School without Fear: Dialogues with Teachers and Parents (2016) J Krishnamurti Krishnamurti Foundation India

This book, if judiciously read, will prove extremely useful for teachers, and teacher educators. It comprises 26 dialogues between Krishnamurti and teachers as well as parents of the Rajghat Besant School, Varanasi. The dialogues were held between December 1954 and January 1955. Though it might surprise some, the thoughts and ideas, discussed some six decades ago, remain tremendously relevant today.

Krishnamurti tried, all his life, to ‘educate the educator’, encouraging the teachers first to ask fundamental questions, shake off set patterns, and participate actively in the building of a better world. This book helps bring the effort alive for readers today. It is accessible, each chapter a lamp which we may use, if we will, to help find our way ahead, as we work with children and young people. The teacher—or parent—who encourages students to ask fundamental questions, often opens up for them the doors to further understanding, and they embark upon journeys into the unknown. They may ask better questions, evolve as creative beings, and begin to reinvent society, remake the world.

Each dialogue is short and intense, with the dramatic feel of a live exchange between people who care deeply for humanity as a whole. Different dialogues take up core issues in education and trace inter-connections with processes of teaching, learning as well as practicalities of running an educational institution. Dialogue headings indicate the wide range and scope of issues discussed. These include: Imparting knowledge without competition; The teacher’s burden of anxiety and frustration; The intention to uncondition the child; The spirit first and then the details; Why does the mind refuse to face a fact? Teachers outside society; Protecting the child or transmitting your fears?; Are parents willing to educate themselves? and School without fear.

Here is a flavour of three such dialogues.

Protecting the child or transmitting your fears?

Teachers, and parents, are always saying they want to protect the child from harm. Krishnamurti asks us to enquire deeper into our motivations. Often, we are simply transmitting our fears to the child, whereas it may be far better to let the child explore and discover for himself or herself. We curb children and young people, trying to shape them according to our own image, limiting their lives and thinking, all the while asserting that it is for their own good. Adults try to place young people into set patterns and categories, in terms of nationality, caste, creed, class, livelihood, their daily routines, and so on. This stifles the possibility of change, change which humanity is in dire need of.

School without fear

It is widely accepted today that children should feel no fear of schooling, yet we do not seem to know how to go about this, how to put this freedom from fear into practice. In my own work as a teacher educator, I have found that teachers themselves live with many fears, and seldom realize that it might be possible to shed these. What could it mean to be free of fear? Krishnamurti takes us gently yet firmly by the hand, to a place from which we can begin to explore what it may mean to be free, unafraid, human beings.

He asks, “How are we going to bring about a school in which there is no fear? ....Can I, as a teacher, be without fear? …. I am afraid of various things—of losing my job, my security, my wife, husband or neighbour—and somehow I am unable to be free of fear. How can I help the boy or girl to be free of it?” He is practical in his approach, and deeply compassionate, for while he would like us to work with our fears, question and dissolve them, he realizes it may not happen, or at least not all at once. So he asks us, adults, to acknowledge our fears and limitations, and see to it that we do not contaminate the young. He asks, “…shall I talk to the boy, awaken his intelligence to spot fear in me and around him and investigate and be free of it?” In a sense this is extremely radical—it requires that the adult saves the child from his own self (that is, the adult’s fearful self ). It may thus be possible to build a better society, for otherwise, if the child is contaminated by adult fears, then “he will build a society like the present one”. (pp. 29, 30, 31)

Teachers outside society

Teaching in schools is usually just transmission of information, from one person—the teacher—to a bunch of younger persons, who are supposed to listen, sit quietly and maintain decorum. Krishnamurti completely rejects this notion of teaching, and suggests what teaching ought to be, and what it might do. Rather than the teacher providing definitions of government, for instance, he suggests that students, “have to find out and begin to tackle it…you are not going to define, they are going to, and you help them break their definitions and go deeper.” The teacher would thus help them investigate this deeply. What the teacher usually does—it was so in the 1950s and perhaps even more so now—is to tell students what to think. By telling them, the teacher smothers the young people’s thought processes. Instead, if your intention is to help them to think, you will help them enquire for themselves, stay on the journey with them, question their definitions, probing further all the time. Whether it is history or science, literature or students’ future careers, if a teacher proceeds thus, rather than prescribing correct information and the right way of thinking, then, “gradually their minds penetrate into the problem, that is the real thing”. (p. 171)

* This was at the teacher-training diploma course, titled ‘I Am a Teacher’, run within the Heritage School, Gurgaon, during 2015–16. I introduced the students to Krishnamurti’s writings through portions of Education and the Significance of Life , a text which a few of us had carefully prepared for such a purpose.

Krishnamurti goes back in time and looks at teaching as Socratic dialogue. He suggests that the teacher too will grow, through such discussions, “…. you are sharpening your mind all the time. It is like playing a game with them. You open the thing and let them open it out. And should not there be a group of people who are always thinking, and therefore are real people, the teachers outside society? This is what begins to happen—when you begin to think, you are outside society…” (p.174)

Speaking from my own recent experience of designing and teaching a course on Philosophical Perspectives in Education , teachers-to-be responded with enormous warmth and enjoyment to Krishnamurti’s thoughts. * Some were moved beyond words, shaken to the core, stimulated. Some disagreed, even grew angry, and we had vibrant discussion in the classroom. They engaged with the text and appreciated the energy of the writing. For several students—most of whom had never heard of Krishnamurti earlier—it opened up a whole new world of reflections, a journey through multiple dimensions, which they continue to explore beyond the course.

I would recommend School without Fear to all teacher training institutions in the country. It is eminently readable. At the same time, there is profundity and passion which invigorates the mind, compels us to think beyond our set grooves and comfort zones. It is immensely refreshing to return to first principles, and investigate the roots of many of our problems. Indian education is in crisis, as we all know, and as has been said often enough. It has been reduced to an instrumental purpose, its aims narrowed to jobs and social mobility, rather than a wide-ranging, in-depth investigation of the human condition—oneself and the world.

Krishnamurti, however, will not rest until we see the light, and begin to discover for ourselves how we may lift ourselves out of the abyss into which we have fallen. His relentless search, and the ceaseless pushing so that teachers realize the true value of their work, is inspiring, and—if we but begin to dip into a book such as this—inescapable.