October 31, 2014

Part 3: "Stayed on Freedom": Social Movements and Re-Inventing Education

"All education must aim at building character." 
-Gandhi, 1917

Nai Talim or "New Education" was Gandhi's term for a new kind of school in India.  He recognized that "Western" schools were tools of conquest and not education.  Western schools were designed, not for the benefit of the individual or the local community, but for the benefit of the conquering state with the outcome of obedience, conformity and loyalty.  Schools had to be re-invented in order for India to truly be independent from British rule.    

In 1835, Thomas Babington Mcaulay wrote the "Minute upon Indian Education" advocating for English education in India.  Here is how Gandhi summarized Mcaulay's views:

"Macaulay despised our literature.  He thought we were over-much given to superstitions.  Most of those who drew up this scheme were utterly ignorant of our religion.  Some of them thought that it was a false religion.  Our scriptures were regarded as mere collections of superstitions.  Our civilization seemed full of defects to them.  Because we had fallen on evil times, it was thought that our institutions must be defective.  With the best motives, therefore, they raised a faulty structure."

So what were these new schools?  In a letter requesting funds for the Ashram, he wrote:

"The experiment now being carried on at the Ashram seeks to avoid all the defects above noted.  The medium of instruction is the provincial vernacular.  Hindi is taught as a common medium and handloom weaving and agriculture are taught from the very commencement.  Pupils are taught to look up to these as a means of livelihood and the knowledge of letters as a training for the head and the heart and as a means of national service."    

In Hind Swaraj, he wrote: "Our ancient school system is enough.  Character-building has the first place in it and that is primary education.  A building erected on that foundation will last."

In Navajivan on February 28, 1926, he said,"True education is something different.  Man is made of three constitutents, the body, mind and spirit.  Of them, spirit is the one permanent element in man.  The body and the mind function on account of it.  Hence we can call that education which reveals the qualities of spirit."

Gandhi wanted schools that validated the individual spirit, embraced local culture and valued the efforts of young people to benefit their community.  

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