Beloo Mehra has a Ph.D. in Education from University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, and a Masters in Economics from Delhi School of Economics. She was a professor for many years at a liberal arts university in Ohio, USA. Before moving to the US, she had worked as a high school Economics teacher and school administrator in Delhi for 5 years, and also served as a volunteer for the National Literacy Mission. She currently lives in Pondicherry and works part-time as an adjunct online faculty at Antioch University Midwest, and devotes rest of her time to studying the works of the Mother and Sri Aurobindo, writing, reading, gardening and just being. After having written several academic papers and articles for scholarly journals and conferences, she now enjoys writing shorter pieces and being more creative with her style at her blog http://letbeautybeyourconstantideal.blogspot.in/
A good mental education aims to help prepare the mind, the key instrument of learning.
According to Sri Aurobindo, a true and living education is that in which the mind is consulted in its own growth. He reminds that each individual has a unique temperament and nature, and also a unique life-purpose, and that education must be able to tap into this uniqueness of each learner. He further explains, “To force the nature to abandon its own dharma is to do it permanent harm, mutilate its growth and deface its perfection…The chief aim of education should be to help the growing soul to draw out that in itself which is best and make it perfect for a noble use.”
It has been more than 30 years.
But I can clearly recall the time when I passed out from my tenth grade, and the conversations I had with my parents, school principal, a few teachers and friends about what subjects I should study in grades 11thand 12th. I recall the similar conversations that took place two years later after I graduated from high school and was applying for colleges. I recall similar conversations when my sister was applying for colleges three years later. What pressure – overt and covert – most youngsters in situations similar to mine had to and still have to deal with!
Our parents and well-wishers want the best for us, or so they think. They want us to pursue those areas of study that can help secure our economic and professional futures, which can help us get decent jobs and a ‘good’ standard of life. So back in my high school days I successfully argued with and convinced my parents and teachers that I didn’t want to study sciences and become a doctor or an engineer. I simply couldn’t be.
I was interested in literature but that was not considered a very ‘safe’ choice. But fortunately for me, I was equally interested in social sciences, so Economics became the next best alternative. And ultimately, and especially after seeing how convinced I was that I couldn’t be a doctor or an engineer, my parents left the final decision to me.
I also think that if I really wanted to go in for literature I could have done that too quite easily. After all, my younger sister did her undergraduate degree in Fine Arts (Painting) a few years later, and the youngest one did study English literature. Obviously, the pressure was not so bad in my case as in some other stories I heard at the time. And since then through friends, acquaintances and strangers.
Most lower-middle-class/middle-class parents in India, at the time I was growing up and perhaps even now, have to sacrifice a lot so their children can have good education. So it is understandable that they want their children to prepare themselves well for a meaningful productive life and a decent standard of living. I can understand and also empathize with the social/familial perspective that is behind this line of thinking.
But at the same time when taken to an extreme such perspective can lead to what Sri Aurobindo is cautioning us about – it can mutilate a soul’s growth and prevent it to draw out that in itself which it needs to grow toward perfection. I guess we all know people who could have been good singers, painters, musicians, actors, writers etc. if only they had been encouraged to do so or given the right environment in which to discover their hidden life-purpose and grow into that.
Perhaps in the larger divine scheme of things everything has its own meaning and serves some purpose. Even the experience of becoming an engineer or going through an MBA when one’s heart is really in painting or composing music or cooking may have some hidden purpose behind it which the engineer-turned-musician or the MBA-turned-chef might only discover much later in life.
It must have been about eight months ago.
I was visiting my brother and his family. My three- year- old nephew is very fond of doodling and writing in his toddler-style (thankfully, with washable crayons) on the tiled floors of his house. And he not only doodles himself, he enjoys making others join him in his play and asking them to draw for him. As I was participating in and enjoying his session one afternoon, I casually mentioned to his mother, my sister-in-law, that perhaps he will grow up to be a master Rangoli/Kolam designer. And immediately she replied, “As long as he is happy doing it, he can be anything.”
This is a big change that has happened in the last 30 years. For the sake of our children, I really hope this change is here to stay and is more wide-spread.
For the sake of my little nephew I really hope his parents feel the same way when he is 15 and needs to choose a course of studies in high school. And also when he is 20 and almost ready to make a career choice.
Mind must be consulted in its own growth.
(NOTA: None of the Above)