As a teacher who has spent over ten years teaching senior school students in those tumultuous years when they are growing up, facing the pressures of a performance-dominated society, I have time and again returned to the question of the place of the larger vision of education - of this whole concern with the art of living correctly - in my class. I have also been wondering about the whole question of attention. What am I really demanding from my students? Am I creating an atmosphere where there is an invitation to attend rather than the struggle to concentrate? How do I in practice respond to the fact of preoccupation? I'm anxious about the content, the pace of coverage and student response. The students often bring a variety of emotions, performance anxieties and images of themselves in relation to the content.
In observing the students before me, I began looking at what really was going on in their minds. What do they do when there is a pause? What do they do as soon as class ends? Do they immediately switch to other things or is there a lingering on matters pertaining to the class? Are they bursting to speak about things that occupied their minds during class, which fear or a sense of decorum kept in check? When I raise a question and pause, giving time for thinking and digesting, what really is the student doing? Is she trying to recall from memory some vaguely remembered words? Is she trying to imagine/ visualize? Or is she simply waiting for another person to answer, with the mind wandering inattentively? What is the student's habitual response to challenge? What does the student deem interesting and what boring? What exactly is being covered up in this blanket term called boredom?
I realize that my primary responsibility is to observe carefully and point out what I see in a manner that invites the student to look rather than judge. Scanning the faces in front of me, I often notice a mind that is far away in a world of its own. To ask the student (gently and with humour) to become aware of, and share with his friends, what his thoughts were at that moment and if he can, also share what set him off on that particular train of thought, has been for me a fascinating thing. Initially, there is guilt and a feeling of being pulled up. But with time, and the absence of judgement, this becomes a fascinating journey. I remember K saying in one of his talks that there is no such thing as distraction, only the movement of the mind. Drawing attention to the nature of the mind and its movements and the remarkable variety of its responses to stimuli seems to be a way of inviting students to attend to the functioning of their minds, not just focussing on the content but looking at the movement of the mind as a whole. K suggests that this process can happen in every class and that it does not detract from purposiveness; on the contrary, this is the process that is vital to learning. This is the challenge.
I have also pursued this question of what students do when faced with a question. I point out to students the variety of ways in which they can respond and then ask them to watch their own minds. What is the response? Is there an active engaging with the question? Is there avoidance? Is there passive waiting? Is there a repetition from memory? Is the response merely verbal or is it actively connected to an underlying concept, a picture of the world? In pursuing questions such as these, I have found it possible to engage with students in a far deeper way. It is possible for the student and teacher to really look at the subtleties that come in the way of learning. It is possible for genuine insights into the learning process to come into being.
Very often, we talk of the teacher as a source of interest. The onus is often on the teacher to generate interest and to make the class interesting. I have wondered what it is that we are offering students in the process of making them interested. At the superficial level, there is the distinction between interest and entertainment. Even if the teacher is clear about not being an entertainer, the question is: what really is the invitation to the student? Is it to cultivate a habit of conceptualization? Is it an invitation to get absorbed in the content and thereby eliminate the rest of the world? Is it an invitation to strengthen the will and thereby focus on the matter at hand? It seems that the teacher needs to observe what the processes in his classroom are and how he is being received. This is intimately connected with what students think learning is. Being alert to this dimension differs from being alert to performance, understanding of content and the whole host of things that go with, acquiring knowledge.
The challenge of bringing Krishnamurti to our classrooms is one of not fragmenting the mastering of content from the process of awareness - of saying that to put one's mind to a subject, one need not exclude the rest of the world. Bringing the movement of the mind into the field of active consideration gives it a focus and a legitimacy which sharpens awareness.
I used to want buyers for my words.
Now I wish someone would buy me away from words.
O chestnut tree, great rooted blossomer,
Are you the leaf, the blossom on the bole?
O body swayed to music, O brightening glance,
How can we know the dancer from the dance?
[WE. Yeats, 'Among School Children']