‘education’ – this, i believe…

August 16, 2014

And so it was.

A few weeks back, yours truly got a chance to ‘formally’ discuss with a  group of young, impressionable & wannabe teachers – from many countries including mine and backgrounds – but mostly from South and Meso Americas – about my (current & random) views on this beastess called education – and as I had made the following rough notes for another occasion, I chose to make use of the same and ranted (the text below was given as a handout to them post the talk, because they wanted to get the real drift of the discussions, poor things).

So, I held forth, pontificating ad nauseam – based on my experience and approaches, bestowing my infinite wisdom on these hapless folks. Yes, before you rush headlong to trash me,  I know – it is not that I am great teacher or even a reasonable  teacher, mind you; and, you must remember that old saw about the ’empty vessels…’,  yeah?

However, I also  do believe in dialogue – and soon there was this multilogue – not exactly a balanced flow –  but pandemonious rapids of information and opinions flowing in from all directions. The discussion was to have been for one hour, but it went on for 3 hours (thanks to the enthusiasm of the youth) over three cups of steaming black coffee.

Anyway… It is always so damn nice  to see dedicated and work-ethic infected youth. Them with their dreams and aspirations to make the world a better place. Their wide-eyed wonder and spirited enthu for life, the hope. Their leftist leanings and Che Guevara Tee-shirts. Their takes on Western and Indic philosophies, the yoga of learning. Their ideas of literature (especially the illiterature  of the likes of Arundhati Roys) and how bad  the ‘education’ scene is,  back in their own  nations… Their sense of youthful humour, chiseled bodies…  It is so damn nice to listen to clueful, knowledgeable and articulate youth full of positive energy – with their brains in full-crunch / alert mode.

I wish them and the future, all the very best that the mothership earth has to offer. (and wish the same to sanctimonious me  too!)

Rough ideas on education

I believe that:

  • Education is life. “It is life that forms and educates.” (Johann Pestalozzi)
  • The universe is made of stories, not of atoms.” (Muriel Rukeyser)
  • “A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, conn a ship, design a building, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve equations, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for Insects.” (Robert Anson Heinlein in Time Enough for Love)
  • In the province of the mind what one believes to be true, either is true or becomes true within certain limits to be found experientially and experimentally. These limits are further beliefs to be transcended. In the province of the mind there are no limits.” (John C Lilly)
  • Children neither learn in a linear fashion nor in the fashion of ever expanding concentric circles; they seem to go for depth first – learn things on a need-to-know basis – and then keep coming back to the other layers of a given learning task, auto-didactically. They seem to be able to put together the seeds of ideas they have, in the ever expanding web of contexts and connections – and gain the necessary breadth and understanding.
  • Children learn a lot more than mere skills from the adults around them – like sponges; so, the more centered the latter are, the better are the chances that a given child is normalized; exposure to models of excellence is important.
  • Children, by themselves, do not perceive a schism / conflict between the ideal type dyadic representations as in heart vs mind or physical vs mental or good vs bad or arts vs science. They are able to appreciate and assimilate the vast gray tracts with which reality is constructed. Sufficiently normalized, these children will appreciate and do equally well in – say, academic pursuits (and excelling in them) and being co-operative, aware and conscious persons (and being human).
  • Adults’ (and the School’s) role hence could be to provide and maintain the spaces for the all round growth of the children – so that the children are aware of the choices and exercise their informed choices and become exemplary human beings (and thusly citizens)
  • Gag reflexes of the adults (teachers, if you will) should not condition the children. As Montessori says – indirect presentations are to be taken cognizance of, for significant learning experiences.
  • Children’s all important ideas of  ‘work ethic’  primarily comes from home. If one has to zero-in on one single entity that is so crucial to the development of a child – that would be the ‘influence of parents,’ period.
  • Education is as much a must for the  ‘teachers’ as for the taught (is there any difference?). The adults have to be learners first and may be ‘teachers’ next.
  • If there is an opportunity to make a +ve difference to anything, one should go right ahead. To quote Thomas A Edison: “Opportunity is missed by most because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.
  • “… To fulfill a dream, to be allowed to sweat over lonely labour, to be given a chance to create the meat and potatoes of life…The money is the gravy.”  (Betty Davis)
  • To paraphrase my dear & brilliant  Charles Martin Buber (thanks for correcting me, Sriram), whose views are very close to my heart:  (text by Christine Thompson)
    • “Buber emphasized the special nature of the dialogue in education.  Admitting that the child is constantly educated by everything she encounters in the world, Buber recognized the educator as unique in her conscious will to influence the learner. This decision to become influential in the lives of children, Buber contended, demands abdication of some of the freedom of choice, the personal preference, the Eros, that we are free to exercise when we enter into other relationships, such as friendship, love or collegiality. The teacher meets the random assortment of students who present themselves to her as her responsibility and her destiny; she is not able to choose who it is that she will educate. Unlike the dialogue that may occur between friends, lovers or colleagues, the relation in education is never completely reciprocal: In order to fulfill her responsibility as teacher, the teacher must ‘experience the other side’ of her encounters with students; she must realize the situation both as it occurs to her and to the particular student standing over against her. The student, however, is unable to experience the teacher’s side in the same way, simply by virtue of her situation as student; the teacher’s vantage point is unavailable to her. Buber spoke of this ‘one-sided experience of inclusion’ as an essential characteristic of teaching, healing and forgiving relationships, in which one partner consciously guides another through a landscape upon which the guide enjoys a privileged perspective.
    • “Another consequence of the teacher’s willingness to influence students is her tacit agreement to represent to students what Buber termed ‘a selection of the effective world’, to present to them, both through curricular content deliberately chosen and through the interests and convictions she embodies, a certain perspective on the world, a selection of what is, a curriculum which derives coherence because it is filtered through the life of a single person.
    • “Buber expected much of teachers. He stressed the teacher’s personal choice, integrity, authenticity, presence and willingness to respond to all students, regardless of the affection or revulsion they might evoke in the teacher herself, as fundamental to establishment of the trust in the world that the student first experiences as trust in the teacher who brings the world to her.
  • For a person like me – who believes that the Tamil or the Indian problem is a pedagogical problem, José Ortega y Gasset is very close to my heart too: “Plato’s pedagogy is based on the idea that one must educate the city in order to educate the individual…. If education is the transformation of a reality according to some better idea that we have and education cannot be other than social, it obtains that pedagogy is the science of transforming societies. We used to call this politics, and so, we now have that politics has become social pedagogy for us and the Spanish problem is a pedagogical problem.
  • I really like this quote: “Biologically, adults produce children. Spiritually, children produce adults. Most of us do not grow up until we have helped children do so. Thus do the generations form a braided cord.” (George F Will)
  • To paraphrase/quote MK Gandhi AKA Bapuji: Be the change that you wish to see in others; strength does not come from physical capacity, it comes from an indomitable will.


That said, in spite of having been a reasonably ‘successful’ and (but?) a very happy ‘teacher’ for this many years – I still have a whole bloody lot of self-doubts!

The power of instruction is seldom of much efficacy except in those happy dispositions where it is almost superfluous.

Gibbon says it all! Oh man. Where do I go. Where do I even begin. :-(

,,, It is not even that I practice all the above aphorisms or clichéd  quotations, if you will…

Yes. I am a delightful (therefore, vexatious) bundle of a struggling adult, baffled parent, sanguine ‘teacher,’  bumbling spouse and an inveterate DIY maniac and what not, still.

And yes. Thanks for suffering me. Do keep in touch, if you must.


I have a (mostly) Tamil blog (it is my dear mother-tongue) now. There are a few Ingles entries on ‘education’ in this current blog like these: (that you may find interesting to interpret me (if at all you want to)).

3 Responses to “‘education’ – this, i believe…”

  1. giridhar.swaminathan@sbm.co.in Says:

    Pinni pedaledukkara pola?Varisaiyaa post pannra?!

  2. Are you quoting Martin Buber, the jewish theologian, philosopher, etc? Who is Charles Buber?

    —>>>> Oops! Thanks for correcting me. He is Martin Buber – how can I be so absent minded? :-( Now, I have to send this correction to all those folks who had gotten this handout. *ouch*

    On the contrary, no one else has corrected me so far! So, may be, none has really read the handout or what? :-((


    • Ram, you are, and perceived to be (by people like me), an erudite man with an eye for details. So when you mention something that jars a bit, the first reaction is to assume you are right and we are wrong. I presumed there was some Charles Buber besides Martin B whom I didn’t know about. It was only when I found Christine Thompson quoting Martin B somewhere else, I thought it could be a mistake. :)

மேற்கண்ட பதிவு (அல்லது பின்னூட்டங்கள்) குறித்து (விருப்பமிருந்தால்) உரையாடலாமே...

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