Below is a piece that I had written in February 1997 which was included in The Link magazine produced by Krishnamurti Link International. I am using it in the writing I am doing and publishing at as a blog to ask - how far have we come in those 21 years? And - what have I done in that time?
What is this process called growing up? Do we begin as empty shells and then evolve through a series of changes, growing physically and psychologically? I think not. The unborn baby is heir to all humanity, subject to its conditioning throughout history. My observation has been that the notion of psychological growth is misleading; the personality traits of the young child often continue through adolescence to adulthood, experiencing only superficial modification. So much of the character of the individual becomes apparent in the early years of life. In fact, if you look carefully you will observe that a great deal of so-called adult behaviour is not far removed from much of what you might see on a typical primary school playground, only more subtle.
If you watch a young child closely you can often quite quickly get a feeling for what that child is like. From the way he or she moves, talks and interacts with the surroundings you can get some essence of the character of the child; particularly if you are impersonal in your observation, you can begin to understand the child. Generally a young child is open, friendly and interested in the world that surrounds her or him. However, we are rapidly approaching a point where these aspects of early childhood are seen as irrelevancies in a world which is quickly degenerating into a place where only the measurable has significance.
I am reminded of something that Dorothy Rowe has written in her book ‘Guide to Life’:
‘As small children we are interested in everything and are infinitely talented. However, our education destroys our curiosity and we are taught that we are not the artists, musicians, writers, singers, scientists and inventors we had once thought.’
In much of the teachings of Krishnamurti it is put forward that inner freedom is essential for humanity. With young children you see the expression of this in their urge to explore, to find out, a kind of free play with their environment. Surely it is the task of education to ensure that this exploration does not result in a domination of the individual by his or her surroundings, nor by those people with whom contact is made, although neither should it result in the individual being dominant. It is of the utmost importance that education maintains the integrity of the individual, whilst seeking to avoid the setting up of one individual against another.
Children are losing their physical freedom for a variety of reasons. The predominance of car usage is having far reaching effects. Roads are becoming increasingly more dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists. Fewer children walk reasonable distances, thus they become less physically fit and view life through an isolated, sound-proofed bubble, having no contact with the sights, sounds and smells of those things they pass. Open areas are being closed off; a poignant personal illustration of this is the place where I used to play as a boy, walking through woods and over fields to the sea, is now a theme park providing expensive entertainment ‘for all the family’.
A further element in the loss of physical freedom has been an insidious fear that has entered the minds of many parents, fuelled by the immense media coverage that inevitably surrounds the violation of children. Thus, thoughtful protection is replaced by constricting supervision, sometimes resulting almost in a form of imprisonment of children for their own safety. Watching young children play outside you are convinced of their need for space to run, jump and explore. Similarly children need inner space to play with ideas, to understand their own thinking and to go beyond their own demands.
As we are destroying their physical freedom, so we are also threatening the inner freedom of the young. In their anxiety over their own security parents transfer their hopes and aspirations onto their children. These parents want to ensure that their children come out on top of the heap by passing all their exams and getting good, well-paid jobs. Unfortunately, this thinking is becoming more and more ascendant as the politicians take increasingly greater control of education and see that these attitudes might win them votes. Under the guise of ‘improving standards’ children as young as five are being tested and these results are being converted into league tables for schools, thereby investing these tests with value considerably more than their worth, that is if they have any worth anyway. This enhances the spirit of competition, pitting school against school, pupil against pupil, creating the feeling that educating the young is a team game complete with winners and losers.
Krishnamurti’s words from Education and the Significance of Life have a particular resonance as we move into a world of education where the watchwords are inspection, monitoring and assessment, where teachers and administrators are forced to defend their livelihoods:
‘When there is love of the child, all things are possible. As long as the institution is the most important consideration, the child is not.’
The corruption of the politicians is complete as they mass behind the rallying cries of parental choice and parent power, steadily destroying the integrity of educators. We watch silently as the effects of parental expectations blight yet another generation. Anyone who is a parent and is able to view the experience with some sense of detachment is aware of all the possibilities in the process of bringing up children, and the immense dangers involved.
So what are we to do? Do we continue to send our young children to creches, child-minders, nursery schools, where they often move from having individual attention to being lost in the mass? Do we continue to work long hours so that the only time we spend with our children we call ‘quality time’? And finally, are we ultimately concerned to make all children the same, conforming to arbitrary norms? The beauty of the majority of young children is in their integrity and unselfconscious differences. This beauty can be seen to fade as they become more aware of themselves and begin to compare themselves to those around them, so their differences are hidden, and they seek to be the same as those they admire or fear.
We want to control our young children far beyond pointing out the dangers and delights that life has to offer; we want to clothe them in our own well-meaning, so that they, like us, live second-hand lives. Krishnamurti used the expression ‘flowering’ as a description of the process of growing up. If we strip away the cloying sentimentality that so often stifles young children and watch them as they are, seeking to understand them as individuals, then this ‘flowering’ process is sustained by a dynamic new relationship with the child, and all are enriched by the unfolding of this new life.