Enlightened Educators Nurture the Mind

by AMEETA MULLA WATTAL, The Times of India, Nov 29, 2004

New Delhi, India -- The school, home and community are a melting pot of emotions, desires, attitudes and aspirations. The energies that reside in these places are positive because learning, values and education are an integral part of all of them.

However, a great deal lies at a subconscious level within the collective humanity that inhabits these places: Thoughts of religious intolerance, stress disorder, child neglect, caste and community feelings, environmental insensitivity and personal competition, which create an atmosphere of discord.

The mind is a garden that contains seeds of understanding, forgiveness and love along with seeds of ignorance, fear and hatred that make us violent or peaceful, understanding or intolerant. An enriched nurturing environment will help to water the positive seeds and weed out the negative ones. A thinking school can create a learning environment filled with compassion and communication.

Recognition is perhaps the most important aspect of nurturing. "I see you..." is the ability to recognise each other's identity and value. Among the tribes of northern Natal in South Africa, the most common greeting, equivalent to "hello" in English, is the expression: Sawu bona. It literally means, "I see you". If you are a member of the tribe, you might reply by saying: Sikhona, "I am here". The order of the exchange is important: Until you see me, I do not exist. It's as if, when you see me, you bring me into existence. It's the same with children. If we don't bring them into existence, they will remain invisible, irrespective of their nature.

An enlightened educator would look dispassionately at her own personal vision and mastery before the shared vision process begins. How do we communicate? What pressures are we under? How do we respond? Do we inspire confidence? Do we give enough of our time? Are we mindful of the visions, goals and feelings of children we interact with? Are we watering the right seeds?

Teaching is a moral undertaking; it is not just a set of technical skills for imparting knowledge to students. It involves caring for children and being responsible for their development in a complex democratic society. Teachers need to think not just about the "means" by which they teach but the "ends" they are teaching for. And that places a heavy obligation on those who teach.

There is no guidebook that can automatically sort out ethical dilemmas for us in a world where interpretations are ambiguous and awareness is incomplete. The greatest teachers ? whether the Buddha, Christ, Rama- krishna or Nanak ? never taught in classrooms. They had no blackboards, maps or charts. They used no subject outlines, kept no records, gave no grades. Their students were often poor and their methods were the same for all who came to hear and learn. They opened eyes, ears and hearts with faith, truth, and love. They won no honours for their wisdom or expertise. And yet, these quiet Teachers fulfilled the hopes and changed the lives of millions.

The concept of education has differed greatly from its context. Every human conceptual value is bilateral like love, growth and harmony and contextual aspects are unilateral like hate, injustice and violence. Learning has no place for exclusivism. We have to continually create an environment whereby our schools become laboratories of learning, compassion, preemptive justice, empathetic listening, reflective thinking and a concern for global, national and rural issues.

The writer is Principal, Springdales School, Pusa Rd, New Delhi.