When trying to educate in the right way, one of the things we can and probably should do is follow good practice, or ‘best practice’ as it is called in common parlance. By this I mean practice that is thought to be both effective and ethically sound, usually based on traditional wisdom or academic research. In the context of education this constitutes the approaches to teaching, management, and school support that get the job done effectively in a way that is morally good. It is good practice both in instrumental and in ethical terms.
Yet, when we study what happens when education is truly good, for example through phenomenological research or, more informally, through the kind of enquiry Krishnamurti spoke about, we find that a lot happens in our relationships that is neither described in accounts of good practice nor seen to originate in the practice itself. What is more, when we come into contact with that other dimension of the relationship, a dimension that is beyond the practice, we may well experience it as much more significant than what happens at the level of the mechanics of good practice.
Let us call this other dimension of the relationship ‘the space of inner consciousness’. We experience this space when we are interacting with others and with nature, and also when we are in a state of meditation. To the extent that our relationships are formed in this space, they appear to have a deeper ground than our reactions of like and dislike, our emotional responses, our specific actions, and the ideas we may hold. The essence of our relationships appears to be deeper than practice. For example, good practice may describe the kinds of listening skills a good teacher or school manager needs to display, such as making eye-contact, being genuinely engaged, and showing they have understood and taken on board what is being said. But, however good the practice, it may still not be good at the inner level of consciousness because good practice in itself is no guarantee that the relationship is good at the level that matters most. Likewise, the school community will only be a true community (as opposed to a tribe, a faction, a sect, or an interest group) if it is based on a sense of connectedness at the level of inner consciousness, which is different from the kinds of cohesion that come out of teambuilding exercises. This is like the light emitted from a lantern through the cracks in the paper, perhaps forming a star or a smiley face. This light does not originate in the paper that shapes it like a face or a star, but comes from inside the lantern. In the same way, the goodness that may manifest in our practices does not originate in these practices, but in the space of inner consciousness.
And yet it also seems important that we seek out ‘best practices’. As a teacher, I know I need to adopt the best methodology I can find, just as the cook needs to make the healthiest food, and the head of department ought to develop the best possible management practice that responds to given needs. So how can best practice and good practice be reconciled? Here, I will explore my understanding of inner consciousness and its essential nature, and try to suggest the ways in which it might manifest (or not) in the practices of an educational community.
The first thing we can say about the space of inner consciousness is that there are no divisions within it. It is whole. Therefore, teaching and organizational practices should reflect its undivided nature. The school community that best reflects this would not have factions and divisions, insiders and outsiders, favourites and those whose presence is merely tolerated. Where there is functional differentiation between different groups and individuals, this separation is only for practical purposes and the overall atmosphere should be inclusive. Among all those involved in the school there needs to be a sense that inwardly there is only one consciousness of which all individuals are part, and this needs to be reflected in the spirit of the school and in the way the organization is run. And this sense of oneness should extend to the animals, plants, and nature in and around the school. Aiming for such a sense of inclusiveness is, therefore, not merely good for effectiveness or productivity; it is a way of basing relationships on the understanding that the space of inner consciousness is undivided.
Another characteristic of the space of inner consciousness is that, in it, all living beings exist as much for their own sake as for their relationship with others. So the practices we adopt should emphasize the value of each individual, and reflect a sense of equality rather than hierarchy, without ignoring the different responsibilities that come with different roles. The ability to meet another human being without hiding behind either a superior or subordinate status can be hard, as it may make us feel exposed and vulnerable. But it is important that we aim to do so, because it has deeper significance at a level that really matters that we acknowledge that all are worthy in themselves and none more worthy than the other.
What is more, the space of inner consciousness is essentially transparent. So if we want our practices to reflect this, it requires openness to questioning and listening with a truly open mind to those who voice concerns. While our capacity for honesty may be limited by how transparent our thoughts and feelings are to ourselves, we should be as honest as we can be. Hidden agendas on the part of the teacher, backroom deal making on the part of the management, a secret disregard for the school’s stated aims, all these undermine the striving towards good practice.
Related to this is trust and a sense of security. This means that, where management practices are arbitrary or teacher behaviour is erratic, it becomes much more difficult for individuals to truly connect with themselves and each other. Ultimately, there may never be genuine trust and security so long as we feel compelled to operate only for our self-interest. To encourage individuals to take this step into the space of inner consciousness, it helps if we adopt educational and organizational practices that are not only inclusive and transparent, but also trustworthy and which promote a sense of security for all.
Further, in the space of inner consciousness, who we are and what we do matters absolutely—not in the sense of being measurable or countable in comparative terms—but in the sense of each of us existing in a way that is not relative to others’ perspectives, aims or desires. And this means that the practices we adopt should allow all involved to take initiative and to have the contributions they make acknowledged, from the youngest to the oldest, from the headmistress to the person doing the lowest-paid job. Our classrooms and communities should be places where every individual has a voice, and all are seen to count.
If we consider it carefully, there is only one inner realm of consciousness. There is only one world and our practices should reflect this. Maintaining a deep and sustained connection with the natural world is essential. Even if we distance ourselves from commonly followed practices in the rest of human society and for pragmatic reasons thus isolate ourselves, the individual or the community cannot separate themselves, in spirit, from the world around. Indeed, a teacher who refuses to be open to learning from others at a deeper level, may well be bound to repeat the worst of educational practices that he might have sought to isolate himself from. Similarly, a community that retreats into a psychological bubble of selfabsorption may well eventually be absorbed by the world around it, altogether losing its uniqueness. There is only one world, and all of it is part of the natural world, and our practices should reflect this.
The more we come into contact with the realm of inner consciousness, the more we may find that it has no boundaries. This means that the greatest results come from those practices that take their point of reference not in well-defined worldly goals, but are the manifestation of the goodness that originates in the space of inner consciousness. This is not to say that we should, for example, refuse to pass exams or be financially viable as an organization. Nor does it mean that we should not bother to support those in need or be involved in nature conservation. Rather, it means that passing exams, being financially viable, supporting charities, and protecting wildlife should happen in the service of manifesting this quality of goodness. This good may then spread in unexpected ways, because the unbounded nature of the inner realm knows much better than we ever can how to find the cracks in the paper that make the lantern shine.
As we make the demand on ourselves to combine best practice with relationships that are based in inner consciousness, the space for education opens up. Then the demands of good practice are ones we can and should make on the students, to the extent that their age and level of maturity allows. Then students may learn to treat all as worthy of respect, including themselves, their teachers, support staff and fellow students; they may learn that animals and nature are just as much part of the whole and valuable in their own right; they may learn not to form factions amongst themselves or be antagonistic towards the staff; they may learn to be transparent in their being and not hide parts of themselves; they may learn not to become self-absorbed or tribal in their outlook; they may learn to trust and be trustworthy; they may have the manifestation of the good in mind even as they study for their exams and prepare for a role in society; and they may understand that it matters absolutely who they are and what they do. Ultimately it means that we will have opened up a space for the student to learn that who they are, in absolute terms, is not their outward persona but the one they are at the level of inner consciousness—undivided, transparent, valuable in their own right, trusting and trustworthy, one with the whole of existence, and unbounded in who they can be at that inner level.