The star of APV’s solar system, the thing around which all aspects of the school orbit, is the inner evolution, the journey towards self-knowledge. Information is never an end in itself, but a means to sharper awareness and a more comprehensive mindfulness. History at APV, then, is not a timeline of events and a collection of facts, but the examination of people in as full a portrait as facts can provide. The facts about a historical event or a historical figure are the faint, dead emanations of a bright center, the full personalities and contradictory desires of real people, the expression of the values of a society. The study of history in the link syllabus, whether it is the history of science, religion, warfare, commerce, is always the study of psychological history, moral history. And in approaching history always through the question of ‘Why?,’ we see history through the lens of the present day, the lens of ourselves and our desires and values; to examine the psychology of another person we instinctively examine ourselves as a counterpoint. ‘What would I do?’ ‘What do I want?’ ‘What are the values of my own society?’ The subject of history in the link syllabus is tied inextricably to the central values at APV; local awareness, mindfulness of the self. We take history as the stories of the self, of humanity, that help to explain where we are and what we believe right now. Anandji explains further.
Usually the way they treat history is a syllabus, and a syllabus has facts- sequences of kings and so on. The question is: in what way is this knowledge useful for the child? If we are talking about evolution, then the question is still deeper. In what way will this information facilitate an inner journey? We were talking about Alexander the other day, and I think that is a good beginning. So one way is just to teach about Alexander even if the children are not interested, which is most of the time. But even if they are interested, for some reason, I see no value in teaching how Alexander came from his home all the way to India, and then how many battles he fought, and when. That doesn’t start any inquiry. But if you say: ‘why did this person do this? Why was he so busy killing people and invading lands, no time to stay anywhere, marching onward? Why? What makes human beings do that once they have the power and the means?” And then we also can question the title ‘Great.’ Who are these historians who gave the title of ‘Great’, and why did they give it? So greatness has been associated with physicality; physically dominating other lands, killing other people, having power over other people. That has been the definition of greatness. That is why human beings have not moved towards evolution, because they didn’t want to be great in other ways. And then we can talk about power- in what way should a king use power? And that can lead to other areas- how do people use their power? If we are talking about kings, then there are very few exceptions, like King Ashoka, who used power for spreading the knowledge of non-violence.
And we can talk about the history of inventions. So history, and history of science and mind, how does it work? How does one thing lead to another? How are there these new beginnings, a scientist inventing something new without any preceding thing? And again, we ask about human potential and this inner journey. Who are we? Where do these new things come from? A lot of the history of these kings and their wars and so on is linked to science, the history of science. The invention of iron- before that wars were different. Then the invention of gunpowder, and so on. We can weave together all those things with this human desire to subjugate, to spread, to enslave others, to be powerful. Animal instinct. These desires serve this animal instinct, and most of the time science serves this same animal instinct, and evolution is still waiting. It does happen now and again, but it often gets lost and people forget. Then they use all these inventions of science for the animal side of life.
How can history be presented in an interesting way to the students?
If we are talking about Indian history, about the earliest civilizations, I think we should start by talking about now. The beginning should be here and now- from here we start, and we move back in time. You can begin with a history of things, before we start talking about nations. Like, where did this shirt that I am wearing come from? What is its history? And that leads you into geography, into science- different kinds of fabrics- into commerce, where and how they are made. And you could in the same vein talk about Garhwali architecture, the traditional buildings of Garhwal. Where did this style come from? Where did the people of Garhwal come from? The idea is to talk about this human longing, human desire, human emotion, human ambition to become larger, greater, and different people’s definitions of larger and greater in different parts of the world. And then what did they do with that definition. And through this approach we can talk about anything.
Also, human beings forget death. When somebody becomes a king, this person forgets that I must become old and die. He wants to do these things, and most of them are external. There has always been a lot of destruction in an invasion- whether it is Genghis Khan or Alexander or anybody- whenever anybody captures another land. They destroy their beautiful things- temples, canals. Like in Mesopotamian civilization, they say Genghis Khan destroyed their beautiful system of canals that watered their land, because it was so beautiful and the land was so fertile, and he didn’t want anything beautiful to survive. Why? Do we do that in our lives, right now? Are we jealous if somebody has a better shirt, or a better pair of shoes, or gets better marks? All of these emotions- jealousy, hatred, intolerance- are we intolerant towards people that have a different color, different religion or language? That leads to our culture, local culture. What are the values in our local culture? Are they all good? Like untouchability in Hindu culture- is that a good thing? And if it is not a good, then what should we do about it? And where does it come from? That leads back to Aryan civilization- they made these four castes and since then people have been following it.
I don’t have anything specific right now, but basically it is this approach of being interested in our lives, being interested in how we and other people live. Then we can make comparisons, and see if humanity has evolved consistently. People have discovered many new things in different ages, but has there been any consistent evolution? It seems that there hasn’t been. It seems like things go up, start in the right direction, and then crashes, or disappears, like the Indus Valley civilization. So there are some good starts, they lead somewhere, but there doesn’t seem to be any consistency. So then we can ask: does modern science make any difference? We have changed a lot, impressively but externally, in the last 300 years because of modern science. But in what way is that connected to this inner evolution? If we talk about that, then we are talking about science, a history of science, the way we use different things in our lives right now, their history. Asking the question: do these things, this kind of lifestyle where life is made easy because of so many things, does it lead to evolution? I think we can connect almost everything with the theme of evolution.
Is there an activity that APV has done to impart this sense of history as connected to our inner life to the students?
We once made a drama, and the children performed it one Republic Day. It was a class in a college, and the teacher asks this question: ‘Why are you interested in history?’ And most of the children say: ‘We aren’t interested; it’s just one of our subjects. We picked it because it sounded easy.’ Then the teacher says: ‘Okay, what is the need of having this subject at all? Is there anything useful in learning about the past?’ And nobody is able to give an answer. Then one of the children gets sick, some problem with his stomach, and the teacher says: ‘Is something wrong?’ ‘I have a stomachache, let me call Sharmaji, a Hindi teacher who knows some local medicines.’ And the Hindi teacher comes, and he is also a type of healer, and he feels his pulse and says: ‘did you eat cold rice last evening?’ He did, and the healer asks some more questions about the day. He says: ‘Okay, come with me and I will give you some roasted cumin.’ And now the teacher says to the class: ‘Did you learn anything from this experience?’ And there is a very bright student, and he says: ‘Yes, he was asking questions about yesterday, about the past.’ And the teacher says: ‘The stomachache, which is now, is rooted in previous history; how has he been living during the last 24 hours? In the same way, when we talk about humanity, what is it suffering from right now? Where are the roots? The roots are in the past.’ Like, why is there racial hatred, communal hatred? It is rooted somewhere in the past. So we can explore history through this lens of the now. We can talk about many things in which history is important. Like a job interview; we interview a candidate, and an interview is all about the past. Where did you go to school? What experience do you have? It is all about the past, because from the past, to a great extent, you can predict how he will perform now and in the future. We don’t know everything about a person from the past, but we can guess. In the same way, history is useful in many areas.
A psychological history of man.
And we can talk about the history of inventions. I was reading about Singer, who made these machines in the 18th century- and they say that it happened in a dream. He dreamt of this needle- he had been experimenting on the needle, and subconsciously he knew that it had to do with the hole, but it had not occurred to him that hole should be near the tip rather than at the end where there is a hole for the thread. And in the dream a king says to him: ‘you will have all of the machines, but you will have only 24 hours with them. Look, the sun is rising. When it is rising again you will either produce this needle, or you will be killed.’ And in a few seconds he sees all these machines, but just like that he is dragged away and they tell him the sun has risen again, and he has not produced his needle. And the king says to kill him, and the killers have these spears, and each spear has a hole in its head, and he yells: ‘I’ve got it! Please give me more time!’ And then he wakes up, and he creates his invention.
All of these histories feed into an understanding of a history of mind.
Learning about the past also makes you think about the future, in the sense of how will we, our civilization, be seen from the perspective of the future. What we know about the past civilizations we know from the materials that they left behind and the manner in which they thought of themselves; it makes one wonder how the artifacts of our civilization will be interpreted in the future.
The first thing is that children are interested in the present moment.