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Education: Expanding Purpose

As the world stumbles from one crisis to another it is increasingly apparent that existing systems and institutions are incapable of responding to the challenges of the time and the growing demands of the people. Creative ways of thinking free from ideology are needed, allowing for a revolution of ideas to take place and new ways of living to emerge based on altogether different values to those that are currently so pervasive; values that cultivate cooperation, tolerance and understanding in place of competition, prejudice and ignorance, and allow for a sense of unity and social responsibility to flower naturally.

At the heart of the required changes – which need to be both gradual and radical – must be education. Like all our current structures, education throughout the world is in crisis; while some flourish under the present approach, most do not. Competition, coupled with reward and punishment and conformity characterize much of institutionalized education; the pressures on children and young people to conform to a stereotype and pass examinations is intense, triggering a global mental health epidemic among under-25-year-olds, leading in some cases to suicide.

There are of course good schools with wonderful teachers everywhere, but they are handicapped by ideologically driven policies issued by nationalistic government departments that have little understanding of the needs of the child and are obsessed with economic growth. New methodologies are required that foster a sense of freedom in the child/young person, encourage group responsibility and allow true individuality and creative independent thinking (thinking freed from sociological and psychological conditioning). This is essential if the children of today are to find within themselves the resources needed to save our planet and re-shape society along more just lines.

Education and purpose

Central to the required changes needs to be an expanded definition of purpose/s; a series of interrelated aims underpinning all aspects of education, a deeper understanding of the nature, or constitution, of the human being and the psychological impact of certain teaching and indeed parenting methodologies. Dominant methods employed to motivate students encourage the individual to focus on their own progress, success and material acquisition over the wellbeing of the group. Such practices work against social unity and therefore peace, encourage corrupt action through the fermentation of motive and feed division. In such a world “we all want to be on top,” Krishnamurti says, “and this desire creates constant conflict within ourselves and with our neighbour; it leads to competition, envy, animosity and finally war.” It is time this system of conditioning, indoctrination and manipulation was abandoned in favour of a new, creative approach that expands the individual’s awareness and cultivates a sense of oneness. As currently constituted, education “emphasizes secondary values, merely making us proficient in some branch of knowledge,” Krishnamurti states in Education and The Significance of Life, but “education is not merely acquiring knowledge, gathering and correlating facts; it is to see the significance of life as a whole.”

Dominated as it is by competition and comparison and seen by governments everywhere as little more than a supply chain for employers, such an integrated viewpoint within education is made extremely difficult. Children are rarely seen as individuals with certain innate gifts and talents, but as [potential] workers or economic assets; encouraged, forced in many cases through economic pressures, and the impulse to ‘succeed’, to move from school to university and into employment as quickly as possible. Such institutions have been tailored, says Noam Chomsky in The Educational Theory of Noam Chomsky, to “meet the requirement of the market,” with students, being “trained to be compliant workers”. This distortion of function, into a system of conditioning and indoctrination, is far from the purpose of education, which Krishnamurti makes clear, “is not to produce mere scholars, technicians and job hunters, but integrated men and women free from fear.”

Together with the media, education has become a major arena of propaganda and conditioning: students are conditioned into competition and comparison. The result of both is the facilitation of psychological fear, manifesting as repression anxiety and stress. Fear inhibits, physically, emotionally and mentally, and is the antithesis of human freedom, which together with the consciousness of this freedom, the 18th century French philosopher, Jacques Rousseau maintained is nothing less than “the essence of human nature”. The removal of those elements that create fear, that deny and inhibit would allow this essence to naturally flow, and with it independent thinking, creativity and initiative. From that inspired source ideas consistent with the times will emerge.

Unity of Life

The individual and society are not separate, but interrelated, interconnected, whether that society is a family, a classroom or school, a neighbourhood, town, city, country or planet.  Each and every one of us is an integral part of the whole, a collective called humanity, and, as the writer and lecturer Benjamin Creme made clear, education should “show the child that it is a member of a world family… that we are not living alone in one large or small country, but in a world shared by 5.7 billion people [7.7 billion currently]. The child, above all, should be taught that this is the fundamental position of his/her life on Earth: that they are one of a group, a family.” That group forms part of the planetary life with its various kingdoms; a living totality forming part of a larger whole known as the solar system, which is but a part of the Universe, and on and on into infinity stretches this extraordinary integrated whole.

The creation of an expansive awareness in which relationship with and responsibility for the group is cultivated, should be seen as one of the key purposes of all aspects of the ‘new’ education. In Education in the New Age, Alice A. Bailey makes clear that “through education self-consciousness must be unfolded until the man recognizes that his consciousness is a corporate part of a greater whole. He blends then with the group interests, activities and objectives. They are eventually his and he becomes group conscious. This is Love. It leads to wisdom, which is love in manifested activity. Such should be the major objective of all true educational endeavours. Love of self (self-consciousness), becomes love of those around us (group-consciousness), becomes love of the whole (God consciousness). Such are the steps.”

The movement in conscious awareness, outlined by Bailey, gradually shifts the individual’s identification away from the separate self, eroding selfish behaviour encouraging selfless-ness, social responsibility and service. We might define service as action undertaken for the benefit of others, for the enrichment of the group, with little or no selfish motive. The 19th century American philosopher and educational reformer, John Dewey, explained that this impulse is a natural human quality experienced by all children. In Education for Social Change he states that “the child’s natural desire [is] to give out, to do, and this means to serve.” When his/her environment is purged of the elements that condition a man/woman into selfishness the natural inclination is to cooperate and to be kind, for within every human being sits the source of all that is good. With the flowering of this silent intelligence any new education must concern itself.

Ideas of inherent ‘goodness’, innate intelligence and unconditional love move us to think of education as that which, amongst other things enables relationship with the ‘Will of Life’ –that innate impulse which imbues all form with purpose. Maria Montessori, who devised a ground-breaking way of teaching ‘uneducable’ children (those we might now describe as having ‘special educational needs’) in the early 20th century, felt that traditional education neglects the child’s inherent goodness and most basic needs – what she described in The Child as “the exigencies of his spirit and his soul. The human being that lives within the child remains stifled therein.” Liberating ‘the human being that lives within the child’ and establishing a relationship with what we might call ‘inherent’ purpose and allowing actions consistent with its nature to take place, should be seen as a fundamental purpose of education.

A natural flowering

Education that negates all that inhibits, i.e., fear and conditioned ideas of self, will allow for the natural flowering of the life within the form, ‘the human being that lives within the child’, as Montessori put it. Within such an unpolluted space inner harmony naturally takes place and response to ideas that rest outside the known becomes possible. Krishnamurti hints at this when he says, “when there is self-knowledge, the power of creating illusions ceases, and only then is it possible for reality or God to be known.” Illusions flow from all constructs of the self as separate and allow negative aspects such as fear and guilt to flourish. The idea of separation is regarded as ‘the great illusion’ within esoteric literature; it is the seed for all mental constructs that veil reality, colour and limit relationship with oneself. What higher purpose could education possibly have than to shatter the ‘great illusion’, liberate the mind, and allow for ‘reality to be known’.

Education that allows for atonement and the resulting demonstration of innate potential requires both the recognition and negation of all that denies such a natural state of being to occur, together with the sensitive, intuitive recognition of that potential. The suffocation of innate potential, so common today, causes suppression, frustration and illness; its realisation is an essential aspect of purpose. Whether that which is innate is described as ‘potential’ as Dewey terms it, or what Rousseau called ‘human freedom’, the ‘divine’ according to Benjamin Creme, or the ‘soul’ of which Maria Montessori and Alice Bailey speak, any ‘new’ education must be concerned with facilitating the relationship with and manifest expression of this aspect of man’s nature.

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Graham Peebles is a British freelance writer and charity worker. He set up The Create Trust in 2005 and has run education projects in Sri Lanka, Ethiopia and India. 

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