Many are the changes that have taken place lately in the sphere of education, and some of these innovations are yielding good results—although there is a long way to go, yet, toward true education. For instance, the emphasis today is not only on giving information to the child, but also on developing his interests and his inherent skills and faculties, and there exist many vocational schools for this purpose. Then, too, the examination system has been assailed, especially at the lower school-grade level, and this is a good sign. In schools where the new methods are carried out, children are examined in a very different manner. What is encouraged today is not so much dependence upon the mere memory, but rather the unfoldment of the inherent characteristics, intellectual abilities and moral capacities of the child, helping him to "find" himself, to become socially integrated. Education today is recognizing that the child must be treated as an individual, as a unit, and be helped in every way to adjust himself to his environment.
These ideas, Theosophy claims, owe their inspiration in a large measure to the work of the Theosophical Movement of our era, inaugurated by the great educator, H. P. Blavatsky. As a result of that work, not only education but also religion, philosophy, and science received a fresh stimulus.
In The Key to Theosophy, written in 1889, H.P.B. outlines very briefly the method of education that Theosophy would recommend. She states there that the child must be considered as a unit; he must be taught self-reliance, to think and reason for himself, mutual charity, love for his fellow men, and, most importantly, unselfishness. She states that the purely mechanical working of the memory must be reduced to an absolute minimum, and every effort must be made to develop the inner senses, faculties and latent capacities.
While in some ways modern educational methods are aiming at all this, they yet lack one important key, and that is, the knowledge of the soul. Educational methods, in the present as in the past, are meant to cultivate the mind of the child, not the soul. Theosophy, on the other hand, teaches that the mind is a product of the soul, a tool or an instrument of the soul. Mere head-learning, as distinct from soul-wisdom, breeds selfishness.
Recognition of an immortal, reincarnating soul changes our whole basis of thinking and of acting. On the one-life basis there is no logical aim and goal to life, other than the survival of the fittest in the struggle for existence. The false religious conception, that every baby born is a new soul created for the first time, still widely persists. In contrast, the idea that Theosophy puts forth is that we are timeless, evolving souls; that the growth of the soul brings into manifestation various faculties; that the soul is here to learn and gain experience, life being the environment of the soul. Therefore, Theosophy says that any system of education which leaves out spiritual and moral education is a limited system; that there must be the education of the soul.
The soul is like a seed. Within the seed exists in miniature form the plant that is to be. The soil into which that soul-seed is cast and the way it is nourished and cared for are as vital to its growth as are the soil, the atmosphere, sunshine and moisture to the plant-seed. The soul, therefore, grows and evolves from within, without, while educational methods generally begin without. Such methods are wrong, for the very derivation of the word education means to lead out, to bring forth.
To carry further the correspondence between the growth of the seed and the growth of the soul: We plant a seed in the soil, and if we are wise gardeners and understand the science of plant growth, we will give to the soil the ingredients that it needs, and, as the plant develops, will let it have sufficient sunshine and moisture. We know that if the gardener lacks the knowledge of these requisites and needs, the seed may be rendered useless, and even if it sprouts, undernourishment or overnourishment may make further growth impossible for that plant. The soul-seed within the young child requires the same care and attention.
The most important stage in plant life is the early stage, when the little plant with its tender tendrils and shoots begins to push its way up through the soil. So in child-life. The tremendous importance of the home and the influence of the parents can easily be imagined. The parent must be a teacher as well. Though the importance of the home and of parental influence is so often emphasized, many parents still continue in their old ways of thinking that teaching is solely the teacher's task. It is the grown-ups who need to be educated first if they are to educate the children. This may prove difficult, yet it has to be done if there is to be the right relationship between the child, the parent and the teacher, who really form a trinity. Theosophy agrees with modern educationists that the object of education is to adjust the child in all its relationships, yet the basis is different. The older the child grows, the more difficult the task becomes—in the same way as it would be difficult to recreate a plant after it has been undernourished or starved at the early formative stage.
Broadly speaking, there are two methods of learning—an indirect or relative one, and a direct one. The acquisition of knowledge is not the aim of true education; in fact, there is a distinction between information, knowledge and wisdom. "Knowledge dwells in heads replete with thoughts of other men; Wisdom in minds attentive to their own." Wisdom is Self-knowledge, and it comes by turning within, in the direction of the Self. Because the child is not taught to turn within, he learns to imitate what he sees others doing.
The child has inherent in its nature one of the greatest capacities that can be fostered and grown in the human constitution, and it is devotion—devotion to an ideal. Generally speaking, for the young, innocent plant-soul the parents constitute that ideal. The tremendous responsibility of the parents can thus be understood. Does Theosophy advocate the discipline of the child? Absolutely. What kind? The kind of discipline that we would call rooted in the self. Which self? First and foremost, the parent Self, the parent trunk. How often are we unable to give the example and picture of self-discipline to the child, and expect it to do as we say, not as we do! The child is like the twig; it grows as it is bent. Unless the parents become in their turn students, disciplinarians of themselves, they are not really fit to take on the sacred guardianship of a little child.
The same applies to the teachers. Teachers need, first, to study the philosophy of life and then to endeavour to practise what they preach in every little detail. Education and discipline are not meant only for the child, and the teacher who thinks that he or she is free to act in an undisciplined manner is a bad teacher. Life is unitary, and because we have endeavoured to separate the spiritual and moral from the mental and psychic many of our difficulties arise.
The mind and its faculties must be encouraged to unfold naturally and under conditions that will stimulate and satisfy the child's growing needs. The soul knows what it needs, and education is meant to stimulate the growth of the soul so that those needs may express themselves and be supplied by the intelligent teacher. However, as generally happens in most of our educational systems, we have poured into the delicate organism of mind tons of material that does not constitute the true food of the mind and its faculties. Mental indigestion is the result, and it evidences itself in loss of mental appetite. The growing mind of the child loses its moral desires, its interests, and he has to be coaxed, coerced and sent weeping to school. However, many children today do enjoy school, as more of the real nature of the child is understood and is taken account of, though still in a very limited way.
The mind divorced from the soul can be so stultified that it stops growing, and that is what Theosophy would call a dead mind. What can one do with a dead tree in the front yard if one wants to make it a little more attractive? Sometimes people paint such a tree, and at other times they grow vines around it, and that is exactly what education frequently does, with the result that the youngsters sent out into the world are incapable of doing that which H.P.B. said was so necessary—to think and reason for themselves. The mind has been stultified by false education, by overnourishment or undernourishment, as the case may be, and we have men and women draped with all sorts of exteriors, but lacking real vitality.
Education is, primarily, meant to fit us for life. H.P.B. said that the aim of education was to develop free men and women, free intellectually, morally, unprejudiced in all respects, and able to reason and think for themselves. As the young mind sets out on its great voyage of discovery of life's conditions and opportunities, it has to be equipped with a mind, with feelings, with imagination, will and memory. What happens when the mind endeavours to think freely? It is as if the small plant trying to push through the earth comes against a heavy stone or a bunch of weeds; for that is what prejudice, preconceptions, the blind alleys of side issues and so forth do. It is as though the plant—again, the perfect example—wanting to gather from the air, the moisture and the sun what it needs for its strength and growth, finds itself instead in an air-tight compartment, devoid of moisture and sunlight. That is exactly what wrong education does to the mind; it finds itself enchained and is unable to be free. Right-thinking men and women are those who are unhampered by ignorance, by false ideas of religion, of life, of the world, of the universe.
The young child who is taught that all is life begins by loving and reverencing life in all its manifold forms. The little stone under the foot is made up of "lives," according to Theosophy. The little toy-engine that he runs and that he bangs against the wall in a fit of temper when it gets out of order, is also made up of "lives." The Theosophical parent would use that as an object-lesson. The minerals, the plants, the insects, the birds, the animals—they are all our brothers. What the child learns in those early years will later come to full fruition.
One of the things we should teach the child, H.P.B. says, is altruism. He should become in time constitutionally incapable of performing selfish acts because his thought processes, his feeling nature, his imagination, have been taught to picture and deal with the true realities of life; and because his growth has been normal, his world is what he makes it. A child brought up on false ideas will, when meeting hardships and tribulations and sorrow later in life, become either embittered or more selfish and competitive and ruthless; but if the basis is right, then quite the opposite attitude will be taken. He will see that the circumstance or condition in which he finds himself is his natural soil and provides the best environment for his further growth as a soul.
Within the innermost consciousness of every human being there exists the accumulated wisdom of the past. The educators of today need to realize that we have to reach this wisdom of the ages which is within us. To get at it, we need something higher than the faculties of the mind; we need intuition. The soul that has not been truly educated has never glimpsed the beauty and the strength of the inner true world of man.
We have to find this magnificent world of spirit and soul through our own efforts, our own inner perception, our own soul struggles. The true geniuses, the truly great, can aid us in this task. The poet's intuition made Wordsworth say that "Heaven [the world of spirit and soul] lies about us in our infancy!"
Shades of the prison-house begin to close
That education should be a matter of spiritual growth may seem an odd idea to many, but it is so. The child is an old soul in a new body; it brings with it its former soul memory, and during the early years it is unhampered by false ideas and ideals. And so, we have sayings such as "The great man is he who does not lose his child's heart"; "The child is father of the man"; "A little child shall lead them"; and so on. As The Voice of the Silence states, "The pupil must regain the child-state he has lost ere the first sound can fall upon his ear."
That which makes one mortal a great man and of another a vulgar, silly person is...the quality and make-up of the physical shell or casing, and the adequacy or inadequacy of brain and body to transmit and give expression to the light of the real, Inner man; and this aptness or inaptness is, in its turn, the result of Karma.