Beginnings of Learning
The Beginnings of Learning Part II Chapter 3 Conversation with Parents and Teachers
In the early morning before the sun was up there was a haze over the river. You could dimly see the other bank. It was still rather dark and the trees were shadows against the light sky. The fishing boats were still there: they had been there all night with their little lanterns. Dark and almost motionless, they had been fishing all night and there was not a sound from them. Occasionally of an evening you would hear the fishermen singing but now in the early dawn they were very quiet, tired out and sleepy. The current was carrying them gently along and they would presently return with their catch to their little village on this side of the river further down. As you watched, the rising sun would light up a few clouds in the sky. They were golden and full of that strange beauty of a morning. The light was spreading, making everything visible; the sun lately rising over the trees caught the few parrots screeching their way to the fields that lay beyond the river. They flew noisily, swiftly - green and red beaked - and they would return in an hour or more to their little holes in the tamarind tree across the garden. As you watched they blended into the green leaves so that you could scarcely see them except for their bright red beaks.
The sun was making a golden path over the water and a train rattled by across the bridge with a hideous noise; but it was the water that held the beauty of the morning. There was a wide expanse between this and the other bank, probably over a mile. The other bank had been cultivated for the winter wheat and it was now fresh and green and shimmering in the light breeze of the morning. As you watched the golden path became silver, bright and clear, and you could watch this light on the river for a long time. It was this light that penetrated the trees, the fields and into the heart of any man who looked at it.
Now the day had begun with all its accustomed noises but it was still the river that was so splendid, so full, so widely sweeping. It was the most sacred river in the world, sacred for many thousands of years. People came from all parts of that country to bathe in it, to wash away their sins, to meditate upon its banks still in their damp clothes, eyes shut and motionless. Now in the winter the river was low, but still very deep in the centre where the current was fairly strong. With the monsoon and the coming of the rains it would rise thirty, forty, sixty feet, sweeping everything before it, washing away the human filth, bringing down with it dead animals and trees until again it would be fresh, lovely and wide.
That morning there was something about it that was new, and as you sat and looked at it, the newness was not in the trees or in the fields or in those still waters. It was somewhere else. You looked at it with a new mind, with a new heart, with eyes that had no memory of yesterday and the squalor of man's activities. It was a splendid morning, cool, fresh, and there was a song in the air. There were beggars passing by and women in their dirty, ragged clothes carrying fuel to the town a mile or two away. There was poverty everywhere and utter callousness. But the boys who were cycling, carrying milk, were singing, and the older men walked along quietly, relentlessly, broken, thin and hard of body. But still it was a beautiful, clear morning and the clarity was not disturbed by the train rattling over the bridge, by the sharp cry of the crows or by the call of a man on the other bank.
The room with its veranda overlooked the river thirty or more feet below. There was a group of parents sitting on the floor on a fairly clean rug. They were all well fed, dark, cleanly and they had an air of smug respectability. They had come as parents to talk over their relationship to their children and their children's education. In that part of the world tradition is still very strong. They were all supposed to be well educated, or rather they had taken some degrees in universities and they had, in their opinions, fairly good jobs. Respect was ingrained in them, not only for their superiors in their professions, but also for religious people. That is part of this hideous respectability. Respect invariably shows disrespect, utter disregard for those who are below them.
One of them said, "As a parent I would like to talk about my children, their education and what they are going to do. I feel responsible for my children. With my wife I have brought them up carefully, as carefully as we know how, telling them what to do and what not to do, guiding them, shaping them, helping them. I have sent them here to this school and I am concerned with what is going to happen to them. I have two daughters and two sons. As parents, my wife and I have done our very best and the best may not be sufficient. You know, Sir, there is an explosion of population, jobs are becoming more difficult, educational standards are lower and the students in the university are on strike because they don't want higher standards of examinations. They want easy marks; in fact they don't want to work or study. So I am disturbed and wonder how I, or the school or university, can prepare my children for the future."
Another added. "That is exactly my problem too. I have three children; the two boys are in the school here. They will undoubtedly pass some kind of examination, enter the university, and the degrees they will get are in no way near the European or American standards. But they are bright children and I feel that the education they are going to get, not in this school but later on, is going to destroy their bright eyes and the quickness of heart. Yet they must have a degree to find some sort of livelihood. I am greatly perturbed, watching conditions in this country, the overpopulation, the crushing poverty, the utter incapacity of politicians and the weight of tradition. I have to marry off my daughter; she will leave it entirely in my hands, for how can she know whom she should marry? I must choose a suitable husband who, with God's blessing, will have a degree and find a safe job somewhere. It is not easy and I am greatly perturbed."
The other three parents agreed; they nodded their heads solemnly. Their bellies were full; they were Hindus to the core, steeped in their petty traditions and superficially worried about their children.
You have very carefully conditioned your children, though perhaps not deeply understanding the issue. Not only you but the society, the environment, the culture in which they have been brought up, both economic and social, have nurtured them, shaped them to a particular pattern. They are going to go through the mill of so-called education. If they are lucky they will get a job through your manipulations and settle down in their little homes with wives and husbands equally conditioned, to lead a monotonous, dull life. But after all that is what you want - a safe position, marriage so that they will not be promiscuous, with religion as an ornament. Most parents want this, don't they? - a safe place in society, a society they know in their hearts is corrupt. This is what you want and you have created schools and universities to bring this about. Give them a certain technological knowledge which will assure their livelihood and hope for the best, forgetting or purposely shutting your eyes to the rest of the human problem. You are concerned with one fragment and you will not consider the many fragments of human existence. You don't really want to be concerned, do you?
"We are not capable of it. We are not philosophers, we are not psychologists, we are not experts to examine the complexities of life. We are trained to be engineers, doctors, professional people and it takes all our time and energy to be up to date because so many new things are being discovered. From what you say, you want us to be proficient in the study of ourselves. We haven't the time, the inclination or the interest. I spend most of my time, as we all do here, in an office or building a bridge or attending to patients. We can only specialize in one field and shut our eyes to the rest. We haven't even the time to go to the temple: we leave that to our womenfolk. You want to bring about a revolution not only in religion but in education. We can't join you in this. I might like to but I just haven't the time."
One wonders whether you really have not the time. You have divided life into specialties. You have divided politics from religion, religion from business, the businessman from the artist, the professional from the layman and so on. It is this division that is creating havoc, not only in religion but in education. Your only concern is to see that your children have a degree. Competition is growing stiffer; in this country the standards of education are being lowered and yet you keep insisting that you have no time to consider the whole of human existence. That is what almost everybody says in different words. And therefore you sustain a culture in which there will be increasing competition, greater differences between the specialists and more human conflict and sorrow. It is your sorrow, not someone else's sorrow. Yet you protest that you have no time and your children will repeat the same thing. In the West there is revolt among the students and young people; revolt is always against something but those who revolt are as conformist as those against whom they have revolted. You want your children to conform: the whole religious and economic structure is based upon this conformity. Your education sees to it that they do conform. Because you hope through conformity to have no problems you think that problems arise only when there is disturbance, change. You don't see that it isn't change that produces problems but conformity itself. You are afraid that any alteration in the pattern will bring about chaos, confusion, and therefore you condition your children to accept the traditional attitudes; you condition them to conform. The problems that arise from this conformity are innumerable. Every physical revolution starts out to break the physical pattern of conformity but soon establishes its own pattern of conformity, as in Russia and China. Each one thinks that through his conformity there will be security. With this movement of conformity comes authority. Education as it is now, teaches the young to obey, accept and follow, and those who revolt against this have their own pattern of obedience, acceptance and subservience. With the increase of population and with the rapid growth of technology, you, the parents, are caught in a trap of mounting problems and the incapacity to solve them. This whole process you call education.
"What you say is perfectly true. You are stating a fact, but what are we to do? Put yourself in our place. We beget children, our appetites are very strong. Our minds have been conditioned by the culture in which we have been brought up, as a Hindu, or Muslim, and confronted with this enormous problem of living - and it is enormous - to live as you suggest as whole, complete human beings is bewildering. We are committed, we have to earn a livelihood, we have responsibilities. We cannot go back and begin again. Here we are caught in a trap, as you say." But you can see to it that your children are not caught in a trap. That is your responsibility: not to push them through some stupid examinations, but as parents to see that from their childhood they are not in any way caught in the trap that you and the past generations have created. Give of your time to see that you change the environment, the culture; see that there are the right kinds of schools and universities. Don't leave it to the Government. The Government is as thoughtless as you are, as indifferent, as callous. Instead of perpetuating the pattern of the trap, your responsibility now lies in seeing to it that there is no trap. All this means that you have to be awake, not only in your particular profession or career but to the immense danger of perpetuating the trap.
"We see the danger but we seem to be incapable of acting even when we see it."
You see the danger verbally and intellectually, and that seeing you call danger, which actually it is not. When you really see danger you act, you don't theorize about it. You don't oppose dialectically one opinion with another: you actually see the truth of the danger as you would see the danger of a cobra and you act. But you refuse to see this danger because it would mean you would have to wake up. There are disturbances and you are frightened of them. This is what prompts you to say that you have no time, which obviously is not so.
So as parents who are concerned, you must be committed utterly and completely to seeing that your children are not caught in the trap: therefore you will bring about different schools, different universities, different politics, different ways of living together, which means that you must care for your children. Caring for children implies the right kind of food, the right kind of clothing, the right kind of books, the right kind of amusement, the right kind of educatlon; and therefore you are concerned with the right kind of educator. To you the educator is the least respected. Your respect is for those who have a great deal of money, position and prestige, and the educator who has the responsibility for the coming generation you totally disregard. The educator needs education as you, the parents, need education.
The sun was now beginning to get hot, there were deepening shadows and the morning was wearing itself out. The sky was less blue and the children were playing in the field, released from their classes, from the repetitive lessons and the drudgery of books.
Beginnings of Learning
The Beginnings of Learning Part II Chapter 3 Conversation with Parents and Teachers
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