My Foundations and Philosophy of Art/Education –revisited
My previous writing on the foundations of my philosophies of Art/Education was a structured and cohesive essay, which was the result of much brain-storming and mind-mapping. This essay on the other hand comes straight from my heart and is instinctive. It is a free-flow synthesis of the new things I have encountered over the last few weeks and of the things buried in my subconscious that I have dug out in order to discover the foundations of my philosophy of art/education.
One of the most influential events that helped build my foundations when I was young were the excerpts from Dr. Wayne Dyer’s books that my mother would read out to me. I was totally impressed by what Dr. Dyer had to say. Dr. Dyer said something to the effect that, ‘parents need to teach their children to learn to be happy’. I believe that happiness is a state of mind that is at times difficult to achieve. I once read a saying by a philosopher in India, which translates as, “to remain perpetually happy is the biggest and most challenging endeavor in life.” This class, AED 505 has given me the confidence to search deep within myself and write my very innermost and honest sentiments and so in spite of the apprehension that I am encountering, I will state this; ‘making children happy is the driving force behind my philosophy and foundations.’ It is strange how and where we might hear things that can shape our foundations. Once on my way to school, I sat in an auto-rickshaw. As is the fashion in India, the driver did not really concern himself as to whether I was interested in what he was playing on the stereo (for which I am very grateful now). He was listening to a kirtan (religious discourse) by a notable master. What the kirtankar (the person performing the kirtan) said seemed to me to be the most ground shattering theory because it was remarkably simple and yet never had I thought of it in my entire 14 years of life. He said, our entire life is driven by the need to find happiness and in trying to find that happiness, we encounter and befall sadness and forget that happiness is our objective.
Was the knowledge that ‘being happy is the aim of my life’ really etched in my mind and soul so deep that all my actions in life have been directed toward that goal? Without trying to be immodest, I do believe that in spite of the formal education system that I encountered (which according to me is an absolute failure and a waste), I believe I haven’t done too bad in life. The credit goes to my mother and the general spiritual atmosphere of where I come from. Having the courage to pursue happiness and on the way sacrificing a corporate career only because I was unhappy (since I was of no use to humanity) is a cause for celebration.
I believe that if the philosophy of ‘happiness’ is to be formally taught, the broad definitions of happiness and joy need to be understood, both by teachers as well as students. These terms can very easily be misunderstood. To put it very concisely, I would say that happiness and joy are almost synonymous with a peaceful and at the same time an excited state of mind, which is a result of focused, dedicated effort towards an activity. This activity needs to create a sense of accomplishment, satisfaction, and contentment in the child. The joy derived from creating something worthwhile needs to be experienced. The joy derived from creating happiness in somebody else’s life is very important to create socially conscientious and sensitive citizens. Most often we don’t term a lot of feelings that we experience as happiness. That is probably because there are different degrees of joy. I remember as a teenager I had read a book called ‘Daddy Long legs’. The protagonist in the book called ‘Judy’ writes to her benefactor ‘Daddy longlegs’ about her new friends in college and notes that ‘her friend is not even aware that she is happy’. This happiness is in context of happiness derived from material possessions. But I think the happiness that is derived from activities too is often lost. So many people live life without having discovered what it is that they are passionate about. The potential lies dormant inside them, never being discovered. That just makes me grieve the human potential that is lost. When I was at a career-crossroad in life, my mother told me, ‘do whatever that makes you happy. Even if you decide to just stay at home and do a great job of being a wife and mother, I will still be proud of you’. The biggest sense of security a child will receive is knowing that he is going to be accepted irrespective of the choices he makes. This is I believe an incredible fuel to follow one’s dreams.
I am somehow confident that if the emotional well-being of a child is taken care of, the overall development of the child too is possible.
By teaching happiness, I do not prescribe that teachers declare “Okay, everybody, today we are going to learn how to be happy.” It is I believe a process of discovering yourself. And in that process discovering what it means to be a human, what are the powers that humans are entitled too (which are limitless), and what is our element. Sir Ken Robinson defines element as ‘the meeting point between natural aptitude and personal passion.’ I believe that passion and happiness are in a way related.
I wonder if my philosophy is too far fetched? I wonder if a teacher who hasn’t herself/himself discovered a passion to teach can deal with this philosophy? Apart from being extremely passionate about children, the teacher would have to be very concerned about the emotional well-being of the child. If there is a child in the class who comes from difficult circumstances at home, the teacher would have to work towards creating a strong self-esteem and a sense of security in a child. Again, the teacher would have to always remember that as Sir Robinson says, ‘No one size fits all’. The teaching would have to be personalized and customized for every child. In order to create or facilitate this learning of happiness, the teacher would need to create a sense of trust.
All through this essay I have been reiterating the need to discover happiness. I have also discussed the need to create a conducive environment to help children follow their dreams. However, going back to my story of the kirtan in the rickshaw, I would say that while teachers help children discover their true happiness, they also need to teach that the joy is in the journey as much as it is in the destination.
Isn’t it strange that we say happiness is a state of mind yet cannot always achieve that state of mind as and when we deem it necessary although our mind belongs to us? I often wonder if it is possible to teach or educate children to be happy? From what I remember of my own childhood, I believe kids have the ability or capacity to be happy until unnecessary adult intervention steps in. Left to their own devices, children can come up with their own ways to keep themselves engaged and happy. Of course, I am aware that this is a perspective from a time-period where technology was not omnipresent. The challenges and concerns faced by educators and parents today in terms of dealing with technology are very real. An argument that one might make here is that a child left to his own devices today might watch television or play on any other media platform such as a smart phone, ipad etc and derive a great deal of happiness out of it. I am sure that kids find a lot of happiness in engaging with technology. A proof of the same are the media reports published by the Joan Ganz Cooney center and Kaiser which show staggering numbers of children’s media consumption. This brings me to my present research related predicament. What role can technology play in positively shaping childhoods? Does technology possess the power to channelize children’s energies towards creating happiness? Technology is the double-edged sword that can be utilized to make or break childhoods. Is it right to substitute the human presence of parents and teachers with technology? What would be the social repercussions of such a method of education? Of course the presence of teachers will never be totally obliterated. But the pace at which technology is changing the world, I cannot help but wonder the role that technology could possibly play in the field of education. If the role of technology is going to be so colossal, I think a great deal of effort needs to go into building a foundation for sound education. I foresee technology as being one of the most important tools for the educators of the future. As I am undertaking this journey of being an educator and learning new things along the way, I cannot help but mention a philosophy that I recently came across and which greatly inspired me. Rabindranath Tagore the first Indian Nobel laureate also known as Gurudev (teacher) was a freedom-fighter, teacher, poet, playwright, and artist. He started a school for boys in Bengal called ‘Shantiniketan’. I came across a book called ‘Shantiniketan, the Bolpur school of Rabindranath Tagore, written by William Winstanley Pearson in 1916. The book is a detailed account of the residence school and Rabindranath’s teaching philosophy. Reading this book I felt my own thoughts reflected in Rabindranath’s philosophy . About Rabindranath as a teacher Pearson says,
“He never had any feeling of distrust for the boys’ capacity of understanding; he would talk and read to them about whatever was the subject in which he himself was interested. He knew that it was not at all necessary for the boys to under stand literally and accurately but that their minds should be roused, and in this he was always successful. He was not like other teachers, a mere vehicle of text books. He made his teaching personal, he himself was the source of it, and therefore it was made of life stuff easily assimilable by the living human nature.” Pg 23
I believe the biggest success of the school was as Pearson states, ‘One of the things that strikes visitors to the school is the look of happiness on the boys’ faces’.The lessons at the school would take place outdoors under the trees or in forests. The circumstances and teaching environments have undergone tremendous change since the last century.
“Does it seem as if this ashram were too remote and monastic for the training of boys who, when they leave school, have to struggle in the modern world? Can we not say rather, that perhaps here they may acquire what the modern world most needs, that wealth of mind’s tranquility which is required to give life its balance when it has to march to its goal through the crowd of distractions?” Pg 39
I wonder if it is even possible to marry this philosophy of happiness, which is such a humane and organic concept with technology, which we assume to be a mechanical, inorganic concept? I see my happiness driven philosophy as a basis on which a teacher can teach, with or without technology. The student will greatly benefit if the philosophy of the teacher as well as the technology is student centered.
Sir Ken Robinson in this talks discusses the Industrial model of education which most education systems all over the world follow. In this system the emphasis is on manufacturing individuals. The industrial requirement is one of the most decisive factors which influences the hierarchy of the subjects learnt. Mathematics and languages is followed by humanities and in the last place are the arts. The success of Rabindranath’s school, ‘Shantiniketan’ is that it created many artists such as Abanindranath Tagore, Satyajit Ray as well another Noble laureate for Economics, Amartya Sen.
I remember having spent an entire afternoon just staring out of my window and painting the leaves that had just been bathed in the monsoon rain when I was in 6th or 7th grade. I had thought that was the best way I could have spent the afternoon until I was asked to ‘prioritize, economize and judiciously manage my time’. And thus I learnt that the correct way to utilize my time was by studying math, science, geography, history and languages (in that very order!). Fortunately it soon occurred to me that it was also possible to live a life being happy and that way was by doing the things I most love. Doing things that one loves the most are I believe great teaching experiences unto themselves. Especially art! Art and creativity are so often about problem solving. Once the brain is accustomed to solving a design problem, it can also apply multiple solution approach to other situations in life. My expectation from Arts Education is to enable students to engage with life as independent, confident, innovative and optimistic individuals. As a child, I would often spend hours making art. Being too shy to ask my parents for a doll house and not wanting to impose on them financially, I decided to build my own doll house. Those hours of undulated joy afforded me the opportunity to be a product designer, interior designer, an architect and most importantly an innovative person. For creativity and innovative ability to flourish, I believe the child needs creative space. Unfortunately the exam driven world wrenches this creative ability out of the child.
In conclusion I would like to say that my philosophy is based on the foundations that the aim of art/education should be creating individuals who have learnt the art of happiness, are well-adjusted individuals with faith in their own creative and innovative abilities and who take on the challenges in life with confidence and make use of their intellect to deal with situations. My research I believe is going to be centered around how I can make use of technology to implement my philosophy.
Shantiniketan, the Bolpur school of Rabindranath Tagore by Pearson, William Winstanley, 1881-1923.
The Element: How Finding Your Passion Changes Everything by Ken Robinson
Ted talk by Sir Ken Robinson on
‘How schools kill creativity’ http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/ken_robinson_says_schools_kill_creativity.html
‘Bring on the Learning revolution’ http://www.ted.com/talks/lang/en/sir_ken_robinson_bring_on_the_revolution.html