Gathered in joy
Boys and girls doing homework on a cot. Hasanpur, Harayana, India.
In one cell lies the whole world, and if you know how to look and learn the door is there and the key is in your hand. Nobody on earth can give you either the key or the door to open, except yourself.
The School of Life teaches freedom and equality
I teach in a small school, part of whose educational intent is to question existing beliefs and attitudes, to question the forces of conditioning that make us behave in one way or another, to question the various identities we are given or that we construct for ourselves. The need for identity is very strong in human beings. It seems to allow us to know the difference between ‘us’ and ‘them’, a deep instinct that perhaps goes back as far as our ancestors in the African Savannah. Among human beings, this instinct to divide has had disastrous consequences. One area where identification happens early is in gender. It is probably one of the strongest identities that children develop: if a child moves away from gender appropriate behaviour even slightly, peers rush in with merciless criticism!
Among adults as well, gender identity is strong, so much so that men might find it difficult to be nurturing, and women might find it difficult to be assertive, simply because these qualities have been associated with the opposite sex. Given the long centuries of exploitation and violence that women have suffered, having an identity as a woman might easily be thought of as important, even imperative, for survival.
When I look at my students, I would like them to grow up in a setting where they are not judged a priori on the basis of their sex. In our school, we have succeeded in breaking many gender norms prevalent in society. For example, we have as many male as female teachers. Girls play football and boys cook in the kitchen. Girls climb rocks and trees with as much ease as boys. A significant number of girls choose science and math in senior school, and boys choose sociology, psychology or literature. Boys and girls are equally outspoken and ready to take on responsible roles in school. Boys are as nurturing of younger students as girls. Both boys and girls gossip away behind closed doors. Girls’ rooms are as messy as boys’ rooms.
J.Krishnamurthi (1895-1986) was an Indian spiritual philosopher. He believed that “Truth is a pathless land. Man cannot come to it through any organization, through any creed, through any dogma, priest or ritual, not through any philosophical knowledge or psychological technique. He has to find it through the mirror of relationship, through the understanding of the contents of his own mind, through observation and not through intellectual analysis or introspective dissection. Man has built in himself images as a fence of security — religious, political, personal. These manifest as symbols, ideas, beliefs. The burden of these dominate man’s thinking, relationships and daily life. These are the causes of our problems for they divide man from man in every relationship. His perception of life is shaped by the concepts already established in his mind. The content of his consciousness is this consciousness. This content is common to all humanity. The individuality is the name, the form and superficial culture he acquires from his environment. The uniqueness of the individual does not lie in the superficial but in the total freedom from the content of consciousness.
Freedom is not a reaction; freedom is not choice. It is man’s pretence that because he has choice he is free. Freedom is pure observation without direction, without fear of punishment and reward. Freedom is without motive; freedom is not at the end of the evolution of man but lies in the first step of his existence. In observation one begins to discover the lack of freedom. Freedom is found in the choiceless awareness of our daily existence.” (Editor's note)