The Need, the Requirements and the Failings of Universal Education

The rational intellect has not yet succeeded in overcoming the power of the infrarational vital nature, and thus, we see the reason at the mercy of the vital impulses, instincts and desires.  At the same time, the power of the mental action to influence the physical and vital existence continues to grow.  The unequal access to the power of the rational intellect leads society to develop an unequal command of power and privilege, with the mass of people manipulated and controlled by a small elite who harness this power.  When we recognize the deficiency, the solution which arises is one which we have seen tried in modern society over the recent years — universal education.  The idea that every child should be given access to a quality education as a means of developing the society along more rational lines has led to the extensive development of public school systems and support for education in general.  And yet, we continue to see failures occasioned by both the inadequacy of the actual education provided and unequal access to quality education, which indeed further exacerbates the general inequality in the society and embeds that inequality at a systemic level.

Sri Aurobindo observes:  “…a rational education means necessarily three things, first, to teach men how to observe and know rightly the facts on which they have to form a judgment; secondly, to train them to think fruitfully and soundly; thirdly, to fit them to use their knowledge and their thought effectively for their own and the common good.  Capacity of observation and knowledge, capacity of intelligence and judgment, capacity of action and high character are required for the citizenship of a rational order of society; a general deficiency in any of these difficult requisites is a sure source of failure.  Unfortunately, — even if we suppose that any training made available to the millions can ever be of this rare character, — the actual education given in the most advanced countries has not had the least relation to these necessities.  And just as the first defects and failures of democracy have given occasion to the enemy to blaspheme and to vaunt the superiority or even the quite imaginary perfection of the ideal past, so also the first defects of its great remedy, education, have led many superior minds to deny the efficacy of education and its power to transform the human mind and driven them to condemn the democratic ideal as an exploded fiction.”

Sri Aurobindo, The Human Cycle: The Psychology of Social Development, Chapter 19, The Curve of the Rational Age, pp. 198-199

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