SPRING 1995 VOLUME ONE NUMBER THREE
NOUMENON - A NEWSLETTER FOR THE NONDUAL PERSPECTIVE
CREATIVE TEACHING AND RIGHT EDUCATION
Richard Allison and Kriben Pillay
What is creative teaching? This was the fundamental question explored by those participating in the workshop. From this basic question others soon arose. If curiosity is innate in all human beings why then do we stop wanting to learn? Why does the whole teaching/learning process become a bore, an uncreative, mechanical preparation for uncreative mechanical lives? Are creative teaching methods synonymous with creativity in teaching? Can teaching and learning be separated and where does each begin and end? In terms of self-motivation and self-directed learning is it not necessary for the student to wean himself – or to be weaned – away from reliance on a constant control and stimulation on the part of the teacher?
And, underlying all of these questions emerged two more: What, ultimately or otherwise, is the relationship between student, teacher and the subject taught? Does not creativity presuppose a wholeness of vision as well as an integrity of person on the part of the teacher?
It soon became apparent to all of us that true creativity is by no means automatically guaranteed by the use of ‘creative teaching methods’. We wondered whether adherence to any method, whether ‘creative’ or otherwise, did not in actuality rule out the possibility of genuine creativity. This is not to say that creative teaching methods cannot he helpful, or that we pressed for the abolition of all systematised programmes of learning. While we felt the presently existing classroom structure, with its exam-oriented syllabus through which the students are pushed en masse, is by its very nature contrary to true learning, it is still possible for creative teaching and learning to take place in these circumstances.
Creativity lies beyond method. It can neither be produced by method, nor is there any reason why a creative teacher cannot use almost any sort of method in a creative way. It was felt that, above all, we should not allow ourselves to get stuck in the rut of any one method or classroom structure, but rather we should be able to respond to the needs of the moment in a fresh way.
This should not be misunderstood to be a sort of educational anarchy. It implies, in fact, a greater order and a far greater demand on both teacher and student than are elicited by trundling along in the old rut. It requires that the teacher not only knows his or her subject well – is not merely acquainted with various creative teaching techniques – but, more importantly, that he or she has that rare and indefinable quality that Krishnamurti refers to as the ‘creative mind’ – a mind which is not caught in the patterns of the past.
Yet the teaching/learning process can only be a creative event if this freedom from past patterns and attachments to theories is shared by both teacher and student. The unlearning of many deeply ingrained mental habits is required both of the ‘teacher’ and the ‘taught’, including particularly the habit of clinging to these defined roles.
This unlearning can and should go hand in hand with the dynamic process of continuing exploration in which teacher and student are equally involved. It is inextricably bound up with the question of ‘self-learning’ or self-motivated and self-directed study. Unlearning implies a virtual metanoia, a complete turning about, which opens up a new way of looking at education and reveals a completely new approach to the acquisition and imparting of knowledge.
What matters most is the attitude towards knowledge and the relationship between teacher and student. The task of the creative teacher is to re-awaken the natural – but often dormant – curiosity of the student. Traditional education as we all too often experience it carries a responsibility for the stifling of our powerful urge to learn. We need to rediscover our curiosity, and the sense of everything in the world being potentially interesting.
The creative teacher seeks to re-awaken natural curiosity by re-establishing the right relationship between ‘student’, ‘teacher’ and the world (not the ‘subject’, for as soon as compartmentalising into subjects takes place, the beauty and the magic is destroyed). Right relationship with the world encompasses not only the natural world but also the world of human creation; not only the outer objective world, but also the inner world of thought and feeling, without any sense of dichotomy.
In considering the question of self-motivated and self-directed learning, we felt that creative learning/teaching could only occur when there was no compulsion and no competition; these conditions in turn could only be fulfilled when the urge to learn came spontaneously from the student. The teacher’s task, then, is largely one of discovering, and helping the students to discover their internal obstructions to learning – and by this discovery, to dissolve them.
It is the task of the creative teacher to undo the harm already done to students by unsatisfactory learning habits engendered by unimaginative teaching. Students who have grown accustomed to being spoon-fed have not learned to apply their minds wholeheartedly, to think deeply, widely and clearly, or to examine and question their own preconceptions or those of their teachers, parents, textbooks or peers. Such students, when called upon to grasp and work with a topic or issue in an exploratory and creative way, feel lost, and even betrayed, as they have not learned to think for themselves. Considerable patience and understanding is required in prising students away from the ‘security’ of comfortable old habits.
While a certain degree of dependence is natural and inevitable in the younger child, it was felt that even there the preparations for independent learning could be begun. An indirect and flexible teaching whereby children are provided with the opportunities to make their own discoveries gives them a solid base from which to work in their later student lives. Even factual knowledge assimilated indirectly in this way is retained with some 70 per cent greater efficiency than that learned through memorisation divorced from concrete situations. This is a well-demonstrated and amply documented reality and is the cornerstone of most modern creative teaching methods.
The period of the early teens is a particularly sensitive and important age: it is then, as the students’ capacity for abstraction, for forming, grasping and manipulating abstract concepts awakens, that they begin to form strong opinions about the educational process and also to develop marked preferences and aversions for certain subjects. We felt that it was important to them, at this transitional stage, where their academic career proper just begins to unfold, that the students’ vision should not be cramped or allowed to fragment. Rather, it should be given every possible encouragement to expand along with the awakening powers of abstraction and analysis. This could be done if teachers with the necessary skills and vision were there to guide the students in some – necessarily rigorously monitored, yet nonetheless flexible – programme of creative and exploratory learning.
It is at this stage that the learning process may accelerate dramatically. It is here that the foundations of academic discipline, whether shaky or otherwise, become suddenly concretised.
Through a programme of creative and exploratory learning, designed to re-awaken the students’ natural curiosity, the artificial barriers between the various subjects could be made less formidable and be seen for what they really are: arbitrary delineations existing for the sake of convenience.
Many of the defects inherent in the more traditional approach of teacher-oriented classroom learning could be avoided: the rigid definition of compartmentalised subjects, the separate roles of ‘teacher’ and ‘taught’, and the emphasis on the imparting of information. Rather, through such a programme, students would be provided with a far happier and sounder basis from which to work creatively in future years, and with a better understanding of the inter-connectedness of all areas of study.
The two issues of wholeness versus fragmentation, and the relationship between teachers and students were central to everything that was discussed at the workshop.
Creative education presupposes a teacher-student relationship of trust and mutual respect, a relationship that has necessarily to extend far beyond the confines of the classroom or the school. It presupposes, too, a similar relationship among all participants in the educational process, whether fellow students or fellow teachers. We felt very strongly the necessity for a strong sense of community, of living and working together well, of doing everything WELL (inasmuch as whatever anyone of us does or fails to do affects every other), and, above all, of affection that does not slip into sentimentality.
The relationship between members of a community geared for learning is an important part of the question of wholeness. As long as our minds are fragmented we tend to relate superficially, often with underlying friction and unspoken resentments. Not only may our personal lives be fragmented, both in and out of the classroom, but our whole approach to knowledge is fragmentary, with its fixed definitions, separate subjects and disciplines, and each of us with our own preferences, opinions and peculiar blindnesses.
It is essential that a creative teacher have some unity of vision even within his admittedly limited field of knowledge, and not be confined within one or two little subjects The teacher needs to be aware of the inter-connectedness of all disciplines and all subjects and have a spirit which wanders freely, unafraid of artificial barriers; a spirit which is always young enough, always enough of a ‘beginner’ to be continually excited by fresh discoveries.
The concern of the creative teacher is by no means confined to the merely academic – or even the physical – welfare of the child. It is a far wider concern for an holistic education which will foster a global outlook in the child and which aims to make education relevant to more effective living.
This report arose out of two workshops conducted at the Rishi Valley School (Krishnamurti Foundation of India) during the period December 1983 - January 1984.
This edited article first appeared in Odyssey, April/May 1985, and is reprinted with the kind permission of the editor.