Children observe, learn and ask questions. This way of interacting with the world and with themselves is natural to young minds. The child’s mind is capable of observing and an instinctive search for meaning is evident in the questions they ask.
A child whispers with curiosity, “Why do we have quiet time before lunch?” Do we respond to the question with attention and allow for looking at it together? Or do we end the opportunity to look together by responding in certain habitual ways? Some habitual responses are to postpone: “I’ll tell you later”; to assume: “It was like this before I came here”; to dismiss: “Does it matter? Let’s be quiet now.” Children are naturally curious and, so, they ask questions. We can participate in the exploration of the questions in a gentle and spontaneous way.
Krishnaji’s teachings are about life—dynamic, fresh and present in every moment. The teachings cannot be converted into specific learning goals and are not a separate subject to be included for an hour every week in the timetable. Further, there is danger in categorising the teachings into sessions of ‘critical thinking’, ‘caring’, ‘creative thinking’; even ‘dialogue’ or ‘culture class’ as they are limited and bound by that hour.
Keeping Krishnamurti’s teachings central to our learning space is a demand we must place on ourselves as educators. There is no outward structure or a pre-set timetable that we can depend on, for this enquiry. The constant negation of dependence on these structures, which create an outward sense of order, will allow for the learning space to be touched by a mind that is free of mechanical activities.
We had a visitor the other day, who said “Oh, shut up!” to one of the children in a playful way. Another child, age seven, felt this wasn’t ‘nice’. She said that she felt that the visitor was being slightly rude. She wanted to share this with the visitor and wanted me to accompany her. Together we went to the visitor:
Child: “Uncle, it felt rude, the way you said ‘shut up’. Can you please not say it again?”
Visitor: “I am so sorry. I didn’t know it was a rule to not say ‘shut up’.”
Child: “It isn’t a rule, uncle; we just speak nicely to each other.”
Seeing with ‘clarity’ and its conversion into a ‘rule’ is a common example of the mechanical activity of the mind. Can one ‘teach’ a way of looking that doesn’t convert seeing into such a conclusion?
How do we, as educators, encourage observation without boundaries, nurture learning without goals and hold questions with responsibility? It is important to become aware of the aspects of ourselves that bring a limitation to the act of observation, without projecting our own goals, desires, conclusions and prejudices.
The constant emphasis on accumulating knowledge and developing skills in most of our learning spaces often takes the place of listening and observing, which is the essence of a learning mind. The preoccupation in the classroom with developing skills can become a fragmentary process. In mathematics, for example, we tend to use knowledge and a skill to solve a specific problem. On the other hand, a mind that is in contact with the teachings could have the ability to ‘see’ a situation with attention, even a mathematical one, while creating the space for subject-related skills to be brought in when needed. When our focus is on the subject knowledge and skills alone, we exclude the ability to see the ‘whole picture’, of which the child’s responses and feelings are also a part. As an educator if I am occupied with imparting knowledge of mathematics or English, and focus on quantifiable skills, I may exclude the child’s living responses to a situation. I need to be aware of this tendency.
What is our understanding of a learning mind? What are the limitations we bring to learning? Are we going into the learning spaces with a mechanical mind? How do we engage with the insights that children may have? Do we meet their learning minds with the authority of the known? Do we overload them with information? Do we distort questions because we feel uncomfortable looking at them ourselves? Are we thus caught in habits that negate learning? We need to ask ourselves these questions. Investigating a question together with the child can happen in subtle ways.
One morning during quiet time, when each one of us was sitting on a tree, I noticed from my perch, a group of children huddled under a tree whispering loudly. I noticed my mind travel the habitual path of conclusions... “Not again! ... How many times do I need to remind them?... Maybe we should just sit indoors, so that I can watch them ... I better not shout at them, but be stern and affectionate when I ask them to go back to sitting quietly.” I got down and started walking towards them with all this noise in my head and wanting ‘quiet time’ to happen. My body showed the frustration of the noise in my mind. As I got closer to them and peered into the centre of the huddle I noticed a tiny bird, dead, its bright yellow feathers, its sharp beak and its tiny fragile body exposed. I noticed the children, all looking with wonder, listening to each other, observing together. My body relaxed as all the noise in my head left me effortlessly and I let go off my goal of going back to quiet time and crouched down to participate in the discovery, together with the children.
Focusing on the goal perhaps conditions a child to conform, while focusing on the learning process opens the mind. As educators our role is to keep the space open for the child to learn and not crowd the mind with information. Learning blossoms when we move from insight to insight, rather than from conclusion to conclusion.
We can enable children to learn by not being rigid with our pre-set learning modules for skill building, but allowing space for the questions and observations that the children have. Skill-building could then happen in the context of listening and observation. In the junior school we can expose the children to a variety of experiences that foster keen observation, interest and total involvement, which nurture and keep the senses alive. To an adult accustomed to equating learning with acquisition of knowledge, it might seem that no learning is happening in these situations. However, once we as educators have opened ourselves up to these questions and are interested in nurturing learning, the learning space opens up.
I will now briefly share some significant aspects that are naturally a part of the junior school that keep Krishnamurti’s teachings alive for the children and educators.
Silence is an important part of the learning space. It is a pause that deepens learning, nurtures observation and provides the opportunity to be with oneself. Quiet time could happen in groups, or alone, supported by structures in school. These could eventually lead to natural pauses in the day.
Circle time helps to create a safe environment within the group. We sit in a circle, raise concerns and questions and discuss it together. Most discussions do not end with a conclusive answer. Together, we have learnt to move away from complaining to addressing concerns during circle time. Importance is given not only to observing the world around us, but also to the reactions, conclusions, and patterns which may be forming within each of us. This observation helps to free the mind of patterns, so that every perception could be fresh and direct.
Our schools are located in beautiful natural spaces and lend themselves to observation, silence, wonder and wakefulness. The changing of seasons and the impermanence of life help one to look beyond a fixed pattern. Long walks and working on the land are woven into the learning rhythms. Classroom spaces, thus, become more open, which allows for moving in and out with ease.
Free learning space
Learning happens all the time. An attempt has been made to create order in the learning space that comes from attention rather than by conforming to structure. So, instead of starting with a pre-set timetable, the learning space in the junior school has both teachers and resources that help open up learning. There is flexibility to plan together, to work in groups or independently.
Every day, some time is dedicated to one-on-one or small group interactions amongst the teachers, parents and the children to engage together with projects and academic skill building.
Attention to how we speak
We, as adults in the space, need to be alert to the words we use, and learn to be simple and precise. We attempt to address the mind of the child rather than the child as a person. One might notice restlessness in a child and when enquiring, ask, “Is the mind occupied with something?” rather than, “Why are you distracted today?”
The role of parents and the home as a learning space is important. The parents frequently engage in dialogues with the teachings of Krishnamurti, together with the teachers and other parents. They also participate in and support the functional activities of the school. We have seen again and again, how engaging with the questions together has had an impact on the relationships in school. There has been movement together for the child, educator and the parents.
Working together and seeing together demands great commitment from the educators. We need to be constantly open to suggestions, reminders and discussion. This nurturing of ‘one mind’ negates personal patterns that we might be caught in, and enables us to go beyond the personal. Thus, the question of how to bring Krishnamurti’s teachings into our school spaces is really for each one of us to explore.
We might not yet have the facility to open this up or find the words for it. However, in opening ourselves to this challenge, we will be engaged with Krishnamurti’s teachings and perhaps our children too will be touched by this.