Gandhi And The School Master

Gandhi was a good school-master. He would have found little time though for that kind of job.

There was a school attached to Sabarmati Ashram, where in deference to Ashram traditions, no caning was ever permitted. The teachers were not even allowed to sport a cane in the classrooms. It was the pride of the school that it was run on the principle of non-violence. But underneath this placidity and self-satisfaction things sometimes went wrong. The teachers not infrequently, found themselves sorely tempted to give some incorrigible boy or girl a good thrashing. After all, boys will be boys and girls will be girls! There was, not unnaturally, fun and mischief and juvenile impertinence. The teacher has yet to be found who can swallow downright impertinence from a defiant scholar. All the usual nonviolent methods that the poor teachers knew, were tried, in order to put a stop to this. But it just wouldn't be quelled that way. The teachers were unwilling, however to confess that nonviolence had failed. Some of the children, smelt out the joke and enjoyed it immensely. At last one or two of the teachers made up their mind to place all the facts before Gandhi, even simple matters that could be settled by the exercise of ordinary commonsense. But this was indeed an extraordinary problem. So there was a meeting of the teachers in Gandhi's room. Well, the whole matter was thrashed out. But the outcome of the deliberations was a surprise for everybody. Gandhi advised the teachers that there were only two things they could do. If, in any specific instance, a teacher had done his utmost to effect correction through nonviolent methods, but without avail, then, if he honestly believed that violence would succeed, he must employ the cane without being sentimental about it. Otherwise, if the teachers agreed that caning might be only a temporary solution and that ultimately it would do more harm than good, then his duty was to do all he could by nonviolent means and, if he failed, resign his post. One teacher stuck to his guns. He said he had exercised endless patience and tried every non-violent artifice possible in the case of one particular boy, but it had been to no purpose. He thought sound thrashing would do him good, Gandhi knew the teacher well. He promptly replied he would permit the teacher to go ahead with the experiment. Some of the idealists were shocked. Gandhi had compromised with nonviolence! It was unbelievable. But the teacher did go ahead. He gave a good canning. This was wholly revolutionary in the Satyagraha Ashram! But the particular boy, in the teacher's opinion, improved. Gandhi said nothing. He kept his thoughts to himself. Some weeks later, the teacher confessed to Gandhi that he had tried canning more than once, but that the temporary improvement had proved illusory, and that he now faced a more hardened boy. But the experiment was not over. The teacher went back to the methods of nonviolence with increased conviction. He put more heart in to it than before. He bestowed special attention on the boy, without once resorting to the cane. The boy reacted splendidly to this renewed kindness and showed rapid improvement. There were some cynics however who remarked archly that the canings had in truth done more towards reforming the youngster than all the subsequent kindness! But Gandhi, for whom there was no greater apostle of nonviolence, knew better.