J. Krishnamurti and school education

G Gautama

Born in 1895, Shri J. Krishnamurti had an extraordinary life. Anointed as the world teacher by CW Lead beater and Dr Annie Besant of the Theosophical Society, he was catapulted from a modest home to high prominence in a worldwide organization. He, however, disbanded the organization set up for his work. He said in 1929, “I maintain that Truth is a pathless land, and you cannot approach it by any path whatsoever, by any religion, by any sect. My only concern is to set men absolutely, unconditionally free.” He held steadfast to this idea till his death in 1986. While he spoke to global audiences he maintained that he was not trying to convince anyone of anything, that he was not their teacher!

He founded schools in India, UK and USA. Some features are common to these schools that run under the umbrella of the Krishnamurti Foundation in India, England and America. His unique contribution has the potential of bringing unique dimensions to human society in a world that is being torn apart with every form of division. This article draws on the words of Shri J.Krishnamurti to elaborate the points such as the intention of a school, size of a school, what is right education, the role of parents and teacher.

Only right education, and not ideologies, leaders and economic revolutions, can provide a lasting solution for our problems and miseries; and to see the truth of this fact is not a matter of intellectual or emotional persuasion, nor of cunning argument.

THE right kind of education is concerned with individual freedom, which alone can bring true cooperation with the whole, with the many; but this freedom is not achieved through the pursuit of one’s own aggrandizement and success. Freedom comes with self-knowledge, when the mind goes above and beyond the hindrances it has created for itself through craving its own security.

Intention – The process of education is one of socialization into a context, a fitting into the world. This can be seen as a process of conditioning. Krishnamurti asks if education can free oneself of one’s conditioning. This means the aim of education is not to condition the mind with ‘better’ conditioning.

It is the function of education to help each individual to discover all these psychological hindrances, and not merely impose upon him new patterns of conduct, new modes of thought. Such impositions will never awaken intelligence, creative understanding, but will only further condition the individual. Surely, this is what is happening throughout the world, and that is why our problems continue and multiply.

Size – Krishnamurti said that all schools should be small so the individual can be properly educated and the teachers would be able to observe and understand the children.

A school which is successful in the worldly sense is more often than not a failure as an educational centre. A large and flourishing institution in which hundreds of children are educated together, with all its accompanying show and success, can turn out bank clerks and super-salesmen, industrialists or commissars, superficial people who are technically efficient; but there is hope only in the integrated individual, which only small schools can help to bring about. That is why it is far more important to have schools with a limited number of boys and girls and the right kind of educators, than to practise the latest and best methods in large institutions.

A direct and vital relationship between teacher and student is almost impossible when the teacher is weighed down by large and unmanageable numbers. This is still another reason why schools should be kept small. It is obviously important to have a very limited number of students in a class, so that the educator can give his full attention to each one. When the group is too large he cannot do this, and then punishment and reward become a convenient way of enforcing discipline.

Unfortunately, one of our confusing difficulties is that we think we must operate on a huge scale. Most of us want large schools with imposing buildings, even though they are obviously not the right kind of educational centres, because we want to transform or affect what we call the masses.

But who are the masses? You and I. Let us not get lost in the thought that the masses must also be rightly educated. The consideration of the mass is a form of escape from immediate action. Right education will become universal if we begin with the immediate, if we are aware of ourselves in our relationship with our children, with our friends and neighbours. Our own action in the world we live in, in the world of our family and friends, will have expanding influence and effect.

Nothing of fundamental value can be accomplished through mass instruction, but only through the careful study and understanding of the difficulties, tendencies and capacities of each child; and those who are aware of this, and who earnestly desire to understand themselves and help the young, should come together and start a school that will have vital significance in the child’s life by helping him to be integrated and intelligent.

To start such a school, they need not wait until they have the necessary means. One can be a true teacher at home and opportunities will come to the earnest. Those who love their own children and the children about them, and who are therefore in earnest, will see to it that a right school is started somewhere around the corner, or in their own home. Then the money will come – it is the least important consideration. To maintain a small school of the right kind is of course financially difficult; it can flourish only on selfsacrifice, not on a fat bank account. Money invariably corrupts unless there is love and understanding. But if it is really a worthwhile school, the necessary help will be found. When there is love of the child, all things are possible.

In building enormous institutions and employing teachers who depend on a system instead of being alert and observant in their relationship with the individual student, we merely encourage the accumulation of facts, the development of capacity, and the habit of thinking mechanically, according to a pattern; but certainly none of this helps the student to grow into an integrated human being.

As long as the institution is the most important consideration, the child is not. The right kind of educator is concerned with the individual, and not with the number of pupils he has; and such an educator will discover that he can have a vital and significant school which some parents will support. But the teacher must have the flame of interest; if he is lukewarm, he will have an institution like any other.

If parents really love their children, they will employ legislation and other means to establish small schools staffed with the right kind of educators.… They should realize, however, that there will inevitably be opposition from vested interests, from governments and organized religions, because such schools are bound to be deeply revolutionary. True revolution is not the violent sort; it comes about through cultivating the integration and intelligence of human beings who, by their very life, will gradually create radical changes in society.

In the seclusion of a small school one is apt to forget that there is an outside world, with its ever-increasing conflict, destruction and misery. That world is not separate from us. On the contrary, it is part of us, for we have made it what it is; and that is why, if there is to be a fundamental alteration in the structure of society, right education is the first step.

What is a school? A group of adults and children, meeting together, an atmosphere of learning, schools are normally steeply hierarchic places. Is another more egalitarian way of functioning possible? Such questions are the soil of a school founded on the teachings of Shri J.Krishnamurti.

But it is of the utmost importance that all the teachers in a school of this kind should come together voluntarily, without being persuaded or chosen; for voluntary freedom from worldliness is the only right foundation for a true educational centre. If the teachers are to help one another and the students to understand the right values, there must be constant and alert awareness in their daily relationship.

The centre cannot be made up of the headmaster alone. If the headmaster is dominating, then the spirit of freedom and co-operation obviously cannot exist. A strong character may build a first-rate school, but fear and subservience creep in, and then it generally happens that the rest of the staff is composed of nonentities.

Such a group is not conducive to individual freedom and understanding. The staff should not be under the domination of the headmaster, and the headmaster should not assume all the responsibility; on the contrary, each teacher should feel responsible for the whole.

One may doubt that a school can be run without a central authority; but one really does not know, because it has never been tried. Surely, in a group of true educators, this problem of authority will never arise. When all are endeavouring to be free and intelligent, cooperation with one another is possible at all levels.

Intelligent teachers are pliable in the exercise of their capacities; attempting to be individually free, they abide by the regulations and do what is necessary for the benefit of the whole school. Serious interest is the beginning of capacity, and both are strengthened by application.

There must be unstinted co-operation among all the teachers in a school of the right kind. The whole staff should meet often to talk over the various problems of the school; and when they have agreed upon a certain course of action, there should obviously be no difficulty in carrying out what has been decided. If some decision taken by the majority does not meet with the approval of a particular teacher, it can be discussed again at the next meeting of the faculty.

No teacher should be afraid of the headmaster, nor should the headmaster feel intimidated by the older teachers. Happy agreement is possible only when there is a feeling of absolute equality among all.

Difficulties and misunderstandings should always be talked over by those who are working together with a common intention, for it helps to clarify any confusion that may exist in one’s own thinking. Surely, all these problems can be thrashed out at the teachers’ meeting, for mutual interest makes for cooperation. It is obvious that nothing vital can be created if a few do everything and the rest sit back.

The spirit of individual freedom and intelligence should pervade the whole school at all times. This can hardly be left to chance and the casual mention at odd moments of the words “freedom” and “intelligence” has very little significance.

The school should encourage the children to understand one another’s difficulties and peculiarities, moods and tempers; for then, as they grow up, they will be more thoughtful and patient in their relationship with others.

This same spirit of freedom and intelligence should be evident also in the child’s studies. If he is to be creative and not merely an automaton, the student should not be encouraged to accept formulas and conclusions. Even in the study of a science, one should reason with him, helping him to see the problem in its entirety and to use his own judgment.

If the educator is concerned with the freedom of the individual, and not with his own preconceptions, he will help the child to discover that freedom by encouraging him to understand his own environment, his own temperament, his religious and family background, with all the influences and effects they can possibly have on him. If there is love and freedom in the hearts of the teachers themselves, they will approach each student mindful of his needs and difficulties; and then they will not be mere automatons, operating according to methods and formulas, but spontaneous human beings, ever alert and watchful.

Right education –
The right kind of education should also help the student to discover what he is most interested in. If he does not find his true vocation, all his life will seem wasted; he will feel frustrated doing something which he does not want to do. If he wants to be an artist and instead becomes a clerk in some office, he will spend his life grumbling and pining away.

So it is important for each one to find out what he wants to do, and then to see if it is worth doing. A boy may want to be a soldier; but before he takes up soldiering, he should be helped to discover whether the military vocation is beneficial to the whole of mankind.

Right education should help the student, not only to develop his capacities, but to understand his own highest interest. In a world torn by wars, destruction and misery, one must be able to build a new social order and bring about a different way of living.

But what about guidance? Should there be no guidance whatsoever? The answer to this question depends on what is meant by ‘guidance.’ If in their hearts, the teachers have put away all fear and all desire for domination, then they can help the student towards creative understanding and freedom; but if there is a conscious or unconscious desire to guide him towards a particular goal, then obviously they are hindering his development. Guidance towards a particular objective, whether created by oneself or imposed by another, impairs creativeness.

Parents and adults
The responsibility for building a peaceful and enlightened society rests chiefly with the educator, and it is obvious, without becoming emotionally stirred up about it, that he has a very great opportunity to help in achieving that social transformation. The right kind of education does not depend on the regulations of any government or the methods of any particular system; it lies in our own hands, in the hands of the parents and the teachers.

If parents really cared for their children, they would build a new society; but fundamentally most parents do not care, and so they have no time for this most urgent problem. They have time for making money, for amusements, for rituals and worship, but no time to consider what is the right kind of education for their children. This is a fact that the majority of people do not want to face. To face it might mean that they would have to give up their amusements and distractions, and certainly they are not willing to do that. So they send their children off to schools where the teacher cares no more for them than they do. Why should he care? Teaching is merely a job to him, a way of earning money.

We say so easily that we love our children; but is there love in our hearts when we accept the existing social conditions, when we do not want to bring about a fundamental transformation in this destructive society? And as long as we look to the specialists to educate our children, this confusion and misery will continue; for the specialists, being concerned with the part and not with the whole, are themselves unintegrated.

The teacher – both the pupil and the master
An educator is not merely a giver of information; he is one who points the way to wisdom, to truth. Truth is far more important than the teacher. The search for truth is religion, and truth is of no country, of no creed, it is not to be found in any temple, church or mosque. Without the search for truth, society soon decays. To create a new society, each one of us has to be a true teacher, which means that we have to be both the pupil and the master; we have to educate ourselves.

The world we have created is so superficial, so artificial, so ugly if one looks behind the curtain; and we decorate the curtain, hoping that everything will somehow come right. Most people are unfortunately not very earnest about life except, perhaps, when it comes to making money, gaining power, or pursuing sexual excitement. They do not want to face the other complexities of life, and that is why, when their children grow up, they are as immature and unintegrated as their parents, constantly battling with themselves and with the world.

To regard education as a means of livelihood is to exploit the children for one’s own advantage. In an enlightened society, teachers will have no concern for their own welfare, and the community will provide for their needs.

The true teacher is not he who has built up an impressive educational organization, nor he who is an instrument of the politicians, nor he who is bound to an ideal, a belief or a country. The true teacher is inwardly rich and therefore asks nothing for himself; he is not ambitious and seeks no power in any form; he does not use teaching as a means of acquiring position or authority, and therefore he is free from the compulsion of society and the control of governments. Such teachers have the primary place in an enlightened civilization, for true culture is founded, not on the engineers and technicians, but on the educators.

So clearly, J.Krishnamurti’s vision of education goes well beyond merely fitting the individual to society’s needs but offers a comprehensive, human and non divisive ground for understanding the current praxis and assumptions. This offers the opportunity of finding a truer, grounded, relevant education that sees the human consciousness at the source of all movement.

Note: All writing in italics in this article is from Chapter 5 – ‘The School’ – Education and Significance of Life by Shri J.Krishnamurti

The author has been working in KFI schools for 30 years, attempting to create an atmosphere of learning and working together for the young and for teachers and other staff members. He has served KFI as Principal of The School in Chennai for 18 years, Director-Secretary of Palar Centre for Learning (Pathashaala school) from 2012 to present and a long-term trustee of the Governing Body of KFI. He can be reached at gautama2006@gmail.com.

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