Interdisciplinary Inquiry


Gandhi and Education - Part I

It is impossible to overstate the importance of Mahatma Gandhi’s life and legacy. Few have experienced such widespread influence or transcended barriers of culture, class, and religion so completely.  Gandhi, through his prolific writings, demonstrated the depth of his knowledge and scope of his concern. Education was one such preoccupation for Gandhi. The power of education lies in its capacity for both individual and social transformation. I believe that Gandhi would wholeheartedly agree with Nagler (2004) that the greatest enemy of education is lack of purpose. Everything Gandhi said, wrote, and did was – in the fullest sense of the word – purposeful.

The Gandhian approach to education could be summarized as an effort to restore purpose to education. Gandhi’s primary concern was proposing alternatives to what he saw as a corrupt and deficient model of education, based on the British system. His own life example provides much in the way of insight and instruction, as he continually revised his views on education according to the socio-political realities of his day.  While few deny the power of education and the centrality of Gandhian philosophy in educating for nonviolence, Gandhi’s specific writings on education are not met with a unified response, especially when considering their contemporary relevance.

Despite the lack of consensus surrounding Gandhi’s writings about education generally, there is no doubt that he has greatly influenced certain pedagogies that champion his life and teachings as inspiration. Education can be a powerful tool for perpetuating unjust systems and a culture of violence, but so too can be a powerfully liberating force in the transformation to a culture of peace. Gandhi’s commitment to nonviolence provides a model for transforming conflict - ever-present within educational systems - into a positive impetus for change.

No formula exists for the type of education-based social transformation that Gandhi supported. His own model was based on trial and error, and on various expressions of his spiritual commitment to Truth. Education today is still a malleable and non-formulaic endeavor, and no single pedagogical model is agreed upon by educators who claim Gandhian inspiration. This blog post is concerned less with Gandhi’s actual writings on education, but rather the myriad ways that his philosophy and life continue to inform education, specifically normative educational approaches.

Often the way that Gandhi’s legacy is applied disproportionately emphasizes either his strategy or his spiritual orientation. Some groups who cite Gandhian inspiration take a practical approach to nonviolence, focused on tactics; others are more concerned with principles, an attitude-based approach. These two groups have different assumptions; one evokes his strategic model; the other - in the tradition of virtue ethics – endorses Gandhi’s beliefs and lifestyle. The former has been called strategic nonviolence, the latter principled nonviolence. The controversy concerns to what degree Gandhi’s spirituality was responsible for his success, and whether his tactics – once detached from a strict ethical framework – are still applicable.

This series of blog posts will include a discussion of how Gandhi’s influence continues to mold both the teaching and practice of nonviolence. His respective emphases on strategy and principles are represented in contemporary conflict resolution and peace education. Ultimately, I hope to show how these two can be integrated into a single approach I call nonviolence education.

(Part 2)

(Part 3)

(Part 4)

Reference: Nagler, M. (2004). The search for a nonviolent future: A promise of peace for ourselves, our families, and our world. San Francisco: Inner Ocean Publishing

by Rebecca Joy Norlander

Posted at 08:06 AM

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