IN THIS NEW COLUMN on education in ISKCON, I hope not only to inform but to start with you a lively exchange of ideas about schooling for Krsna conscious children. In this issue and the next I'll give you an idea of what we're doing for ISKCON schooling now, and what the future looks like too. After that, I'll mainly respond to issues you tell me you want to hear about. Sometimes I'll also ask guest columnists to speak about their special concerns.
About thirty schools now tie in with ISKCON, and many more are in the planning. These differ from ISKCON's gurukulas, or children's schools, of the past because they use a variety of approaches and styles. Now, along with the traditional gurukulas, we have day schools, home education, small cooperatives of parents, and (in India) mission schools.
Several years ago, ISKCON's "Ministry of Education" evolved into what we now call our Board of Education. The board works to help diverse programs get off the ground and keep going to give school-age children a chance for a God-centered, Krsna conscious education.
Here's what the board tries to do:
First, we speak to those interested in spiritual life about the importance of a spiritual education for their children. Since ISKCON is a young movement (and short on central resources), it's mainly up to parents and local leaders to pull together the teachers, classes, and funds to make a successful school.
We encourage each community of devotees to form a local board of education, made up of teachers, parents, and ISKCON leaders, to set clear goals and work toward them together.
Whenever possible, we travel to ISKCON schools to meet with headmasters, teachers, parents, and students and offer on-the-spot help and training. We also offer guidance by mail through our Los Angeles office.
Eventually, we hope to offer step-by-step help for any kind of Krsna conscious school project—help with planning the curriculum, arranging for asrama life, choosing and training teachers, and setting up the organization to keep the school running.
Every month I get at least half a dozen letters saying, "We're a group of devotees who want to start a gurukula in our community. Please write and tell us everything we need to know about starting and running a school."
Well, that takes more than a letter. So for the last three years I've worked with Urmila Devi Dasi (of our Detroit school) on a comprehensive guide to setting up and running an ISKCON school. The guide tells about planning a curriculum, training teachers, raising funds, and other basics. The guide will be available any day now. You can write to me to reserve yourself a copy.
To train teachers, we work with ISKCON's Vaisnava Institute for Higher Education to offer a two-month intensive teacher-training course in Vrndavana, India.
Bhurijana Dasa (of our Vrndavana school) is drawing upon his experience with the course to put together a teacher-training manual, for use anywhere. The manual should be out in 1991.
Twice a year we publish ISKCON Education Journal, for parents, teachers, and other devotees involved in starting and maintaining schools. You can write me for a free sample issue (or send $10.00 for a two-year subscription).
With the next issue of the Journal we'll send a detailed booklet on preventing and dealing with child abuse, a serious danger for any child growing up in the present Age of Kali. Over the last two years we've worked closely with ISKCON's governing body to set up ways to safeguard children in ISKCON from abuse. The booklet tells about this.
Another concern: the shortage of Krsna conscious reading matter for children. Recognizing this shortage, we've begun an ambitious program for publishing. With your help, we can publish hundreds of books. We need authors, illustrators—and also donors to subsidize the costs. If you'd like to help, please let me know.
We've also started a permanent endowment fund to provide money for the work you're reading about. We'll start a fundraising drive this year.
All this is a start—but we need to do much more. I'm looking forward to the next issue, where I can tell you about some ideas for the future that excite me and make me feel glad to be part of this effort.
To get in touch with me about anything mentioned in this column, or to let me know what concerns you'd like to see addressed in future columns, please write to:
Sri Rama Dasa,
ISKCON Board of Education,
3764 Watseka Avenue,
Los Angeles, California 90034, USA.
Sri Rama Dasa is chairman of ISKCON's Board of Education.