum, having no freedom then this child would have never come to this question and I would have never answered him and I would have been a poorer specimen than what I am now, and as a result I was benefited by this kind of a development.
I believe even if you have a curriculum, please do not suppress this possibility of freedom to develop evolutionary syllabi. Syllabi which evolve according to the need; for example similarly one student came and said: I want to learn the history of costumes. Now this is another challenge, you know when you give freedom to the children to study; they come up with questions which are very interesting. One child came up for example and said: I want to learn what is below the ocean not in the ocean, below the ocean, how deep do you go.
Now similarly, when you allow children to ask questions, many philosophical questions are raised and very often these philosophical questions are brushed aside or we say your home will teach you, or your father will teach you, or your mother will teach you, it’s not in the school, not in the curriculum here. Questions of dharmashastra are raised, not in the form of dharmashastra, this is right or wrong, many questions of dilemmas of human life are, even in child’s life they come up, very often. Child has beaten me, what shall I do? Shall I plot to beat him again at a given time and some children advice, yes, now you should take revenge, for this child has beaten you. Even in childhood this question arises, shall I reply, he has insulted me then I’ll also insult him, I’ll teach a lesson to him; should a child teach a lesson to his friend even though he has become enemy now. Now these are very important questions which children do have and we don’t normally deal with these questions importantly, like modern politicians about whom Sri Aurobindo says: ‘ Important matters come before him but great matters come before him but he does not deal with them greatly’. So similarly many important questions come up before the teachers but we do not deal with them importantly. We put them aside and say well, sometimes we give little advice this way, little advice that way and we say pell–mell and everything melts away in the course of time. So considering all this, I was thinking that we should have three wings or three aspects of curriculum as an experimental basis.
Now I have derived these three aspects from what Mother and Sri Aurobindo have written, not for a curriculum but in many other context and I have tried to digest as it were, when you open the book of the Mother called Education, the first chapter is called Science of Living and the subtitle is To Know Oneself and To Control Oneself. Now I have studied this chapter again and again, to understand what is the message contained in this chapter. Why Mother, while starting a book on education, focuses on this very important subject Science of Living. I derived three conclusions from it. One is according to the Mother all education is to teach human beings as to what is life because that is the most important subject because we are all human beings in process of living, what is life, is the most important subject. A subject which at present is not recognised at all and besides Mother’s second conclusion is, she speaks of the Science of Living and that is also very important. That is to say what life is and how life has to be studied scientifically. At present even those people who speak of life do not have science of living, people speak of art of living. But I have noticed that Mother does not speak of the art of life, she speaks of science of life, Science of life but of living.
Only for this, to know oneself and control oneself and over certain years in Auroville itself, we have tried to study this problem among so many of us here and we have made a tentative curriculum. I don’t know if all the members have got a copy of it or not. I had one copy sent to Mary; you have received a copy, no? We have some copies here and perhaps at the end if you want, it has been produced under the title of our own Institute of Educational Research. Now this is a research work, you might say. I do not say that this is what Mother has said, or Sri Aurobindo has said. This is a development, an attempt, therefore one can criticise it fully and thoroughly because this is only an attempt, to visualise a kind of a curriculum over first twelve years from class I to class XII, how certain aspects or certain subjects, not taught as subjects but as elements in self knowledge and in the power to control oneself.
I would suggest that this curriculum be studied by all of us, critically, so that it can be enriched, modified, torn away and replaced by something else. But we need to study this subject thoroughly well. You might say that when Mother says this is a subject which cannot be for examination or certificate. So if our education is for passing examinations then this subject will be out. Our curriculum will not accept this subject at all, it can’t be examined. But this I consider to be the most important subject to be studied. How to study, what methods to be developed is a different question to which I‘ll come to later on, but not now. I am only proposing that in this curriculum the central part of the curriculum should be given to this — ‘To Know Oneself and To Control Oneself’.
Now this curriculum I have devised so that it integrates three important points. It integrates basically the knowledge of psychology as a central piece because to know oneself is a psychology basically. So psychology is the basic point. It is integrated with philosophy on one hand, science on the other hand and aesthetics on the third hand, ethics, aesthetics, philosophy and science. These are all integrated with the basic fulcrum of psychology. So basically you teach psychology, philosophy, ethics, aesthetics and science in their essentials. So the child who learns this curriculum will have a very good (I don’t say mastery) but a very good acquaintance with these subjects. But not merely in terms of the subjects but in terms of the faculties which these subjects normally develop — ethical faculty, aesthetic faculty, scientific faculty, philosophic faculty and the tapasya that is needed to understand oneself, not merely in a theoretical manner but by practising. This is a curriculum which emphasises learning by practising. This is the one aspect of education that is not sufficiently emphasised in our present syllabi in the world. At the most we do learning by doing but learning by practising has a different dimension. As Yudhisthira for example was told, it’s a story, a legend you might say — his teacher told him in the first class ‘Tell the truth’ and next day all the children were asked to tell me what I taught you yesterday? And everybody said you told us to tell the truth and Yudhishtara was the only one who did not answer the question. So he said: why don’t you answer the question, he said: I have not practised it, unless I practise, how can I say I know what you taught me yesterday. It’s a very small but very interesting, very insightful example. You do not learn anything unless you practise it. Now normally in our school education, practising is hardly given a place, except when you practise basketball or cricket or football, their practise is allowed but in the other subjects practising hardly plays a role and yet practising is a very important part of learning. So this is the explanation that I gave immediately of this curriculum that I have framed. I shouldn’t say that I have framed but it is a result of a number of people who have joined together and we have produced this and then for about ten, twelve years I have reflected on it and continuously modified it to some extent.
Now there is another incite that Sri Aurobindo has given in his book on education, National System of Education, where he speaks of the right hand faculty and left hand faculties. What are the right hand faculties and what are the left hand faculties? Right hand faculties, Sri Aurobindo says consist of judgement, understanding, comprehension and all that becomes creative, this is right hand faculties. Left hand faculties analyse and they allow specialisation, they go into details, left hand faculties concentrate upon the processes, right hand faculties emphasise essence, not the process but the essence.
Now corresponding to these, Mother has once said that in education two tendencies must be synthesised, the scientific tendency and the aesthetic tendency. Now these words correspond to the right hand faculties and the left hand faculties, synthesis of scientific is left hand faculty and creative, aesthetic is right hand faculties. Now if you combine the aesthetic and the scientific, a very beautiful combination and composition of human nature evolves out of it. Now based upon this even if I want to use the word subjects as terms for designating this, I would say that you should have a curriculum which includes the study of history, the study of classics, the study of music, art and poetry; this would be the syllabus of the right hand faculties. On the left hand faculties the syllabus would consist of languages, mathematics, astronomy, geography, anatomy, physiology, hygiene, physics, chemistry, biology, and a number of subjects. They are all very good in developing the left hand faculties. If I now speak of these in terms of faculties, not in terms of subjects but faculties then I would say that our whole curriculum should be so designed that emphasis falls not merely on subjects but also on development of faculties. And this should be done at all the levels but particularly in what Mother has called After School Level. That is to say when Mother speaks of After School I, After School II, After School III, I find that these three stages of education are extremely important for emphasising not subjects as such but faculties. In the beginning, what Mother has called Last School, that is the first level of education, first eight years, let us say should be devoted to the study of languages, pronunciations, and how to pronounce words in different languages. As I said in the first stage you teach subjects mainly, emphasis on subjects, later on in After School Level you emphasise faculties. I must tell you these are all mental ideas and I would not like to say that this is something which I would propose or prescribe, this I am only suggesting as a research work but to start a research I am only proposing the first rough draft, a kind of a statement so that it can be dealt with properly. But what I suggest is that in the beginning of what Mother called the Last School would be concentrated upon a few subjects. In After School you develop faculties’ especially through subjects but also especially exercises’ for example of reasoning, exercises of memory, exercise of pronunciation, exercise of discovery, exercise of invention, different faculties that we have. They can be developed in special methods of exercises. In Super School; you combine the two together, subjects and faculties in a very high manner. And when these are developed you come to No School and then you are free to develop whatever you like to do, you want to be an athlete, then you specialise in your own way but by your own processes, if you want to be a great surgeon or a doctor, you can develop that, you want to be a great architect, you develop architecture on your own etc. etc. but that it is left to you. You have now got everything that a school or education can give you, all the rest is for the life to develop for you.
And as Mother said all that, when somebody wrote a letter, I’ll give you the anecdote; a teacher wrote a letter to the Mother saying that the new method of education that we have now in our school and in our higher education is such that the quantity of studies will be very small, and as a result our students will be very poor as far as the quantity of studies is concerned. Outside world has so many subjects, whereas our students will have only a few subjects because you are emphasising too much on understanding, – the faculty of understanding. So Mother wrote in answer: ‘Higher course is meant to develop the faculty of understanding, if they can, the rest can be studied all throughout the life. In my own personal life this was a great revelation by the Mother because there is a great pressure usually in our school education or college education to stuff a number of subjects and then the whole load becomes so great that children cannot bear, even higher students also not bear that burden, its tremendous burden of education. So Mother simplified by saying: that even in higher education the important part is to make children understand, and to make them intelligent; if they can. All the rest can be studied throughout the whole life. So our curriculum should be such that it gives to the children a lot of programmes for their whole life time. They still have to develop quite a lot but now it is No School, you are on your own. So this is the framework that I was thinking of, that our curriculum that we need to develop is first for the first eight levels that is from class I to class VIII, then you develop class VIII to class XII, which I call After School and then you develop what is called a curriculum for is called Super School. And then a program for No School to be handled by students themselves in the way in which they like.
Question: There is one important faculty which I as a teacher of language something called the deep memory, not just something that you memorise and it is tested but something deep memory, just you don’t think, it’s just there that is how a pianist doesn’t concern with what is this note or what does his finger do, shouldn’t this be developed as a faculty?
Answer: Actually Mother has answered this question to me, when I asked this question she said: There are children, Mother said who are gifted with musical faculties and she said they need to practise a lot so that even their fingers, their fingers have got automatically the knowledge that is required to put their fingers at the right point and the right piece, so Mother gave a great importance to this capacity and the children should be given such exercises that is where subject verses faculty comes into sharp focus. Very often this faculty is hardly developed. As you rightly said that if you learn a language properly then grammatical mistakes won’t occur, when you speak, your language is certainly grammatical, not that you apply grammar and then you speak. The grammar will have so much woven in your habit of speaking that you cannot utter something which is ungrammatical, your own speech, your tongue will oppose you, will not allow you to speak that is incorrect. This is a great faculty, which has to be developed. I agree entirely. Mother herself spoke of it.
In fact if you study how to develop faculties, it is a big science by itself. When we speak of Piaget, for example the modern thinker in education, what is his speciality? His speciality was faculties; developing the faculties of the children. When Vivekananda said: you should have man making education; he was asked what is man making education? He said man-made education is the development of a faculty of concentration, this is all. If you develop the faculty of concentration all that you need comes as a result of it. The whole human personality is contained in the power of concentration that was his definition.
So this idea of faculty development is so important that I personally feel that Auroville as a field of research, we should have a very important research into this field, how to develop various faculties, as I gave the example of stamina, how to develop stamina of the body. It’s also a faculty; it requires exercise and various kinds of exercises by which stamina can be developed. Many children in our ordinary world when they can't do something, we say don’t do it, now it is finished, don’t worry. We don’t take the trouble as in the army for example a soldier who cannot run; he is given a capacity to run afterwards in two years time. He comes up with the stamina of running afterwards, it’s because there is concentration upon faculties, therefore the whole army training is of a different kind. Army training is so good because of this reason.
Let me state what I feel but before that I want to answer a question from François, the question that he had raised, you correct me if my formulation of the question is correct or not. I spoke of the need to develop faculties, the need to develop a number of articles of information regarding number of subjects and his argument was that school is only one of the instruments of education. There are many other instruments of education like the home, like the society, the groups in which one moves and the suggestion that he made was, do not arrogate to yourself as a school all the functions that belong to many others because education is only a part of the totality and don’t arrogate to yourself all these responsibilities, leave something to others also and do not burden yourself with so much of problems and troubles which you are taking in analysing this field of education. Is it a correct exposition of your question? Best instrument of education?
Now I think what he says is very true and now with this new amendment that he has made my answer becomes much easier. If it was only one of the instruments, I would have argued that it is not one of the instruments. Even if it is one, it is one of a very important instrument of education. Now we are saying one of the best, or the best; I am much more than satisfied. But the other aspect of which he spoke are important and my answer to that question is actually Auroville has been conceived as a totality of a school, Auroville as the whole not the school, not Livelier, not the Transition, not the Last School, not the After School, the whole of Auroville is a totality. The home, the parents, the members of the society, architects and gardeners, electricians and cooks all are teachers and children are to plunge into the totality and they will all learn from there. And actually speaking a good educationist would also prescribe a curriculum for the whole society, but a different kind of curriculum. I would say that actually in Auroville, the whole of Auroville should have a curriculum and actually Mother has given that curriculum – the divine life but not through mystic means but through life itself and no religions. I think this is the curriculum that Mother has given for the whole of Auroville. The Charter of Auroville is also a curriculum of Auroville, or you might say quest for mutation of human species is the curriculum of Auroville, which we are not emphasising sufficiently today and that is why also there is a problem in Auroville. If this quest for the mutation of human species is broadly shared and intensely shared, then some of the problems of Auroville could be resolved very easily. And it is necessary to have this vey broadly shared by people in Auroville.
Can we think of the first eight years curriculum? The following are my ideas. I have already presented what I call the core curriculum for twelve years, so it includes eight years also. So that is my first proposal, these eight years course which is here, let that be the spinal cord of our curriculum. Now I come to first the Left Wing. It consists of the study of languages. So my proposal is that we should have a curriculum of the study of English, French, Tamil, Sanskrit, this is my proposal — these four languages. Now pedagogically it’s a very difficult problem, how to teach four languages to our students. At present we have made some efforts, our children speak English and Tamil, these two languages are more widespread than other languages. Now Mother had spoken of French very prominently, and I always feel sorry when our children are not able to speak French. This is my personal regret in fact, which I want to share with you because I would like to tell you my own story about French.
You know when you don’t know a language, you have prejudice against it. When I came to the Ashram, I did not know French and therefore it’s a fact that one has a prejudice against what we don’t know. Other people say you should learn and there is a reluctance. It’s a difficult task to learn a language, so for quite some time I did not learn the language. And the fact was that French was the medium of instruction in Ashram school and I was the Registrar and not knowing French I had half the school out of my understanding, which was a very troublesome thing for me as a Registrar, you should know the whole school, everything that is going on in the school but because I did not know French, half the school was out of my purview. So all the time there was a knocking on my door as it were, ‘learn French, learn French’ and I wanted to learn French but where is the time? my work was so heavy, fourteen hours a day and tremendous amount of work to be done, so many experiments going on, so much correspondence going on and then reports to the Mother, Mothers answers to be implemented and expansion of the school taking place, construction work going on at the same time and I had no Kripa with me at that time to assist as Sanjeev has got somebody to assist, I had none. So where is the time for learning a language? I also wanted to learn Tamil because Tamil was spoken all over and even now I have not learnt Tamil in spite of so many years, an unpardonable thing. But it is in my program, my curriculum still includes Tamil, anyway. Many teachers in our Ashram school had a prejudice against French, because they also did not know like me the French language and they felt that French is being emphasised in our school because Pavitra da is a Frenchman, who was the Director of Education. Because he is the director therefore French is being imposed upon all of us. While it is a burden, actually it is a burden on our educational process and this view was expressed implicitly in whispers and sometimes quite openly. All teachers who were revered teachers, they also used to say Pavitra being a Frenchman wants to impose French in our school, it was blunt like that. And naturally people like me who did not know French and had the reluctance to learn French used to feel that there may be something in it. I am talking to you quite in a confessional mood, it’s a fact.
Now a time came when there was the question of introducing new mathematics. I think around 1960–61 there was a new wave in the world of new mathematics and many books came out on this subject and since Pavitra Da was also a mathematician and Mother herself gave a great importance to mathematics, teachers said that we should introduce new mathematics in our school. And many text books were bought and there was one book in French, which was one of the best as a production but very costly and there was another book in English, not so beautifully produced but content wise the same but very cheap in cost. So now the question was which text book to follow, that French textbook or this English book? What book to follow? And the argument was of all those who were advocating English as a medium of instruction, their argument was that if you want to buy a number of copies of mathematics for each student (which was the practice in the Ashram School, in Ashram School everybody was given a text book by the school itself) So the school had to buy a number of copies of mathematics text book and if so many textbooks had to be bought the budget will be very high. So it was suggested that it is better to buy cheap books so that the cost is not high and the English text book is almost as good as the French book. So a question was put to the Mother: Mother, here are two books and please tell us which book should we introduce in our school as our text? And Mother said: you leave the matter to me and I will think it over. And after three days Mother wrote –this French book is the best, that was her answer but you need not give the text to every child, teachers must study this book and produce worksheets for every child. You see, the synthetic answer, the cost is not so high if you buy only for teachers, not for pupils, but then she gave a home–work for teachers that you read the text books and prepare work–sheets for children. So teachers have to work on it and give work–sheets to the children, in French. Now this was Mother’s answer, this gave me a tremendous insight into what Mother’s, why she was emphasising French.
And then one student wrote a very clear question, ‘Mother you tell us yourself, what is the importance of French from your own point of view, not because so many others are advocating French, because the Director of Education is French but you, yourself. What is your view? And I read out this letter to the Mother and said the following to me: (which I want to share with you because I really want to emphasise the study of French in Auroville) Mother said the following: ‘English language has brought into India vulgar commercialism and this has to be combated so that the Indian spirit comes back to itself. French is the only language, which can combat English because it has in it the qualities of clarity, precision, robust intellectuality and aristocracy of the spirit. I want these qualities to be superimposed upon whatever is given through the English language in India, (She didn’t speak only of the Ashram, she told me in India) so that the corrupting influence of English is counteracted effectively. And then she told me ‘I do not know how much you can do in this direction?’ This was her answer and this gave me a complete knock in my consciousness. This was just preceded by another sentence of the Mother, I give you, I had requested from the printing press that we should have Mother’s talks which are being distributed among teachers and students and an equal number of copies in French and English so that those who do not know French can also study Mother’s talks in English. So Mother had written to me ‘Those who want to read me should read me in French’ and she underlined ‘French’ three times. So I would like to share with you that I would like to plead with everybody in Auroville, please attend to French, at present it is being neglected greatly.
Anyway I personally feel that there is research to be made in this subject because even teaching four languages is a big problem.
Question: Is it compulsory for everybody?
Answer: No, as I said the first principle of curriculum is that nothing is compulsory. The first statement to be made in this curriculum is that nothing is compulsory. This is what Mother once told me. You see in our school there was an assumption that physical education is absolutely inevitable in our school. Even today you cannot join the school, if you are not a member of the Physical Education Group. As a result many people believed that according to the Mother physical education is compulsory. I had asked the Mother one question because once one student said ‘I don’t like to go to sports’. So Mother said: why do you force it, in our school nothing is compulsory’ she said, these were her own words. Now this is a marvellous statement.
So even when I say four languages, I make a distinction between three things – those which are to be emphasised, those things which are to be encouraged and those things which are optional. Nothing is compulsory but certain things to be emphasised, I think we have to, you see when a child is taken to body awareness in your experiments, which are admirable experiments, I don’t think anybody says, look this is compulsory, it’s being done, it’s not compulsory. I am sure if some child says: Oh! I don’t like it at all, I don’t think we will force him, but it’s being done. Similarly, if these four languages are spoken, taught, given, it is what I call emphasis, you are emphasising the learning of four languages. Actually Mother said all the spoken languages of the world are the languages of Auroville, not only these four languages but all the spoken languages of the world. So it does not contradict the formula that in addition to four languages if you have any other mother tongue that also is to be cultivated so you have five languages.
In any case there is another aspect of this question which has to noticed as she said: each language gives you a certain vibration and a certain development of faculty, which is like Sanskrit for example, the faculty of pronunciation is best achieved in Sanskrit – shudha ucharan, the purity of pronunciation is greatly emphasised in Sanskrit as never, like even Le in French, now in Sanskrit like La is written full, it is la but when you want to make half lile, there is a word called lile, it ends with le but pronunciation in English is lile. But in Sanskrit if you write lile then la has to be halant, has to be half. So there is a great precision in Sanskrit pronunciation and there are many other emphasises in Sanskrit language which are peculiar to Sanskrit language. Thirdly there is also another aspect, any student who can speak four languages will already be a forerunner in the world. Therefore we have to look at it from all these points of view, what capacities we want to give our children, what will be his standing, his confidence. A child who knows so many languages, his confidence itself is very great. The contribution that language learning can give to the child is something not sufficiently understood as Sri Aurobindo says: we have to realise that clear thinking is possible without a clear mastery over language. So even for clear thinking, mastery over language is important. So our normal practise in languages is thought to be very perfunctory, there is no attainment of a mastery of a language. In fact, pedagogically today you go anywhere in Delhi, or in America, mastery over language is not emphasised. What happens is while teaching language, we switch over to literature and our assumption is that by reading a lot of literature, you master the language. But if you ask certain questions like reporting, what I said, now if somebody says now you report the speech. You may be a good literary artist, reporting my speech accurately, is a different capacity. Unless you have a good mastery over the language, not on literature but language, you cannot report my speech very correctly.
Now, therefore there is a difference between learning literature through literature and learning language through language skills. And this pedagogically very much neglected. In fact Mother once wrote a letter on this subject and she offended many people who were teaching literature through that letter. For a year whole controversy raged over that letter of the Mother, when Mother said: Literature is only concentrated upon the throat centre. It is the throat centre, according to Sri Aurobindo, that is for externalising intelligence, intelligence which is concentrated upon externalising consciousness. And in order to be literary, you have to learn how to find novel and original ideas. And for the sake of novelties you enter into a field, which is not necessarily sublime. Now this had created a lot of controversy in our Ashram School because many professors of literature wrote to the Mother saying what Sri Aurobindo has written on literature. Because it is true Sri Aurobindo has written so much on literature and has spoken of the importance of literature, that many professors of literature and one professor of Shantiniketan had come (he was a devotee of the Mother) and for one year he was so sad that Mother had written this, that it is degradation of literature, where Sri Aurobindo has spoken so much and everyone said that poetry, music and art are the perfect education of the soul. You know Mother’s statements as she has said there is no dogma about it, she is a force in action, it counteracts many people’s exaggerated notion about literature and she wanted to put everything in balance. But for people to write to Mother saying Sri Aurobindo has written this, it was an irony actually, to tell Mother what Sri Aurobindo has written on literature.
Anyway, I feel that these four languages, how to emphasise them, not to make them compulsory, but how to emphasise these four languages is a matter of curricular research. I feel that there should be, I don’t know Mita and Tapas are not here, but I think Mita is working on this subject also quite seriously, she has shown me. I think this research requires, Mother told me once that you should teach four languages simultaneously. You take a word and say this in English, this in French, this in Tamil, this in Sanskrit simultaneously, in Italian so and so, in Spanish this is this way etc. I think this also makes languages much easier. 50% of English words are French or vice versa or even more, it’s a fact. It’s a tyranny of subjects that prevents us from cultivating languages at a higher level, it’s a fact, I know it. Why is it that we do not give importance to languages because we feel he must learn Mathematics, science, history, geography, all this. Now there is a school of thought which says that first eight years children should learn only languages, it’s a school of thought, not that I agree with it entirely, but there is a great force in it. According to this school of thought, the first eight years should be devoted only to languages because they say if your languages are good, the other things you can learn easily afterwards.
Now I am giving this concreteness first of all that these four languages kindly emphasise in our curriculum and kindly emphasise mental calculi, Mother had spoken of mental calculation, not mathematics, mathematics is a different subject, it’s not calculi. Mother made a distinction she said calculi is not mathematics. And so Mother said at the lower stages, you emphasise language and calculi. She has not said further on the subject but I would say that in the curriculum of the first eight years, you should give a great emphasis on learning four languages and calculi, four operations of arithmetic. Because these four operations are actually a real training of the mind, the mind actually works best when mathematical problems are given, all the faculties of the mind of analyses, the left hand faculties they develop best. So this calculi is very important as a basis for mathematics, then higher mathematics can be learnt later on. So my suggestion is four languages and calculi, plus anything else that the child wants. These two things to be emphasised at this level in addition to this spinal cord and on the right hand wing, lots of stories. You give literature but mainly through stories, through drama, through recitation of poetry and through creative expressions, drawing and through music and through dance. These I would say you emphasise strongly in the first eight years, plus whatever the child wants to learn let him learn, you can allow him anything else. He wants to do a lot of mathematics even at the lower level, fine. If he wants to do a lot of physiology, let him do that, he wants to do a lot of physics, how and why for example, many questions of the how and why can be introduced at the lower level. They include geography, physics, chemistry, and lots of questions only through how and why. And then as a result he wants to read on physics, he can read, he can be helped, it is optional. But what you emphasise is basically what I told you just now. The spinal cord of this ‘To Know Oneself and To Control Oneself’, then four languages and calculi plus stories, dramas, recitations, dance and any creative drawing and so on, these are to be emphasised in the first eight years, up to fourteen years plus anything he wants to do in addition to this but these are to be emphasised. Anything else the child wants to do should be encouraged, it’s for encouragement. And even at the level of fourteen if some gifted children want to do some optional subjects, real study, we should allow him and the facility should be given.
So the curriculum should be of such a nature that this emphasises, this encouragement and this kind of optionality is available. This is my reading at present but I would like to invite people who want to make a curriculum. In addition to this I would emphasise two subjects which are not normally emphasised at this stage and that is Astronomy and Geography. This is apart from mathematics, which I said is a great mental gymnastics, as far as the empirical science is concerned nothing is more concrete to the child as Astronomy and Geography, from the point of concreteness and these two subjects are normally not taught except in a very general way. You speak about stars and galaxies and so on, but nothing more than that but astronomy would be a very good subject for study. In fact in the Indian system of education Jyotisha, that is astronomy, was given the highest importance. It was right from childhood Jyotish was taught to everybody – astronomy. So this is my suggestion and when I come back again if there is a group of people who are preparing syllabus or curriculum, or if all of us join together like this, I’ll be very happy. If we all can frame, people can bring some of their ideas. In fact I have requested Serge to be here, I told him to prepare his own. You know he is a physicist himself, I had a good talk with him and I have told him that you just give me your autobiographical development of study of physics.
You know one of the best ways of learning or preparing curriculum is to take biographies of some individuals – how they learnt the given subject. What was the curve of their development? And if you compare three, four, five such biographies, you get a good idea as to how to develop, instead of discussing in a theoretical manner, you take a biography. How you learnt music for example, I don’t know if you know music or not, or how you learnt art, for example, if I ask her, if you give a biographical account, it will be a very interesting study, seriously. If you can bring next time, I would like to only read the papers of individuals – how I learnt certain things. So when I come next time, let us continue, if you all agree. I’ll be happy if all are present because I want everyone to be a participant in this. It is a learning process for all of us.