Freedom for Growth

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“FREEDOM FOR GROWTH”, a model aim according to Tagore’s vision of education. How to “open the mind’s caged door” in alternative rural schooling.

I found a little tattered pamphlet many years ago in a pile of ex library books in a traditional school in India. It was entitled “Rabindranath Tagore, pioneer in education” and was compiled by Sahitya Chayan in 1994. I devoured it, and found the essays by Tagore himself and his much valued assistant educator L. K. Elmhirst utterly eye opening and inspiring beyond words. Sadly I am ten years older if not wiser. Tagore’s vision has not spread all over India or even in rural areas of Bengal to the extent that they should have 90 years down the line! In fact the following words are lamentably true of an ever increasing number of pretentious and expensive schools (mainly calling themselves  “International”) in every city of India:

“Already too many schools exist for the depriving of the children of the privilege of helping THEMSELVES OR THEIR FELLOWS, and for the ENCOURAGEMENT OF AN UNNATURAL SPIRIT OF COMPETITION.  It is in fact, just out of SUCH SELF-CENTRED INSTITUTIONS, concerned primarily with their own success in scholarship or games, their own WEALTH in numbers of students of size of buildings,…that arises that spirit of sectarianism, of nationalism, of selfish individualism and self-assertion, which produces in the world the most insidious form of dissension and spiritual blindness”. (L. K. Elmhirst)

Does this sound familiar? Are there not stressed out, alienated, unhappy children sweating to compete and become “toppers” in order to please parents, school and society, and join in the rat race to grab an engineering or medical degree? Or join an IT company? or become an MBA or a lawyer? Is this what we teachers are about? So why Freedom for Growth? This was the motto Elmhirst felt would, if kept at the heart of all the school’s activities, ensure not only freedom for growth but also for enterprise and adventure, and Imagination ,”the greatest of gifts, that function of the mind upon which all progress depends”. Elmhirst is referring to the Siksha-Satra educational experiment that was pioneered by Tagore and himself in Santiniketan. I think we can all agree that it is  “in their simplicity, in their capacity to grow, and in a certain native frankness that the charm of children chiefly lies”, and that, unhindered, they will “carry on their own research in the field of LIFE, gathering knowledge from experience with an abounding JOY that is rarely exceeded later”. Yet why do these words cause our hearts to sink, in disappointment , or so-called realism, as we admit that there are very few educational establishments that either see children that way or give them that kind of freedom to grow? One reason is that the fundamental premise has been lost sight of. It is a natural process for the young of any species to seek experience that is ultimately about self preservation, but with a kind of joyfulness and energy that is startling. Even trees as they sprout and reach up and out, show this “exuberance”, as Elmhirst calls it. So why is it repressed in schools that are supposedly designed to help children grow? What is going on? and what can we do to change it? Society tends to descend in its aims to the lowest common denominator, or the perceived majority needs that make the economic system and thereby the running of the mass of people called society, viable. The media, of course, sells and actively promotes any values that will uphold the consuming system so that the wheels can go on turning and profit go on being made and workers go on working.

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