Krishnamurti suggested that, 'Education can be transformed only by educating the educator, and not merely creating a new pattern, a new system of action.' Around this challenge, a group of educators participated in a two-week intensive Teaching Academy in the summer of 2009, at Ojai, California. The programme consisted of two distinct yet complementary week-long sessions: 'Re-envisioning Education' and 'The Art, Science and Craft of Teaching and Learning'. The intention of the Teaching Academy was to provide grounding for new educators and renewal for veterans in the educational field.
Educators in the Krishnamurti schools have taken up the challenge of envisioning a school and classroom environment that isn't determined by reward and punishment, evaluation and the authority of knowing. But we have generally segmented these educational considerations around the students' experience. One underlying theme raised in the Teaching Academy was how the investigation of learning and the aims of education directly applies to teaching itself - and how educators themselves learn and explore the art, science and craft of teaching without recourse to prescribed methodologies of teaching. One of our morning readings of Krishnamurti reflects this theme (emphasis added):
'Let us not think in terms of principles and ideals, but be concerned with things as they are; for it is the consideration of what it is that awakens intelligence, and the intelligence of the educator is far more important than his knowledge of a new method of education. When one follows a method, even if it has been worked out by a thoughtful and intelligent person, the method becomes very important, and the children [and teachers] are important only as they fit into it. One measures and classifies the child [and teachers], and then proceeds to educate him according to some chart. This process of education may be convenient for the teacher [school boards and administrators], but neither the practice of a system nor the tyranny of opinion and learning can bring about an integrated human being.'
[J Krishnamurti: Education and the Significance of Life]
Thus, there is no particular teaching methodology (be it standardized testing, lecturing, student-centered learning, project-based learning, thematic integration or inter-disciplinary curriculum) that is going to address the core of what learning, and therefore teaching, is. This focus on teacher learning does not necessarily preclude the use of teaching methods - teachers do use different approaches, styles and have different methodological orientations - but it accords it with a peripheral and provisional role as it is discovered by the teacher's own ongoing inquiry. A question that wove itself throughout the Academy as an aspect of 'Re-envisioning Education': How will teachers live, learn and work together, as a non-methodological culture in a school, not only with students but among themselves as inquiring colleagues, learning all the time?
Educational timelines and claims about learning
The issue of the learning of the educator took life in several ways. Academy participants reflected on and recorded their own 'Educational Timelines' - richly descriptive, but not evaluative. (For example, not “I had a horrible teacher in 7th grade, ” but “I remember feeling afraid in my 7th grade class for having wrong answers, because it was structured to reward right answers.”) Towards constructing our educational timelines, we determined what turning points we found in our own educations. Using the timelines and readings we had done up to that point, we each generated claims about learning: “Learning happens when…”, “Learning is…”, “Learning is not….” From these claims we each distilled and selected five claims about which we felt strongly enough, that we would send our own children to an environment that reflected those claims or would leave a school if they weren't possible there. We also reflected on five claims we each found in Krishnamurti (e.g. “learning is not memorizing”, “learning is not additive”, “learning is action”, “learning is in flashes”). One reason for dwelling on claims about learning is that clarity about learning sets the stage for an urgent and immediate act of teaching (“If learning is…then teaching is…”). Indeed, Krishnamurti speaks of 'teaching-learning' as one process.
Generating aims of education
We worked from our claims about learning to generate Aims of Education. For example, some of the aims of education were: for students to 'find out what they love to do'; 'to create freedom in the individual'; 'to look at ordinary occurrences in life in an extraordinary way'. We also grappled with the distinction between goal oriented aims and educational intentions where the educative means are themselves the ends of education, as reflected in a participant's claim that “learning is at the beginning and not at the end”. Then, inspired by the film “School Without Walls” about the school-in-a-box project founded at Rishi Valley Educational Centre, we each attempted a skeletal design of our own school (or classroom)-in-a-box, describing or crafting ten components to directly reflect our intention for education. We then paired up and 'ruthlessly' questioned each other about our intent, and how and whether that was reflected in our school-in-a-box components.
Another thread of conversation was an appraisal and re-envisioning of persistent 'problems for schools' and conventional 'responses' to these problems. For example, questions about motivation, relevance, accountability and differences amongst students and amongst teachers are met by standard responses such as reward and punishment for teachers and students, sequencing of subject matter, grading and evaluation, sorting and ranking of student and teacher abilities. These problems can be mapped individually (one-on-one) to their corresponding responses or as an entire collection of problems to a system of solutions provided by the design of the school. We looked critically and carefully at the origin of the 'problems' themselves and at the efficacy and outcomes of such standard responses - do they achieve what they claim to achieve? What are the consequences (intentional and unintentional) of these responses to the lives of the teachers, students and society at large? Our daily grappling with the intents of education provided the impetus to figure out and re-configure alternative responses for schools and classrooms. As a group, we then worked to merge all our individual aims into a single statement of intent for education. We ended up with:
To create an environment of inquiry, learning, and teaching free from comparative evaluation in which observation, investigation, understanding, flowers - into the self, the world, and our relationship to all things.
The point is not that this is well-expressed, right or wrong. This activity of jointly articulating our learning claims and educational intent actually served to uproot our educational assumptions. It also revealed in a concrete way that our commitments were at best a “raid on the inarticulate” and that the “word is not the thing”. Participants were asked throughout the two weeks to “make a claim” or “place a stake in the ground” not to become certain, but to reveal our assumptions and place our educational commitments on the table for questioning. This way, the gap between our ideals and our actual modes of teaching and learning could be illuminated. Vastly different learning environments could come from any educational mission statement such as the one above. So, what then brings about a culture of learning (and therefore a culture of teaching)?
Micro-lessons, classroom observation and teacher review
Participants also created presentations and 'micro-lessons' (one-two minute lessons) for the whole group. The micro-lessons were filmed for later group observation. The challenge was to understand what it means to observe classroom activity carefully and to tie our interactions and activities to what our educational intentions might be. Earlier, before the micro-lessons and video observation, we had watched a video of a classroom with the task to look - very minutely, very precisely - at what was happening (eye gaze, turn taking, gestures, discourse, speech tone and inflection). The attempt was to look at the video without our habitual judgments or evaluative appraisals (e.g. “That teacher is teaching poorly; I would do x, y or z”, “she is such a gifted teacher”, “these are smart kids”) but rather to provide a thickly descriptive account. An idea from Dr. Jason Raley, (friend, mentor and faculty member at the Teacher Education Program at the University of California Santa Barbara) became relevant here: “Everyone makes sense”. That is, there are reasons for people's actions, even if we are unable to apprehend or comprehend them. This empathic orientation informed our observation, and transformed our habits of evaluation and judgment to reveal the underlying dynamics, intentions and consequences of what actually happens in a classroom.
More often than not, teacher education programs, even progressive ones, prescribe educational aims, methodologies, evaluations and motivations for teaching. For example, a teacher education program may promote 'student- centred learning' or 'inquiry-based learning' in the education of students, without robustly mirroring these same aims in the education of the teacher and the process of implementing the program itself. Thus prescriptions of even the most progressive methodologies often do not allow for the teachers themselves to engage in a process of inquiry and discovery. Typically, in such programs, teachers ask for and are given evaluative feedback on their teaching, either based on some standard metric or on a more progressive rubric (inducing them to be on their 'best behavior' for the review/evaluation). An alternative is to envision a teacher education program itself as a crucible for investigation, where the teachers are involved and immersed in a process of discovery and re-discovery, for themselves, about the nature of teaching and learning. For instance, in the academy a teacher said, “I see that when I was afraid (as a student in school or teacher in the classroom), there was no learning.…” Having seen the implications of this and the kind of atmosphere the teacher wanted to create in the classroom, rather than ask others for “tips and techniques”, the teacher framed her own questions for peers intended to focus their observations and provide meaningful, self-generated feedback. Rather than ask, “Am I being authoritarian in my classroom?”, a question which elicits opinion-based, evaluative observation and feedback, another teacher asked instead: “Could you observe my class and tell me how and in which contexts I use 'should', and whether I respond to students' questions only with answers or with further questions?” The feedback solicited is then observational, rather than implicitly judgmental, and is tied directly to the teacher's intentions and inquiry, rather than being a new intention imposed from without. Moreover, this affords the teacher the opportunity to provide feedback to his/her reviewer about the review itself. This mirroring of educational intent and reciprocity in the process of educating the educator is crucial for the coherence of any teacher education program.
Below are some other ideas of the Academy (which, while they merit further consideration and exploration, are discussed only briefly here).
Learning is not a scarce resource.
Learning is sometimes seen as a zero sum game. A 'zero sum game' is an interaction in which one party's success necessitates another's loss, or entailing the division of a limited resource. In education, it means that someone else's success at learning is my failure, as happens sometimes in curve fitting, teacher attention, limited college admission and enrollment. Is learning actually a limited resource? What would a school or society that rejected this assumption look like?
Learning is not measurable.
The claim is that learning or skills cannot be measured, except in an arbitrary context, and further that any chosen context will necessarily exclude someone else's measure of skill or learning arbitrarily (there is no 'true' context). As Krishnamurti puts it, “Knowledge is measurable, more or less, [the claim is much less than we may think at first sight], but in learning there is no measure.” What is striking about this claim is that it undercuts not only the ubiquitous trust placed on standard testing and measures of success (and failure!), but also a very broad range of the measures employed in progressive education with varied and innovative rubrics of assessment. If this claim is true, and if we care firstly about learning as an end in itself and not measures of success (of any kind), what would such a school look like?
Inquiry is not asking 'Known Information Questions'
Although many educators and teachers who have come across Krishnamurti reject the conventional notion of a child as an empty vessel to be filled with knowledge by the teacher's instruction, a major part of teaching still seems to involve the transfer of known information - even when framed as questions. What implications does this have for students' and teachers' inquiry and learning? Can teachers ask and sustain questions in the classroom that they themselves don't know the answers to? Can teachers do this amongst each other with regard to teaching, learning, and the life and vision of a school as a whole?
Finally, here are three questions that came to life at the Teaching Academy which we would like to leave you with.
- What does a learning environment look like that is not driven by a method?
- If we accept that learning cannot be measured, what then is academic excellence?
- Can I, as a teacher, ask my students questions to which I do not know the answer?
Teaching Academy was sponsored by the University of California Santa Barbara's (UCSB) Gevirtz Graduate School of Education and the Oak Grove reports School of the Krishnamurti Foundation of America. In 2009, the Academy's program was accredited by UCSB extension with “Professional level/Post-graduate” units (4 units/week). The Academy's program was designed and coordinated by Gopal Krishnamurthy and Karen Hesli.
- J Krishnamurti, Bombay, 9th Public Talk, 13th March, 1948.
- T S Eliot. The Four Quartets: East Coker in The Concise Oxford Companion to English Literature (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2003).
- J Krishnamurti, The Awakening of Intelligence (San Francisco: Harper Collins, 1987) 482.
- J Krishnamurti, Letters to the Schools, Volume 1, Letter 7, December, 1978.