Editor (Gandhiji): The ordinary meaning of education is a knowledge of letters. To teach boys reading, writing and arithmetic is called primary education. A peasant earns his bread honestly. He has ordinary knowledge of the world. He knows fairly well how he should behave towards his parents, his wife, his children and his fellow-villagers. He understands and observes the rules of morality. But he cannot write his own name. What do you propose to do by giving him a knowledge of letters ? Will you add an inch to his happiness ? Do you wish to make him discontented with his cottage or his lot ? And even if you want to do that, he will not need such an education. Carried away by the flood of Western thought, we came to the conclusion, without weighing pros and cons, that we should give this kind of education to the people.
Now let us take higher education. I have learned Geography, Astronomy, Algebra, Geometry etc. What of that ? In what way have I benefited myself or those around me ? Why have I learned these things ? Professor Huxley has thus defined education :
"That man I think has had a liberal education who has been so trained in youth that his body is the ready servant of his will and does with ease and pleasure all the work that as a mechanism it is capable of ; whose intellect is a clear, cold, logic engine with all its parts of equal strength and in smooth working order... whose mind is stored with a knowledge of the fundamental truths of nature... Whose passions are trained to come to heel by a vigorous will, the servant of a tender conscience... who has learnt to have all vileness and to respect others as himself. Such a one and no other, I conceive, has had a liberal education, for he is in harmony with Nature. He will make the best of her and she of him.
If this be true education, I must emphatically say that the sciences I have enumerated above I have never been able to use for controlling my senses. Therefore, whether you take elementary education or higher education it is not required for the main thing. It does not make of us men. It does not enable us to do our duty.
Reader : If that is so, I shall have to ask you, what enables you to tell all these things to me? If you had not received higher education how would you have been able to explain to me the things that you have?
Editor: You have spoken well. But my answer is simple: I do not for one moment believe that my life would have been wasted, had I not received higher or lower education. Nor do I consider that I necessarily serve because I speak. But I do desire to serve and, in endeavoring to fulfill that desire, I make use of the education I have received. And, if I am making good use of it, even then it is not for the millions, but I can use it only for such as you, and this supports my contention. Both you and I have come under the bane of what is mainly false education. I claim to have become free from its ill effects, and I am trying to give you the benefits of my experience and, in doing so, I am demonstrating the rottenness of this education.
Moreover, I have not run down a knowledge of letters under all circumstances. All I have now shown is that we must not make of it a fetish. It is not our kamadhuk. In its place it can be of use, and it has its place when we have brought our senses under subjection, and put our ethics on a firm foundation. And then, if we feel inclined to receive that education, we may make good use of it. As an ornament it is likely to sit well on us. It now follows that it is not necessary to make this education compulsory. Our ancient school system is enough. Character-building has the first place in it, and that is primary education. A building erected on that foundation will last.