A Flame of Learning’ is not an easy book to read—but then few worthwhile things are easy. It is not a difficult book if one wants to merely understand it verbally or intellectually, but if one wants to really, truly understand what it is about, one needs to read it with great attentiveness.
One can learn much about teacher-training from this book. It is a record of some of
J. Krishnamurti’s conversations with teachers. It gives a glimpse of an out-of-the-ordinary (to say the least) educator and philosopher training his teachers. Krishnamurti asks in the beginning of the book, ‘If we all think these teachings are important, how shall we transmit them to the student so that we have a different kind of human being leaving these schools who is not just like everybody else? … Now, how shall we do it?’ One can relate to this immediately for it is the question that we are all seeking an answer to as teacher educators and as teachers.
As one reads further, one realizes that this training is very different from most of the teacher training sessions conducted today. Most training today focusses on the means while remaining silent about the aims of education. Krishnamurti gets to the heart of what, at the end of the day, makes education an intrinsically worthwhile activity. Throughout the book, he pursues this question: how are we to light the flame of learning that will result in the transformation of the student? A Flame of Learning is not merely about how we should teach History, Math or Science, but about how to transform the student while also teaching these subjects.
In sharp contrast to the trend in modern training sessions that attempt to upgrade quality by focussing almost exclusively upon technique and technological factors, Krishnamurti focusses on the human and the psychological aspects of the transaction.
This serves to draw teacher-educators’ attention back to the centrality of the human interaction that lies at the heart of education, and makes us recognize that even the most sophisticated methodological considerations can assist in the teaching-learning process only up to a point.
One of the first few things that strike the reader is the way in which Krishnamurti relates to teachers. He does not talk to them but with them. Unfortunately, at most teacher-training programmes these days, the trainer talks down to teachers, but not with them, and the teachers in turn do the same with their students. Krishnamurti rightly points out that it is essential for the teacher to get off his pedestal of authority; for, it is only possible to light a flame of learning if the teachers and students explore issues together. One of the highlights of this book is to learn how this can be done without abdicating the responsibility that lies with the teacher.
It is interesting to note here that while Krishnamurti asks the question, ‘How shall we do it?’ he is not looking for a method. He is interested in laying bare the general form or structure of teaching that would serve as a guide, but cannot be mechanically followed. Too often in teacher-training sessions, a precise lesson-plan with the method is detailed and teachers are expected to follow. Such a detailed outline calls for nothing from the teacher. It is not internalized and not meaningful to the teacher. Therefore it is mechanically taught and, in turn, leads to indifferent, superficial, and mechanical memorising. Krishnamurti walks his teachers through the teaching, thus giving importance to process, which is essential not just for the teachers to internalize the lesson, but also to understand the importance of process in any learning.
There is another (unintended) lesson for us in this book. One realizes that at times even Krishnamurti is a bit impatient with some answers and the very genuine doubts that teachers express in the course of the conversation. As a result, at times one finds that some teachers try to give ‘correct’ answers rather than really say what they think. This happens whenever the teacher gives more importance to what needs to be taught and forgets that it can only be taught if one travels at the pace of the student. This should alert us even more to that ever-present danger in teaching and make us careful and determined to avoid the same pitfall.
Finally, the book has great relevance to teachers even outside the Krishnamurti schools. Building attention and intelligence, self-awareness, order, freedom, discipline and uncovering the sources of our conditioning, prejudices, fears and jealousy must be the concerns of all teachers. Whether one is interested in simply improving the ability to learn through sharpening attentiveness or with the more challenging task of bringing about a deep, radical change within a person, this book should be of interest to teacher educators, teachers and parents alike.