Research, Essays, Commentaries – Inspired by the Social-Cultural-Political Thought of Sri Aurobindo (PLUS a bit of photography too!)
It is my great joy and privilege today to share another review of my book, ABC’s of Indian National Education. This one is a very special review as it is written by a friend and colleague, Dr. Larry Seidlitz, someone I respect and admire both as a scholar and as a seeker on the path of Integral Yoga. Larry and I were colleagues at Sri Aurobindo Center for Advanced Research, Pondicherry for many years. But there is another common link between us, that of our alma mater from where we got our doctoral degrees, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, though he finished the year I started there.
First, a little background about Larry:
Dr. Larry Seidlitz is a practitioner and scholar of the spiritual philosophy and yoga of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother. He has been actively involved in writing and editing work related to this subject for more than 10 years, as well as guiding students in the subject. His present work focuses on a research project investigating the experience of Integral Yoga in four fields of professional endeavour, in collaboration with the Indian Psychology Institute in Pondicherry. He is the editor of Collaboration, a journal on the Integral Yoga, and does freelance editing of books related to Sri Aurobindo’s and the Mother’s vision. He recently published a book on the Integral Yoga called Transforming Lives. Previously, Larry Seidlitz was an Assistant Professor and researcher in psychiatry and psychology at The University of Rochester Medical Center in Rochester, NY, USA.
Larry’s review of my book was recently published in New Race: A Journal of Integral and Future Studies (August 2015).
TITLE: ABC’s of Indian National Education
AUTHOR: Beloo Mehra, PhD
PUBLISHER: Standard Publishers, 2014
The ABC’s of Indian National Education by Dr. Beloo Mehra is a thought-provoking book on how to reorient education in India to base it solidly on the foundations of Indian culture and on the development of the complete person and the nation as a whole. The general perspective of the book is largely influenced by the views Sri Aurobindo and the Mother, though other great proponents of a truly Indian education are also cited, as well as the author’s long experience in education both in India and abroad. The style is informal, consisting of 26 short essays, one for each letter of the alphabet, each letter standing for a key topic. For example, the letter ‘A’ starts the book off with a short chapter on the “Aim of Education.” This informal style leads away from a more scholarly treatment of the subject in favour of a more “reader friendly” voice meant for general audiences. While this stylistic tactic tends towards breadth rather than depth and integration, the author has mitigated this tendency somewhat by tying some of the chapters together around especially important themes.
While the style makes it relatively easy to read, the ideas and proposals presented are bold and revolutionary. This is in keeping with the transformative nature of the educational philosophy of Sri Aurobindo and the Mother and other Indian thinkers on education such as Krishnamurti and Rabindranath Tagore whose ideas have inspired the book. For example, the author takes the position that the system of education in India is based largely on principles of the British colonizers, which were designed to create an obedient and subservient population to serve the British political and economic interests. Thus, what is proposed in these pages is a complete overhaul of the education system starting from its general aims down to its day to day activities in the classroom. While many of the topics focus on large issues and principles based on Indian cultural foundations, there are also many practical suggestions for implementing them in the classroom.
To give a better sense of the nature of the education proposed, let us look at a few of the basic principles advocated, and at some of the practical suggestions for their classroom implementation. Starting with aims of education, the author argues that the aim of traditional education is to develop “certain skill sets and gather knowledge of certain content areas that will help children secure their economic and social futures.” Instead, she proposes that education should be based on the Indian view of the human being as “a soul, a portion of the Divinity enwrapped in mind and body.” Then citing Sri Aurobindo, she proposes three central aims of education: 1. the growth of the individual’s soul and its powers and possibilities, 2. the preservation, strengthening and enrichment of the nation-soul and its Dharma, and 3. the raising of both the individual and the nation into powers of the life and ascending mind and soul of humanity. We can see here the much higher reach of the aims as well their wider scope, putting the development of the individual soul within the context of the developing nation-soul and the more inclusive developing soul of humanity. The author quotes Sri Aurobindo in emphasizing that education must never “lose sight of man’s highest object, the awakening and development of his spiritual being.”
An education with these profound aims requires radical changes in its approach and methods. Rather than being focused on development of skills sets and practical knowledge, its methods must be redirected towards bringing out the soul and the development of vibrant instruments for its expression through the mind, life and body. So in place of practical knowledge and skills, education is reformulated to develop such things as beauty, joy, self-discovery, self-observation, independent thinking and questioning, reason, concentration, mental silence, receptivity to inspirations coming from the higher regions of the being.
Rather than imposing so-called “knowledge” upon the learner, qualities such as these must be “evoked,” awakened within the learner. This is a radical reorientation from the traditional approach to education, and here the author provides practical suggestions for how to do this. First, there is the need for creative and carefully thought out learning opportunities. Next there is the need for space and time to allow the learner freedom to explore and reflect. There is also the need for providing helpful guidance and resources which the learner may utilize in his or her own way and time. In this approach, teachers are not viewed as “experts” imparting their superior knowledge on the students, rather they are fellow learners and mentors who can offer suggestions and serve as role models. Also relevant to this issue, the author discusses Sri Aurobindo’s principle “from near to far,” the idea that learners proceed gradually outward from what they already know to the next step beyond. Learning is an adventure, a discovery, and this proceeds in an individualistic, organic, and yet logical way.
Let us now look at a few of the concrete suggestions the author makes for implementing these approaches in the classroom. To facilitate self-discovery, the author suggests that “Introspection, journaling, quiet contemplation, self-analysis and other such exercises can be immensely helpful.” There is also a wonderful chapter on the use of stories in the classroom to engage learners, as well as the suggestion to utilize performing arts like dance, drama, ballet, and carefully selected age-appropriate films. Elsewhere she suggests including “inspiring and uplifting music… nature walks, contemplative writing, meditative movement and dance.”
One of the key principles for the type of education advocated here is the importance of the teacher’s own inner development and relation to the students. In order to facilitate the awakening of the soul in students, the teacher’s own soul must be awake or at least be awakening. This principle is more implicit than explicit, but it is there nonetheless. For example, the author writes that “educational thinkers, curriculum planners, and educators must dig into some of the writings of the great Indian thinkers and philosophers and seek inspiration on how to help learners develop a deeper sensitivity and appreciation of beauty—in form and in spirit, in thought and in action, in feelings and in sentiment.” Elsewhere she suggests “regular in-service orientations and workshops for teachers. Thoughtfully prepared exercises that can gently lead to introspection and an inward gaze can help teachers regain a new perspective on their approach to life, their work, their teaching style and their motivations.”
The overhaul of the Indian system of education to reflect such aims is a huge and complex undertaking. As the author suggests, the changes must be made step by step not only on the outside, but inside each educator. In this easy to read book there are many wise and helpful reflections on how this revolution can be brought about.
Thank you Larry for such a fabulous review. What I find most remarkable in this review is its flow and the way it ties the whole book together, even filling in the gaps I might have left in the book’s organisation!
TO READ MORE REVIEWS OF THE BOOK, CLICK HERE.