I can’t deny to my challenging views on education and freedom for children. I hold that the aim of life is to find happiness, which means to find interest. Education should be a preparation for life. Our culture has not been very successful. Our education, politics and economics lead to war. Our medicines have not done away with disease. Our religion has not abolished usury and robbery. The advances of the age are advances in mechanism – in communications and computers, in science and technology. New wars threaten, for the world’s social conscience is still primitive.
If we feel like questioning today, we can pose a few awkward questions. Why does man hate and kill in war when animals do not? Why does cancer increase? Why are there so many suicides? Why the need for drugs to enhance life? Why backbiting and spite? Why is sex obscene and a leering joke? Why degradation and torture? Why the continuance of religions that have long ago lost their love and hope and charity? Why, a thousand whys about our vaulted state of civilised eminence!
I ask these questions because I am by profession a teacher, one that deals with the young. I ask these questions because these are much larger questions of life’s fulfilment – of man’s inner happiness.
How much of our education is real doing, real self-expression? Handwork is too often the making of a wooden box under the eye of an expert. There is always someone to lift the baby up on a chair when the baby wants to examine something on the wall. Every time we show the baby something we defy in, we are stealing from that child the joy of life – the joy of discovery – the joy of overcoming an obstacle. Worse! We make that child come to believe that he is inferior, and must depend on help.
Parents are slow in realising how unimportant the learning side of school is. Children, like adults, learn what they want to learn. All the prize-giving and marks and exams side-track proper personality development. Books are the least important apparatus in a school. All that any child needs is the three R’s (Reading,’Riting and Rithmetic’) the rest should be tools and clay and sports and theatre and paint and freedom.
Most of the school work that adolescents do is simply a waste of time, of energy, of patience. It robs youth of its right to play and play and play and unknowingly puts old heads on young shoulders.
When I speak to children nowadays, I am often shocked at the ungrownupness of these lads and lasses stuffed with useless knowledge. They know a lot. They shine in dialectics, they can quote the classics – but in their outlook on life many of them are infants. For they have been taught to know, but have not been allowed to feel. These students are friendly, pleasant, eager, but something is lacking – the emotional factor, the power to subordinate thinking to feeling. I talk to these of a world they have missed and go on missing. Their textbooks do not deal with human character, or with love, or with freedom, or with self-determination. And so the system goes on, aiming only at standards of book learning – it goes on separating the head from the heart.
It is time that we at Sanskriti should make the thoughtful move and challenge the school’s notion of work. It is taken for granted that every child should learn mathematics, history, geography, science, a little art and certainly literature. It is us who have realised that the average young child is not much interested in any of these subjects.
I can prove this with every student till date. When told that the school is free, every child cries with joy, “Hurrah! You won’t catch me going to lessons!”
I am not decrying learning. But learning should come after play. And learning should not deliberately seasoned with play to make it palatable. The major belief of Sanskriti lies in the fact that ‘learning is important – but not to everyone’. Sometimes just boosting the morale of a slow mind can make him break the walls. Creators learn what they want to learn in order to have the tools that their originality and genius demand. The school has a phenomenon of saving the creativity from being killed in the classroom with its emphasis on learning.
I have seen a girl weep nightly over her geometry. Her mother wanted her to go to university, but the girl’s whole soul was artistic.
The notion that unless a child is learning something the child is wasting his time is nothing less than a curse – a curse that blinds thousands of teachers and most of the schools.
The function of the child is to live his own life, not the life that his anxious parents think he should live, nor a life according to the purpose of the educator who thinks he knows best. All this interference and guidance on the part of adults only produces a generation of robots.
We, at Sanskriti are set out to make a land in which we strive to allow children freedom to be themselves. In order to do this we had to renounce all discipline, all direction, all suggestion, all moral training, all religious instruction. We have been called brave, but it did not require courage. All it required was what we had – a complete belief in the child as a good, not an evil, being. With this the goodness of the child never wavered, it rather has become a final faith.