It would be unnecessary to introduce Rabindranath Tagore to all of you. It would be also futile to list his literary and artistic feats. I would like to use this space to introduce Tagore the pedagogue. The visionary who envisaged an institute way ahead of its time and laid the foundations for an education system which was designed to nurture the creative spirits of children and young minds of India. At a time when the colonial education was churning out students who were only good to serve the administrative tasks, Tagore envisaged an institute which would strive to produce critically thinking youngsters who would make significant contributions in the overall contribution of the nation. He saw his campus, Visva-Bharati, as an abode for the global family. He strongly believed in the global exchange of ideas. To achieve that he would invite renowned scholars form different fields to visit Visva-Bharati and engage with the students. He saw Viswa-Bharati as a collaborative space. In this issue of Art1st’s “The Visionaries” we will look at the vision of Rabindranath Tagore as a pedagogue and his views on education, especially art education.
Tagore was one of the most profound thinkers of modern India and his vision for education was simply radical in nature. Tagore was heavily invested in the idea of using education to develop self-reliance in an individual. He understood that child should not be seen as an unfinished adult but rather as a complicated mind with his/her own curiosities and wonders. Their imaginations and dreams are different from the adults. This difference meant that both the child and adult required distinct set of educational tools. Tagore has made this very clear in his statement, “Our purpose wants to occupy all the mind’s attention for itself, obstructing the full view of most of the things around us (…) The child, because it has no conscious object of life beyond living, can see all things around it, can hear every sound with a perfect freedom of attention, not having to exercise choice in the collection of information.”
Children’s education was the significant concern for Tagore. He was highly critical of how adults structure children’s times and activities. It impinged on their freedom and restricted from their self-expression. He imagined an organic growth for children. He could find the resonance of this organic spirit only in nature. He called it as “method of nature”. According to him the discipline and strictness of modern education was, “…like forcing upon the flower the mission of the fruit. The flower has to wait for its chances. It has to keep its heart open to the sunlight and to the breeze, to wait its opportunity for some insect to come seeking honey. The flower lives in a world of surprises, but the fruit must close its heart in order to ripen its seed. It must take a different course altogether. For the flower the chance coming of an insect is a great event, but for the fruit its intrusion means an injury.”
For this natural growth to happen children had to be given the freedom they require. Discipline and rigidity which were part of the modern education system could only do more harm than benefits.
It is also important to note that such an important pedagogue like Tagore did not write a seminal compendium on education. Most of his writings one education, children and art education has to be understood through his various essays, speeches, and educational experiments at Visva Bharati in Santiniketan. It was the imagination of an education which was deeply rooted in its surroundings through pleasurable learning. The curriculum was not a strict doctrine to bend the minds but rather for him it was something which should evolve organically.
For Tagore the aesthetic development of the child was not separate from the intellectual development. Like most of our contemporary education system has rendered the learning of arts as useless, Tagore gave prominence to music, literature, art, dance and drama in the overall growth of the child. It was not forced upon the child but it was instinctive. He never instructed the students what to do or wrote to them. His method was to involve them in whatever creative activities he was doing. They had complete freedom to engage with him as equals. Young students were allowed access to the room where he read his new writings to teachers and critics. They were encouraged to read out their own writings in special literary evenings. Tagore had given an equal role to art and food in his scheme of things. He understood both as vital for a human being’s growth. In Santiniketan, he created an atmosphere of cultural activities that encouraged his students and kindled their interests in music and other arts forms unconsciously. He introduced formal lessons only to those who felt inclined to take them. Art classes were conducted not to make copies but to create original works. Santiniketan’s classrooms were also a collaborative space where children were also encouraged to work together as groups.
On the first anniversary of Sriniketan, he remarked, “[O]ur conscious relationship with the Infinite (…) can on[l]y be made possible by making provision for students to live in infinite touch with nature, daily to grow in an atmosphere of service offered to all creatures, tending trees, feedings birds and animals, learning to feel the immense mystery of the soil and water and air. Along with this, there should be some common sharing of life with the tillers of the soil and the humble workers in the neighbouring villages; studying their crafts, inviting them to the feasts, joining them in works of co-operation for communal welfare; and in our intercourse we should be guided, not by moral maxims or the condescension of social superiority, but by natural sympathy of life for life, and by the sheer necessity of love’s sacrifice for its own sake. In such an atmosphere students would learn to understand that humanity is a divine harp of many strings, waiting for its one grand music.”
Tagore’s pioneering efforts in understanding the complexities of children’s mind and granting it an autonomy was a radical act. His vision for children’s education was rooted in freedom, self-reliance, love for humanity, intellectual and social development. He believed that “they must be trained, not to be soldiers, not to be clerks in a bank, not to be merchants, but to be the makers of their own world and their own destiny. And for that they must have all their faculties fully developed in the atmosphere of freedom.”
- Premjish, Director-Outreach, Art1st