Thursday, 17 April 2014

O is for Opportunity, "Opportunity to Develop All that is Best in the Nature"

#atozchallengeEducation must pay serious attention to the development of learners' character and their emotional and moral growth and refinement. The education of the intellect, according to Sri Aurobindo, divorced from the gradual perfection of the moral and emotional nature, is injurious to human progress.

We must of course admit the many difficulties involved in providing a suitable moral education in schools and colleges. There is a danger in using so-called "moral education" textbooks for the purpose of learners' character development. Such a bookish approach makes the thinking of high things mechanical and artificial, and therefore, doesn't carry any long-term value. Any attempt to impose a certain discipline on the learners, via a bookish moral education, to mould their character in a certain way, to steer them into a desired path is essentially hypocritical and heartless, according to Sri Aurobindo. Only what the heart truly admires and the mind firmly accepts, becomes part of an individual's inner being; the rest is a mask. On the other hand, if there is a total disregard of moral training of the learners the future of the society's overall well-being is in a big danger. Let us hear some more from Sri Aurobindo on this matter....
The first rule of moral training is to suggest and invite, not command or impose. The best method of suggestion is by personal example, daily converse and the books read from day to day. These books should contain, for the younger student, the lofty examples of the past given, not as moral lessons, but as things of supreme human interest, and, for the elder student, the great thoughts of great souls, the passages of literature which set fire to the highest emotions and prompt the highest ideals and aspirations, the records of history and biography which exemplify the living of those great thoughts, noble emotions and aspiring ideals. This is a kind of good company, satsanga, which can seldom fail to have effect, so long as sententious sermonising is avoided, and becomes of the highest effect if the personal life of the teacher is itself moulded by the great things he places before his pupils. It cannot, however, have full force unless the young life is given an opportunity, within its limited sphere, of embodying in action the moral impulses which rise within it........ 
.....Every [child] given practical opportunity as well as intellectual encouragement to develop all that is best in his nature. If he has bad qualities, bad habits, whether of mind or body, he should not be treated harshly as a delinquent, but encouraged to get rid of them by the method of [self-control], rejection and substitution. He should be encouraged to think of them, not as sins or offences, but as symptoms of a curable disease alterable by a steady and sustained effort of the will,—falsehood being rejected whenever it rises into the mind and replaced by truth, fear by courage, selfishness by sacrifice and renunciation, malice by love. Great care will have to be taken that unformed virtues are not rejected as faults. The wildness and recklessness of many young natures are only the overflowings of an excessive strength, greatness and nobility. They should be purified, not discouraged. (Sri Aurobindo, CWSA, Vol 1, pp. 391-393).
This demands a great overhaul in the present system. To begin with, it necessitates a much smaller class size than what we see in most schools in India. It requires a great deal of individualized attention by the teachers, a patient approach and a pedagogy that values love and genuine caring for each learner. It places great responsibility on the teachers for their own growth and character development. It requires a thoughtful curricular decision-making process and a careful approach to designing learning activities in the classroom.

A truly Indian Education, when it is guided by the Indian view on aim of human life and the principle of gradual development of the human being through life experiences, will naturally encourage this approach of providing meaningful opportunities for the learner's moral development.

The learning opportunities for moral development must also be reflective of an important principle of teaching, discussed in the previous post from Near to Far. Unless a growing child or youth is able to work through the moral dilemmas arising in the most immediate life-context (e.g. in his/her relationship with peers, family members), he or she can not be meaningfully prepared to deal with any larger issues facing the society or humanity. Unless a child is given an opportunity to struggle with inter-personal conflict in a thoughtful and reflective manner in order to arrive at a harmonious solution, he or she will be unable to even comprehend the multiple layers of the larger conflicts facing society and the world. This necessitates that children are not shown the quick and dirty way of suppressing or denying or rejecting the conflicts that will naturally occur when human beings come into contact or interact with one another. Instead, they should be shown - by example, by encouragement and by giving them an opportunity  - to engage constructively and work around and with the conflicts, and grow into mutual understanding and a wider and more inclusive synthesis of viewpoints.

One final point before I close this post. Moral education is often confused with religious instruction. To quote again from Sri Aurobindo will be the most effective way to address this important matter:
"There is a strange idea prevalent that by merely teaching the dogmas of religion children can be made pious and moral. This is an European error, and its practice either leads to mechanical acceptance of a creed having no effect on the inner and little on the outer life, or it creates the fanatic, the pietist, the ritualist or the unctuous hypocrite. Religion has to be lived, not learned as a creed. No religious teaching is of any value unless it is lived, and the use of various kinds of sadhana, spiritual self-training and exercise, is the only effective preparation for religious living. The ritual of prayer, homage, ceremony is craved for by many minds as an essential preparation and, if not made an end in itself, is a great help to spiritual progress; if it is withheld, some other form of meditation, devotion or religious duty must be put in its place. Otherwise, religious teaching is of little use and would almost be better ungiven. But whether distinct teaching in any form of religion is imparted or not, the essence of religion, to live for God, for humanity, for country, for others and for oneself in these, must be made the ideal in every school which calls itself national." (ibid, p. 392)

This post is written for the A-Z Challenge, April 2014. The theme I am exploring is - Putting India back in Indian Education

Click here for the previous post in the series.

Linking this to ABC Wednesday, O: O is for Opportunity

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