Room with a View|Nov 13, 2013 4:04 AM| by:

Education: Philosophy and Practice

Book: Education: Philosophy and Practice (Articles by various authors)

(Publisher: Decent Books, New Delhi, in association with Centre for Sri Aurobindo Studies, Kolkata. 347 pp, ISBN 978-81-86921-56-2, Rs 900)

The importance of education can never be overstated, for the future of not just individuals but entire nations rests on this one principle before all others. While it is true that other factors may make a country rise from one level to another, to sustain itself at that level would prove almost impossible were it not backed with a history, a culture, a confidence in one’s identity and roots, and above all, a pride that unifies all who belong to that nation.  This would be possible only via a democratic, flexible, all-encompassing form of education, which looks to the future but stems from the depth of the race consciousness, becoming at once familiar, encouraging, visionary. Anything that pursues this line of thought is welcome, and so Education: Philosophy and Practice is a useful addition to this library of anthologies, books and treatises which deal with the past, present and future of education.

That education in general, and Indian education in particular, is flawed is an understatement. But what is important is that like all imperfections, this too can be worked upon diligently, not only by a band of educators, but by every individual. For education cannot have a boundary drawn around it—it is limitless and the ways to approach it are infinite. It has no beginning and no end which is why they say it starts even as the child waits patiently in the womb. Every moment thereafter is a moment of learning, imparted by parents, friends, teachers, society, circumstance. Each lesson can be milked to the full and goes into the making of the ideal student—a student not of this subject or that, but a student of life.

And that is why Sri Aurobindo’s integral approach is so endearing, for there is no facet of an individual’s being that can escape being bathed in the rich and bright luminescence of knowledge. Education for most means a mental process and progress, but for him education applies to the physical just as much, for the body is the instrument with which that very mind would move forward. Not stopping there, true education has a further role to play—that of the illumination of the soul. It is not a new idea but perhaps it has been forgotten over time. Our ancients were well aware of it, and the twelve years spent at the feet of a guru passed not just in reciting shlokas but in the awakening of the psychic being and the airing of the soul; this led to the final culmination of finding one’s true purpose, one’s true work. All of education is directed to this one end. And while the guru/shishya tradition may have slipped into the shadows, the idea of self-illumination is eternal and waiting to be rediscovered and pursued in earnest once more.

But perhaps this is still too abstract for the common perception. In the meanwhile, we could try and remedy the wrongs which stare us in the face—the over-burdened child, the confusion of language, the loss of culture and context, the lack of idealism, the paucity of values, the short-sighted vision, the blinkered understanding of what it means to be educated. What happened to ideas of shaping the personality, forming the individual, creating the instrument for the future? Old-fashioned, you may say, but redundant? Surely not.

And so, here to remind us of how education permeates every level of existence are twelve academics reflecting on the philosophy and practice of education from multiple standpoints: the relevance of the ideas of those such as Sri Aurobindo and J. Krishnamurti, Tagore’s hopes and dreams to bring a resurgence in India, the Gandhian idea of aesthetics, the connection between education and violence, a looking back at the educational agenda laid down by the Nationalists, and a glance into the future, keeping realism and contemporary life well within view. The importance of a book such as this lies in providing that nudge to move, to shake off the lethargy, to make the change. However, one wonders if, like some other books on education, this too will become just another addition to a shelf full of similar works. While it presents invaluable ideas, rich with possibilities and seeped with wisdom, it is pedagogic in nature and by that definition, closes its doors to a younger audience, who although idealistic and in search of change, nevertheless speak and understand a different language. Manoj Das, one of the contributors, was perhaps aware of this, and his anecdotal and perceptive essay will undoubtedly leave younger readers with much to think about and respond to. The other essays are a mixed bunch, some far too esoteric, others lucid in prose and interesting for the personalities they portray, but falling short of landing a transformative punch, so to speak. Strangely, the anthology doesn’t include Swami Vivekananda, who not only worked on this theme for much of his life but also connected with the youth in ways that others had not.

At some point, and through some twist in the fate of this country, we not only forgot but simply obliterated a way of life from our consciousness. A country that for centuries had visitors from afar coming in search of instruction, knowledge, wisdom, is today reduced to a nut-and-bolt factory, churning out poor copies of some global mould. We puff up our chests and speak of universities like Nalanda and Taxila, without once reflecting that we failed to keep Nalanda and Taxila alive; our pride in India’s wisdom is meaningless if it is merely hitchhiking on a former glory.

Of late, it almost seems as if we are running short of time—time to make the necessary corrections or fill in the many gaps or undo the mistakes that we have felt crop up in our lifetime. There is a sense of doom or dread that it is already too late and the newer generations will not be able to even connect with ideas such as those presented in the book, let alone implement or practise them; that it is far easier to let things move along as they are than to do a U-turn, for such is the fast pace of life. Yes indeed, ‘change’ goes hand in hand with courage, patience, determination and faith, and perhaps it is only prudent to accept that not all are up to the task. When one can see the obvious failings of a system and also have the good fortune of not just theoretical remedies but those that have been tried and tested, however many centuries ago, then there really is no excuse to remain willingly blind or resistant. If you as a reader, as an educator, as a parent, as a student, have at one time or another felt the immense thirst for something more than what was doled out in our schools and colleges, then it becomes imperative to act upon it, in whatever capacity possible. Books like Education: Philosophy and Practice can serve to encourage you to bring back that light and glory that once made us proud.

(Education: Philosophy and Practice is available at SABDA which also holds the copyright for this review.)