5. EDUCATION OF CHILDREN
When I landed at Durban
in January 1897, I had three children with me, my sister's son ten years
old, and my own sons nine and five years of age. Where was I to educate
I could have sent them to the
schools for European children, but only as a matter of favour and exception.
No other Indian children were allowed to attend them. For these there were
schools established by Christian missions, but I was not prepared to send
my children there, as I did not like the education imparted in those schools.
For one thing, the medium of instruction would be only English, or perhaps
incorrect Tamil or Hindi; this too could only have been arranged with difficulty.
I could not possibly put up with this and other disadvantages. In the meantime
I was making my own attempt to teach them. But that was at best irregular,
and I could not get hold of a suitable Gujarati teacher.
I was at my wits' end. I advertised
for an English teacher who should teach the children under my direction.
Some regular instruction was to be given them by this teacher, and for
the rest they should be satisfied with what little I could give them irregularly.
So I engaged an English governess at £7 a month. This went on for
some time, but not to my satisfaction. The boys acquired some knowledge
of Gujarai through my conversation and intercourse with them, which was
strictly in the mother-tongue. I was loath to send them back to India,
for I believed even then that young children should not be separated from
their parents. The education that children naturally imbibe in a well-ordered
household is impossible to obtain in hostels. I therefore kept my children
with me. I did send my nephew and elder son to be educated at residential
schools in India for a few months, but I soon had to recall them. Later
the eldest son, long after he had come of age, broke away from me, and
went to India to join a high school in Ahmedabad. I have an impression
that the nephew was satisfied with what I could give him. Unfortunately
he died in the prime of youth after a brief illness. The other three of
my sons have never been at a public school, though they did get some regular
schooling in an improvised school which I started for the children of Satyagrahi
parents in South Africa.
These experiments were all indequate.
I could not devote to the children all the time I had wanted to give them.
My inability to give them enough attention and other unavoidable causes
prevented me from providing them with the literary education I had desired,
and all my sons have had complaints to make against me in this matter.
Whenever they come across an M.A. or a B.A., or even a matriculate, they
seem to feel the handicap of a want of school education.
Nevertheless I am of opinion
that if I had insisted on their being educated somehow at public schools,
they would have been deprived of the training that can be had only at the
school of experience, or from constant contact with the parents. I should
never have been free, as I am today, from anxiety on their score, and the
artificial education that they could have had in England or South Africa,
torn from me, would never have taught them the simplicity and the spirit
of service that they show in their lives today, while their artificial
ways of living might have been a serious handicap in my public work. Therefore,
though I have not been able to give them a literary education either to
their or to my satisfaction, I am not quite sure, as I look back on my
past years, that I have not done my duty by them to the best of my capacity.
Nor do I regret not having sent them to public schools. I have always felt
that the undesirable traits I see today in my eldest son are an echo of
my own undisciplined and unformulated early life. I regard that time as
a period of half-baked knowledge and indulgence. It coincided with the
most impressionable years of my eldest son, and naturally he has refused
to regard it as my time of indulgence and inexperience. He has on the contrary
believed that that was the brightest period of my life, and the changes
effected later have been due to delusion, miscalled enlightenment. And
well he might. Why should he not think that my earlier years represented
a period of awakening, and the later years of radical change, years of
delusion and egotism? Often have I been confronted with various posers
from friends: What harm had there been, if I had given my boys an academical
education? What right had I thus to clip their wings? Why should I have
come in the way of their taking degrees and choosing their own careers?
I do not think that there is
much point in these questions. I have come in contact with numerous students.
I have tried myself, or through others, to impose my educational 'fads'
on other children too, and have seen the results thereof. There are within
my knowledge a number of young men today contemporaneous with my sons.
I do not think that man to man they are any better than my sons, or that
my sons have much to learn from them.
But the ultimate result of my
experiments is in the womb of the future. My object in discussing this
subject here is that a student of the history of civilization may have
some measure of the difference between disciplined home education and school
education, and so of the effect produced on children through changes introduced
by parents in their lives. The purpose of this chapter is to show the lengths
to which a votary of truth is driven by his experiments with truth, as
also to show the votary of liberty how many are the sacrifices demanded
by that stern goddess. Had I been without a sense of self-respect, and
satisfied myself with having for my children the education that other children
could not get, I should have deprived them of the object-lesson in liberty
and self-respect that I gave them at the cost of the literary training.
And where a choice has to be made between liberty and learning, who will
not say that the former has to be preferred a thousand times to the latter?
The youths whom I called out
in 1920 from those citadels of slavery--their schools and colleges--and
whom I advised that it was far better to remain unlettered and break stones
for the sake of liberty, than to go in for a literary education in the
chains of slaves, will probably be able now to trace my advice to its source.