This is the draft beginning of a book I am working on.  Any comments gratefully received.

Educating the Spirit: changing the way we think.

Chapter One:     Young Leaves

In the evening we are taken on a boat ride along the River Ganges into the city of Varanasi. This majestic river is soiled by the squalid lives of humanity, fetid clumps of matter float past and her banks are pitted with plastic and polystyrene.  Further on a blackened shape passes us with a crow is perched on it: a body only partially burnt and tossed into the river to save precious wood.  We pass ancient buildings, fiery corpses and garish hoardings: all life is here.  We moor at the edge of the old city and walk up the dusty, mud streets.

Earlier that day we had met a man who had been involved in education in Varanasi and other places in India for many years; we talked about the state of the world and education in particular.  This was in early 2011 when the global economic situation was disintegrating, the gap between rich and poor ever widening, the speed of environmental degradation was gathering pace as humanity desperately searched to unearth whatever resources the Earth had left.

“We need to educate the spirit,’ the man said.  He explained that he felt we have reduced learning to the mere gathering of knowledge in order to get a job, settle down and be secure; being only concerned with the mechanical.  The global crisis we are facing now is an inevitable and direct result of this approach, he felt.

In India, as in many parts of the world, education is seen as a means of obtaining results in a highly competitive world.  Education is big business; in all the towns and cities I have been to there are very many schools from those in converted houses to the opulent ‘international’ schools that boast every modern facility possible.  Parents want their children to become wealthy, to be economically secure and to have status in society; this all reflects well on them and the family.  Such is the intensity of feeling surrounding exam results that it can, all too often leads to tragic outcomes: we met a young lady whose best friend at school killed herself when she received her results as she felt that she had let down her family and life was not worth living any more.  This lady we met works with young people and is a passionate opponent of formal schooling and all it involves, citing this experience as pivotal in her thinking.

 Education is so often presented as being all about policy; about political interest, manipulation of people, and creating institutionalized failure for many against a background of a perception of success for the few.  This policy builds the notion of life as a race with winners and losers, and it begins even before we are born.  However,  I am writing about the individual, the single human, for that is who I have always come across in my teaching: individual students as well as individual teachers and parents.  For the vast majority of my teaching career I have been known by my first name in institutions where young people have not been required to wear uniforms and, to differing extents, formality was not used as a means of control.  The consequence of this was to give greater meaning to relationships between individuals and accentuate the fact that respect lay in the quality of these relationships, not in reverting to status and coercion.  The extraordinary diversity of character of students, teachers and parents contributed to the vitality, effectiveness and happiness of these places.  When this diversity was subjected to oppressive conformity, particularly through the pursuit of narrow academic success, then the delicate web of mutual respect broke down, leaving conventional punishment and reward processes as the means to encourage and motivate. However, when we talk about the spirit of the individual we are actually exploring the human spirit, human consciousness; so in this we move beyond the separation of individuals and their characteristics to that which unifies us all – our thoughts, feelings: life itself.  Therefore, in educating the individual human spirit we are in touch with all that is consciousness; and thus the individual takes on her or his proper significance