Academic journal article International Journal on Humanistic Ideology

Rabindranath Tagore: Envisioning Humanistic Education at Santiniketan (1902-1922)*

Academic journal article International Journal on Humanistic Ideology

Rabindranath Tagore: Envisioning Humanistic Education at Santiniketan (1902-1922)*

Article excerpt

While Rabindranath Tagore's life reveals new forms of creativity in each phase, the period between 1902 and 1922 is particularly significant in terms of his maturing social and educational vision. The early paradigm for the Santiniketan School (which was initially called the Brahmacharyashram1 or Brahma Vidyalay at the time of its inauguration in 1901) was in many ways a cultural statement of its time informed by nineteenth century Hindu nationalism and revivalism.

As the school evolved, however, Rabindranath' s cosmopolitan upbringing and artistic temperament soon rebelled against the narrow and rigid aspects inherent in the original model, and he began seeking a more comprehensive model. By the end of the first decade - a period coinciding with Rabindranath' s disillusionment over Swadeshi politics - a more culturally inclusive and humanistic approach becomes evident at Santiniketan, as well as a greater commitment to non-sectarianism. With the advent of World War I and Rabindranath' s trips to England, America, and the Far East, the scope of his educational vision broadens further in an attempt to activate global cooperation and cultural exchange.

The Background

Rabindranath' s formal education would not have deemed him a likely candidate for starting a school. Between the ages of six and fourteen he reluctantly attended four institutions, after which he refused to attend any further classes in Calcutta schools. During his trip to England in 1878, he was enrolled in a public school in Brighton. Later he spent three months attending Henry Morley's lectures on English literature at the University of London which he enjoyed, but for which he received no degree. In fact the only degrees Tagore ever received were honorary ones bestowed late in life, the most notable coming in 1940 when Oxford made a rare exception to its rules, owing to Rabindranath' s fragile health, and conferred upon him an honorary degree in absentia. In fact, when one reads Tagore's autobiographical writing for clues to educational influences, it becomes clear that his educational ideals were not far from the education he received in his joint-family home Jorasanko, where his thirteen talented older siblings, and other members of the Tagore joint-family, pursued their intellectual and artistic interests in a setting, which was the meeting place for the intellectuals and artists of the time.

Rabindranath' s early writings do not deal at any length with formal education, though there are occasional references to the failure of the prevalent educational system to train people to think. And in his European Diary, published in 1881, we find him advocating women's education. His grandfather, Dwarkanath Tagore, along with Rammohan Roy, had participated in the evolution of an English-medium modern educational system in Bengal. This occurred at a time when Anglo-Indian relations were in an early phase, and the introduction of Western education was seen as a means of breaking down existing social barriers, stagnation and superstition. By the time of Rabindranath' s father, Debendranath, the nature of a colonial structure and the prospect of Christian proselytization were perceived as threats to Indian identity, and a need was felt for indigenously controlled vernacular schools. Toward the end of the century, new indigenous educational trends in Bengal were evidenced in the Ramakrishna Mission, which concentrated on mass education, and the National Educational Council, which focused on higher education.

In other parts of India, educational experimentation at an elite level was manifested through such groups as the Prarthana Samaj in western India, the Arya Samaj in northern India and the Theosophical Society in Benares and Madras. What becomes clear in studying the educational experiments during the late nineteenth century is that they were a widespread phenomenon, and one can surmise that many other smaller, less publicized programs were being put into effect. …

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