The present curriculum considers things that must be taught, rather than the individuals who are to be educated; Our current way of teaching results in a split between body and mind within the individual that does not allow the development of the whole being.”
—Luce Irigaray – New challenges in education
I need an education that teaches me how to live—not just pass exams.”
—Luke (14 yr old English student)
The challenges to education are many. Enabling new generations to respond effectively to global change requires the creation of new approaches to knowledge, learning and teaching. The phenomenal nature of future events demands a new quality of thought capable of creating innovative solutions that are ecologically, economically and socially sustainable. This paper is an initial attempt to inspire reflection on the type of thinking that can help reframe our approach to learning.
To gain new perspective we considered various wisdom traditions and chose the Vedas of ancient India as a cultural resource that emphasises the importance of reflection as essential to effective action. The Sanskrit word Veda means ‘knowledge’ and has resonance with the contemporary development of our own ‘knowledge-society’. The Sanskrit texts cited in this paper are between two and five thousand years old, yet they speak to modern issues with an unexpected affinity. This intrigued us and made us wonder how we lost touch with such an enduring and relevant wisdom. If this calibre of thinking is readily available on matters of knowledge and education, why then does the Guardian write in August 2009, that “education in the state system in England is a 19th century folly”? ((Yvonne Roberts, SATS results are more than a ‘blip’, The Guardian, Wednesday August 5, 2009))
Texts of wisdom
Wisdom tradition texts are ancestral legacies intended to preserve and nurture new generations. Wisdom texts have a special quality that distinguishes them from normal texts: they refer to universal principles and verifiable concepts; their meaning is of deep character and is often layered; and they may be written in a rich language that we don’t immediately understand. This is why the possible meaning of such texts has to be developed ‘out of the text’.
We did not approach the texts for their historical, philosophical or cultural content. Rather, we were motivated by a concern for current global challenges and wondered whether or not these ancient texts could suggest new directions. We wondered if the principles contained within the deeper meaning of the texts would provide new criteria for developing modern education. Could they help us reinvigorate our knowledge systems, nurture discernment or catalyse critical thinking?
We endeavoured to distil the meaning of these wisdom texts and unlock their inspiration through a process of deep reading. This meant reading the original Sanskrit texts with an open and reflective attitude aimed at cognitive, emotional and spiritual understanding. The process of deep reading has historic use in various cultural traditions and is practiced by scholars, spiritual aspirants and individuals striving for personal development. In deep reading the texts we were taken by their quality, clarity and nuanced meaning. Our initial conclusion is that the Vedic tradition offers new perspectives on education as well as guidelines on creating new methods and approaches to learning. Furthermore, these texts and others like them from other wisdom traditions offer us a rich resource for further study.
Wisdom texts are truly inspiring when we apply them to real problems. Achieving a successful application requires that we first understand a traditional text in its own context. This contextual reflection grants insight to the text’s transcultural (or transpersonal) meaning, which we can then apply to a specific problem. The stated promise of wisdom texts is that they will deliver the desired result, when consciously applied following the underlying principles within the texts. The traditional idea is that the texts embody self-consistent truths that are universal and provable by their use.
Our effort to deep read the texts in this paper is an initial attempt to test the premise of the Vedic wisdom texts, firstly in regards to education and latterly for possible uses in the economy, social welfare and the environment. Our idea is that by developing this method we can facilitate the creation of new ways of thinking beyond the obvious and the normative.