Education is potentially the most powerful means of bringing about a major shift in consciousness, within the individual and by extension society; a movement away from narrow ideas of self that feed selfishness, division and material greed, to an inclusive view of life rooted in the recognition that humanity is one. We are forever brothers and sisters of one humanity, and from the realization of this essential fact flows all that is good: sharing, social justice, collective responsibility, freedom and peace. These are transitional times and the early signs of such a transformation can be seen animating many people around the world, particularly the young, who are commonly in the vanguard of change.
Such a shift is essential if the various interconnected crises facing humanity are to be overcome and a true sense of self is to be established. A sense of being that is not limited or defined by the constraints of psychological-sociological conditioning in its various forms. Dismantling such conditioning and creating space in which an unmediated relationship, or atonement with one’s self can take place should sit at the heart of all areas of education.
It is from this unconditioned center of being that the blueprints of the age will be unearthed; ideas that are crucial in designing and building structures and institutions rooted in social justice and unity.
Education and conformity
Society, whether large or small, is not an abstraction: it is a collective reflection of the consciousness of the individuals living within it. For there to be fundamental social change, we, individually, must become consciously aware of the way our lives are habitually lived; choice-less awareness of one’s psychological, emotional and physiological patterns, awareness of how we think, speak and act, what our motives are, whether we are honest and sincere, or manipulative and hypocritical.
Education, particularly creative education, has a fundamental role to play in cultivating environments in which such awareness can naturally take place. In fact, this should be a central aim of all educational work: it could be said that true education is the understanding of oneself, the discovery of who and what we are and the creative expression of That.
The greatest single obstacle to the establishment of an undistorted relationship with oneself is fear. It is a debilitating poison that sits at the core of a plethora of inhibiting, suffocating conditions. Hard to unearth, entwined with desire and attachment, fear is inevitable where comparison, collective discontent and perpetual longing is agitated. The pervasive socio-economic system is dependent for its survival upon all of these, and encourages behavior consistent with its requirements.
Within education systems rooted in the Mechanics of the Market conformity and competition are widespread, creative self-expression becomes very difficult, individuality is curtailed and the pressure to ‘achieve’ is immense. Such an approach does not liberate intelligence and encourage creative living; on the contrary, it inhibits and frustrates a person, as J. Krishnamurti described in Education and the Significance of Life, “instead of awakening the integrated intelligence of the individual, education is encouraging him to conform to a pattern and so is hindering his comprehension of himself as a total process.” This methodology of competition and conformity is frustrating teachers, sucking creativity out of school and university, and fuelling increasing levels of mental illness amongst young people, leading in some cases to self-harm and suicide.
There are wonderful teachers working in schools and colleges throughout the world who reject this reductive approach, but all too often they are handicapped by ill-thought out education policies designed by politicians who are more concerned with training compliant workers than educating young people to be free. As the then UK Secretary of State for Education, Nick Gibb, put it in 2015, education is “about the practical business of ensuring that young people receive the preparation they need to secure a good job and a fulfilling career.” Such ideologically driven politicians view schools and colleges as little more than feeding grounds for employment and camps of social conditioning; the world is regarded as a battleground in which nations and regions are in perpetual economic competition with one another; men and women are cast as combatants battling to succeed in a global market place. The result of this crude approach to education is the creation of what Krishnamurti described as “a type of human being whose chief interest is to find security, to become somebody important, or to have a good time with as little thought as possible.”
It is an outdated, ideologically driven view of education that is failing young people and needs to be consigned to the past. Education policy should be taken out of the hands of politicians; they do not understand education and repeatedly fail to listen to those who do, i.e. teachers, head teachers and the students themselves.
The clutter in the garden
The fundamental purpose of education is a great deal more significant and subtle than the aims championed by politicians; it underlies all other goals, is concerned with being rather than becoming something, and might be described as facilitating the understanding of oneself and the fulfilment of innate potential, or as Krishnamurti put it, the “flowering of goodness”. He maintained that the purpose of education “is not to produce mere scholars, technicians and job hunters, but integrated men and women who are free of fear; for only between such human beings can there be enduring peace.”
In order to achieve these aims the factors that trigger psychological fear need to be identified and removed: competition, reward and punishment, conformity and all forms of social/psychological conditioning are the principle impediments. These constitute what we might call ‘the clutter in the garden’; they feed fear, deny or distort relationship with oneself, hinder creativity and stunt intelligence. Clear the garden and that which is ever present will naturally radiate, impress, and express, itself. In this regard education is in effect a work of negation; the seed of intelligence and creativity already exists, when the obstacles are removed and an environment of enquiry and trust is created a spontaneous flowering can take place. Herein lies the source also of true individuality and hope.
Non-judgmental spaces are essential to such a movement; an educational atmosphere that is free from the pressure to achieve in any way or conform to any specific image; a neutral environment that encourages individuality and promotes creative independent thinking. This requires the inculcation of creativity in all areas of learning; the arts – visual and performing – are crucial in this work.
Whilst teachers and parents are often well aware of the intrinsic value of arts education in its various forms, it is commonly undervalued by governments, and when financial cuts are made the arts are habitually the first to be targeted. This is a mistake: far from being regarded as a luxury item, an add-on, art education should be seen as the inspiring thread that runs through a student’s schooling/college life; it is, or ought to be, an area in which young people are allowed to express themselves freely without constraint, are encouraged to collaborate with others, to work on group projects and collective creative enterprises.
Arts education has a range of positive impacts; it can stimulate creative thinking, reveal and undo conditioning, build self-belief/confidence, and illuminate the ways of the self. Creativity is not limited to the arts of course, but the arts have a crucial role to play in stimulating creative thinking, which can then be applied to all areas of education, and indeed life in the broadest sense. The creative process is a liberating journey, revealing and breaking down barriers; it frees the mind allowing intelligence to function – a free mind, we could say, is a mind that is not constrained by any particular ideology or desire for reward of any kind. Such a mind is needed if we are to meet the intense challenges of the time, for, as professor emeritus Sir Ken Robinson states, “the challenges we currently face are without precedent…and we’re going to need every ounce of ingenuity, imagination, and creativity to confront these problems.”
The cause of many of our problems, and the interconnected obstacles to change are systematic and ideological; many people around the world recognise this and are demanding a different approach. Resistance to change is great, but life moves ever towards harmony and the divisive status quo cannot be maintained indefinitely, it must give way to the new; to new ideals rooted in perennial principles of goodness leading to the creation of structures and institutions that will facilitate the creation of a just and peaceful world. From the font of creativity that sits within the heart of each and every one of us the ideas of the time will reveal themselves and the answers to the myriad issues facing humanity will emerge.