Michael Mendizza

Writer, Filmmaker

If Not Teaching, Then What?


Learning and Education, Parenting

My daughter, Carly Elizabeth, is a regular five-year-old. She mastered the two most-challenging tasks she will ever encounter: standing on two legs, balancing and walking upright, and establishing the foundations for symbolic language by eighteen-months, without one second of formal instruction. By age three she was mastering her second language, built on a completely different structure, again without formal instruction of any kind. What lunacy is it that leads us to believe that this miraculous ability to spontaneously learn comes to an end at age-five, and now requires hour-upon-hour of repetitive ‘instruction’ to survive? Survive what? Not life. To survive the limitations and constraints imposed by culture. And where has culture brought us? Better hygiene, yes. Better roads, better gadgets and also endless wars, and now the brink of ecological collapse. What is it going to take to question all of this? And will this questioning penetrate deeply enough to actually bring about a fundamentally new way of living and relating in our children? If not teaching, then what?

The earliest Montessori schools were not considered schools at all, but “houses for children”: three to six year olds who had suffered massive neglect in severely impoverished slum families. While the children were treated with love and respect in these Montessori houses, discipline, quiet, and order were hallmarks of life there.

By age five most of these children could read and write with some skill, a phenomenon attracting wide attention. Montessori insisted that these children had not been taught to read, nor to write (and they wrote before reading.) The spontaneous writing and reading was no more an intentional part of the experiment than a myriad of other capacities and intelligences the children developed as well, all without “teaching”, which was the whole point.

Montessori’s life-work attempted to show that the child’s mind was “naturally absorbent” and would spontaneously unfold if given the appropriate stimuli in an environment of love and trust. She anticipated Howard Gardner’s “multiple intelligence” theory by seventy years in her own theory of “nebulae”, various constellates of intelligence inherent in the nature of mind, which the child absorbed as and if provided the appropriate environmental stimuli.

The proposal of such “nebulae” received far less attention than her procedures that gave rise to an open-ended, rather than closed, form of stimuli. The nurturing environment must include, of course, all cumulative cultural survival experience, but it must include as well access to experience beyond such basic maintenance matters. The nature of this latter kind of stimulation could only arise from each moment of interaction with a child to escape being but a reflection of the adult’s own limits, as found in our usual maintenance intelligence.

Mistaking information acquisition for education is a major error of contemporary thought. Knowledge, as Montessori pointed out, and David Bohm affirms, is an organic, lived process not itself necessarily translatable into “information” at all. And knowledge, what an unobstructed absorbent mind might experience and become, is open-ended.

Joseph Chilton Pearce on Insight

Mistaking information or data for education is a major error, not only in compulsory schooling, but also in culture as we experience it. Love, trust and appropriate, up to the moment modeling, are the prerequisites for spontaneous learning. These are all experiences, not simply ideas or concepts. Even important and well-intended concepts such as emotional intelligence, fall short because the experience is often reduced to a concept. Then we all miss the obvious fact. As a state of the mind, concepts are a very thin, wispy, dream-like and transient firestorm in the brain, no more relevant as an experience than the idea that 2+2=4. And yet, we give supreme importance to our dreamed-up abstractions. When experiences are reduced to concepts and concepts then become the organizing principle, the full spectrum of naturally empathic, naturally compassionate, naturally co-creative, relationship and play based learning collapses into civilization and culture with its dos, don’ts, punishments, rewards and shame. As David Orr notes; our most pressing social, economic and environmental challenges were created by very educated people. More of the same is suicidal. The state of the mind that created the problem can’t correct the problem that state creates, but this is what we expect, as we, like lemmings, rush mechanically off the cliff. The very core of J. Krishnamurti’s lifelong efforts reveals the absurdity of this major error. Something else is needed, a completely different approach – and that new approach is not another concept. Not a concept implies a completely different state of the mind. Krishnamurti call this The Awakening of Intelligence.

What place has knowledge and time in the transformation of the mind?

Note: The use of the word knowledge below is similar in context with what Pearce means by information and data. At the heart of this abridged conversation is a critical insight. As David Bohm notes; We are faced with a breakdown of general social order and human values that threatens stability throughout the world. Existing knowledge cannot meet this challenge. Something much deeper is needed, a completely new approach. Existing knowledge cannot meet this challenge, and yet, from our conditioned state, existing knowledge is all we have. What else is there?

A: I was very taken with a recent statement of yours in which you said that it’s the responsibility of each human being to bring about his own transformation, which is not dependent on knowledge or time. 

K: Seeing the confusion the great misery, the sense of infinite sorrow, any observant and serious person would say that this society cannot possibly be changed except only when the individual, the human being, really transforms himself radically, that is regenerates himself fundamentally. And the responsibility of that depends on the human being not on the mass or on the priests or on a church or a temple or mosque or whatever, but on a human being who is aware of this enormous confusion, politically, religiously, economically, in every direction there is such misery, such unhappiness – because we have created this awful mess in the world.

A: The individual is the one who must make the start.

K: It’s our business as a human being to realize the enormous suffering, misery, confusion there is in the world. And it’s our responsibility to change all that, not the politicians, not the businessman, not the scientist. It’s our responsibility.

A: It is the responsibility of each…

K: Of each human being, yes. Therefore, the question arises, does a human being realize with all seriousness his responsibility not only to himself but to the whole of mankind? Sir, I have been all over and I have talked to and seen thousands and thousands of people. I have been doing this for 50 years and more. Human beings, wherever they live, are more or less the same. They have their problems of sorrow, problems of fear, problems of livelihood, problems of personal relationship, problems of survival, overpopulation and the enormous problem of death – it is a common problem to all of us. There is no eastern problem or western problem… And human beings are caught in this trap.

A: Yes.

K: So are we asking? What place has knowledge in the regeneration of man, in the transformation of man? What place has knowledge and therefore time?

A: Yes. Either we accept that genuine change means the annihilation of what preceded it, or we are talking about a total transformation of something that abides.

K: Revolution in the ordinary sense of that word means, doesn’t it, not an evolution, gradual evolution, it’s a revolution. If you talk to a communist, he wants to overthrow the government, if you talk to a bourgeois he is frightened, if you talk to an intellectual he has various criticisms about revolution. Now, revolution is either bloody, or… there is a revolution in the psyche… The outward is the inner. The inner is the outward. There is not the difference between the outward and the inner. They are totally related to each other… So, when we talk about change, we mean not the mere bloody, physical revolution, but rather the revolution in the makeup of the mind. Of human beings… The way he thinks, the way he behaves, the way he conducts himself, the way he operates, he functions, the whole of that… What place has knowledge in the regeneration of man which is the inward revolution which will affect the outer? In the very structure and nature of his thought?

A: A change at the root.

K: At the root.  Therefore, when there is that change he will naturally bring about a change in society. It isn’t society first, or individual first, it is the human change which will transform the society. The human being is the whole, he is the society, he is the separate individual, he is the factor which brings about this chaos… Therefore, he is the world and the world is him.

A: Yes.  Therefore, if he changes everything changes. If he doesn’t change nothing changes.

K: That’s why I am saying that it is so important to understand… that the world is not different from me and that I am the world. This may sound rather simplistic, but it has a very deep, fundamental meaning if you realize what it means, not intellectually, but inwardly, the understanding of it, therefore there is no division. The moment I say to myself, I realize that I am the world and the world is me, then I am not a Christian, nor a Hindu, or a Buddhist–nothing, I am a human being… Therefore, from that arises the question, can that human mind bring about a regeneration in itself and be free to reincarnate now?

A: Now?

K: Now.

A: Yes.

K: And you see, culture is different from civilization. Culture implies growth.

A: Oh yes.

K: Growth in the flowering of goodness.

A: A lovely phrase.

K: That is culture–real culture—is the flowering in goodness, you understand sir, and that doesn’t exist. We have civilization, you can travel from India to America in a few hours, you have better bathrooms, better this and better that, and so on, with all the complications that involves. That has been the western culture which has been absorbed in the East. Goodness is the very essence of culture. [True] religion is the transformation of man. Not all the beliefs, churches and the idolatry of the Christians or the Hindus. That’s not religion. So we come back to the point, if one sees all this in this world-observes it, not condemn it or justify it, just to observe it, then from that one asks: man has collected such enormous information, knowledge, and has that knowledge changed him into goodness? You follow sir, into a culture that will make him flower in this beauty of goodness. It has not.

A: No, it has not.

K: Therefore, it has no meaning.

A: Excursions into defining goodness is not going to help us.

K: You can give explanations, definitions, but definitions are not the reality.

A: Of course not.

K: The word isn’t the thing. The description isn’t the described… So we come back again. Because personally I am tremendously concerned with this question: how to change man. I go to India every year for three months or five months and I see what is happening there, and I see what is happening in Europe, and I see what is happening in this country, in America, and I can’t tell you what shock it gives me each time I come to these countries–the degeneration, the superficiality, the intellectual concepts galore without any substance, without any basis or ground in which the beauty of goodness, of reality can grow.  So, saying all that, what place has knowledge in the regeneration of man? That is the basic question.

A: Yes.

K: Let’s be clear on this. In the practical, technological–I must know where I am going, physically, and so on.  Now, what place has that, which is human experience as well as scientific knowledge, what place has that in changing the quality of a mind that has become brutal, violent, petty, selfish, greedy, ambitious and all the rest of that? What place has knowledge in that?

A: We are going back to the statement we began with–namely that this transformation is not dependent on knowledge, then the answer would have to be, it doesn’t have a place.

K: Therefore, let’s find out what are the limits of knowledge.

A: Yes.

K: Freedom from the known–where does that freedom begin? The human mind is constructed on knowledge. It has evolved through millennia on this accretion, on tradition, on knowledge. It is there, and all our actions are based on that knowledge.

A: Which by definition must be repetitious.

K: I have experienced something yesterday that has left a mark. That is knowledge, and with that knowledge I meet the next experience. So the next experience is translated in terms of the old and therefore that experience is never new.

A: So in a way, if I understand you correctly, I approach [the present] on the basis of holding my previous knowledge up as a mirror to determine the nature of this new thing.

K: Quite.

A: And this could be a rather crazy mirror.

K: Generally, it is. Where is freedom in relation to knowledge? Or is freedom something other than the continuity of knowledge?

A: Must be something other.

K: Which means, if one goes into it very, very deeply, it means the ending of knowledge.

A: Yes.

K: And what does that mean, what does it mean to end knowledge. Whereas, I have lived entirely on knowledge. How is the mind which strives, acts, functions on image, on knowledge, on the known– how is it to end that?

Dr. Allen W. Anderson, professor of religious studies, Indian and Chinese scriptures
and the oracular tradition with J. Krishnamurti.

Direct experience, embodied, as complete attention, is the clearest example. As Krishnamurti noted earlier, “with complete attention there is no observer, no thought, no culture.” Rather, Montessori’s naturally absorbent mind is fully active, alert and sensitive. As her abused and neglected children reading and writing attest, experience is the real and only teacher. The magnificent, but effervescent intellect, with its perpetual stream of thought-bubbles, can and does abstract the experience for future reference, but not for a second can it replace it or stand on its own, other than as a collection of index cards. With complete attention what Krishnamurti calls the full spectrum of innate intelligence opens, and not simply the mechanical repetition of another idea or concept. Below that teacher describes what a school, and by implication a way of parenting, that offers this depth.

The Intent of a School

It is becoming more and more important, in a world that is destructive and degenerating, that there should be a place, an oasis, where one can learn a way of living that is whole, sane and intelligent. Education in the modern world has been concerned with the cultivation, not of intelligence, but of intellect, of memory and its skills. In this process little occurs beyond passing information from the teacher to the taught, the leader to the follower, bringing about a superficial and mechanical way of life. In this there is little human relationship.

Surely a school is a place where one learns about the totality, the wholeness of life. Academic excellence is absolutely necessary, but a school includes much more than that. It is a place where both the teacher and the taught explore not only the outer world, the world of knowledge, but also their own thinking, their behavior. From this they begin to discover their own conditioning and how it distorts their thinking. This conditioning is the self to which such tremendous and cruel importance is given. Freedom from conditioning and its misery begins with this awareness. It is only in such freedom that true learning can take place. In this school it is the responsibility of the teacher to sustain with the student a careful exploration into the implications of conditioning and thus end it.

A school is a place where one learns the importance of knowledge and its limitations. It is a place where one learns to observe the world not from any particular point of view or conclusion. One learns to look at the whole of man’s endeavor, his search for beauty, his search for truth and for a way of living without conflict. Conflict is the very essence of violence. So far education has not been concerned with this, but in this school our intent is to understand actuality and its action without any preconceived ideals, theories or belief, which bring about a contradictory attitude toward existence.

The school is concerned with freedom and order. Freedom is not the expression of one’s own desire, choice or self-interest. That inevitably leads to disorder. Freedom of choice is not freedom, though it may appear so; nor is order, conformity or imitation. Order can only come with the insight that to choose is itself the denial of freedom.

In school one learns the importance of relationship which is not based on attachment and possession. It is here one can learn about the movement of thought, love and death, for all this is our life. From the ancient of times, man has sought something beyond the materialistic world, something immeasurable, something sacred. It is the intent of this school to inquire into this possibility.

This whole movement of inquiry into knowledge, into oneself, into the possibility of something beyond knowledge, brings about naturally a psychological revolution, and from this comes inevitably a totally different order in human relationship, which is society. The intelligent understanding of all this can bring about a profound change in the consciousness of mankind.

This original Intent was written by J. Krishnamurti in 1975 when Oak Grove School was founded.
It was revised by Krishnamurti and the school staff in 1984 to its present form.

Personally, I know of no other mission or vision that focuses on inquiry into knowledge, into oneself, and into the possibility of something beyond knowledge. Here we find the significance of Krishnamurti’s most distilled invitation: it’s the responsibility of each human being to bring about his own transformation, which is not dependent on knowledge or time.