Classroom with a View: Notes from the Krishnamurti Schools by Ashwin Prabhu becomes a primer of sorts for the uninitiated into the world of Krishnamurti Schools. The author begins with a very pertinent question: what is school a place for? As an educator and someone who firmly believes that the teacher is not the final arbiter and that children learn from all interactions – human beings, the natural world, etc., this book provides several insights for teachers who want to find ways to make learning meaningful.
Divided into seven chapters, the book suggests a range of exercises as possible enablers for teachers to foster independent thought and collaborative work. These approaches have been integral to the community of JK schools across the country. Prabhu does state throughout that while several of the practices in the book may seem ordinary, as something that may not require a highlight, it is these everyday practices that offer teachers the possibility to pivot conventional practices into fresh and valuable learning opportunities by simply rethinking and reshaping their intent (p. 218).
Each chapter begins with an anecdote that connects not just to the chapter itself, but also to the larger philosophy of what the Schools stand for. The accounts form a bridge that connects the history of the KFI schools to the individual stories of students, which then creates a collective voice that reaffirms that in helping students “feel related” not just to the individual self but to the world around them, they begin to comprehend that being responsible, caring and purposeful, contribute towards living a fulfilling life.
Anecdotes ranging from questions that students raise during circle time, concerns about rota responsibilities (cleaning plates of others after meals), folkie time (when students get to dance), and emotional responses to mixed-gender sporting activities provide a realistic account of how young people think, how their inner worlds operate, and what roles teachers play in their students’ lives. The message is clear – a school cannot and should not be a regimented institution that promotes competition.
As an invitation to professional self-exploration, the book is perhaps best suited for an intentional teacher. I say ‘intentional’ because only a teacher who wants to critically examine pedagogy and find ways to improve upon it will find this book insightful. For teachers looking for a set of drills with a ‘one shoe fits all’ approach, this book will seem daunting since JK’s philosophical dogmas cut across the various chapters. Therefore, one needs to be aware of and perhaps be in sync with JK’s teachings. When the book is studded with statements such as, ‘If we are being educated merely to achieve distinction, to get a better job, to be more efficient, to have wider domination over others, then our lives will be shallow and empty’, it makes even the most celebrated teacher re-examine the meaning of what it means to be an educator. It asks of the teacher, what it means to use intentional, creative approaches to help build clarity of thought and create human beings who are integrated and whole.
Krishnamurti’s ability to speak plainly through language accessible to everyone made his influence timeless. The reader can certainly see the influence of that simplicity in Prabhu’s book – it makes for easy reading. It may not be a book that one might want to read cover-to-cover, but it is undoubtedly one that any individual concerned about young learners will want to dip into every now and then.
At the heart of any KFI school is the human element in its varied forms – teachers interacting with learners; learners interacting with seniors and juniors, in different activities. As I read the book, I hoped to see examples of how the KFI schools continued to bring this human element to the fore when teachers and schools were struggling to teach during the pandemic. What did the teaching and parenting community decide in the interest of their children? Did they forgo traditional approaches? What did the teachers do? How did creative pedagogy, given an incredible amount of focus throughout the book, come to life during these trying times? The answers to these questions, however, are missing.
Conversations on inclusivity – children from marginalized communities and children with varied learning trajectories – were not prominent conversations in most of the chapters. I would certainly have liked to see these aspects discussed in a fair amount of detail, for this is just what’s missing in the popular schools today. Conversations about how teachers need to be more than just sensitive and perceptive about recognizing and tailoring their teaching to special needs students; examples of such instances seemed largely absent.
While the book is written for educators, I wonder if the price tag of Rs. 800 will deter people from making it a staple in personal libraries.
The author has a PhD in English Language Education. As a creativity researcher and teacher of writing, she tries to find the thin line that brings together creativity, elegance and simplicity. She can be reached at email@example.com.