Lessons from the Classrooms of Tagore and Assagioli

This is a brief excerpt from my article recently published in the AAP Psychosynthesis Quarterly that explores the educational philosophies of Rabindranath Tagore and Roberto Assagioli. To download this article, please click here.

One of the most compelling worldwide impacts of Covid-19 is the abrupt and profound change in how children are being educated. What can psychosynthesis bring to this radical change in education? To start, we might turn to two great figures from the last century: Rabindranath Tagore and Roberto Assagioli.

During their lifetimes, Tagore and Assagioli were both participants in a larger educational movement during the early 19th century, a time of social and political upheaval, technological and industrial revolution, World War I, and the flu epidemic of 1918.


Rabindranath Tagore reading to others.

Tagore as an Educator

In addition to his literary and musical genius and accomplishments, Tagore spent forty years of his life as an educator. During his lifetime, Tagore undertook the enormous task of creating three schools through which he might impart his humanistic and universal vision unto others. In 1901, he founded Santiniketan (Abode of Peace), a boys’ school situated on the property trusted to him by his father. Prominent former students include film director Stayajit Ray, Prime Minister of India Indira Gandhi, and Amartya Sen, winner of the Nobel Prize in Economics.


Tagore with his students.

The institution was upgraded to a university in 1921. Many years later, in a letter to Gandhi, Tagore described his “International University” as the “vessel which [carries] the cargo of my life’s best treasure.”[1]

Tagore’s third institution Sriniketan (Abode of Prosperity) was intended as a school of rural reconstruction, “aiming to make the villagers self-reliant and self-respectful through improvement of their physical, intellectual and economic condition.”[2] Ten years after his death, all three institutions were taken over by the central government of India, which continues to run them today.

Assagioli’s Educational Philosophy

During his lifetime, Assagioli wrote a number of articles about education and learning[3] with a special interested in the education of gifted-children.[4] He asserted that children’s education should help them develop into a harmonious and well-balanced human being on all levels – physical, emotional, imaginative, intellectual, ethical, social and intuitive.

RA and Students in Switzerland2

Roberto Assagioli teaching students during the 1965 summer
session of Mrs. Faillettaz’s finishing school in Gion, Switzerland,
Institut Villa Pierrefeu, now ivpworld.com. (Photo by Isabelle

In addition, students need to integrate and synthesize these aspects into a fully aware individual who is conscious of the Higher Self.[5] He identified education as a carefully balanced relationship in which the teacher, through his or her authority and curriculum, guides the child towards discovering his or her autonomy and personal psychosynthesis.

Despite their similar thoughts on education, unlike Tagore, Assagioli did not establish a children’s school or university, but he was instrumental in establishing psychosynthesis institutes and organizations around the world. Like Tagore, Assagioli was always interested in developing national and international groups that worked towards inter-personal synthesis.

Suggestions based on Tagore and Assagioli’s Educational Insights

The following suggestions are offered as possible supplemental activities to e-learning. The hope is that these suggestions might also stimulate teachers and parents to create their own appropriate tasks best suited for their children and situation. [6]

Engage with Nature

To counterbalance time spent gazing at a computer screen, students need to be encouraged by their teachers and parents to engage with nature. Time devoted to pets, walks, and the outdoors should be incorporated into daily life. Note that learning also takes place through all meaningful activities with material objects such as building materials, drawing, gardening, and the explorations of natural objects.

Child in natureFor younger students, material experiences can also be simple tasks in the home environment such as sorting laundry by color or shape. Math can be integrated into everyday life experiences such as cooking or counting birds, flowers, or butterflies found in the yard. Teachers can schedule virtual sharing time in order to encourage children to share their pets, a favorite toy and/or something found in nature.

Stimulate Creative Imagination

Experiences in nature can help to activate the creative imagination. Other activities include cooking, gardening, artwork, dream work, and moments of silence. Practice counting ten positive things per day with an attitude of gratefulness and appreciation. Be creative in providing opportunities for virtual class and school community events such as art or talent shows.

Train the Will

Concentration occurs when a student’s mind, body and will are engaged. Younger children especially thrive on order and consistency. Teachers and parents can encourage students to participate in the work of their families at home: laundry, cooking, food shopping, dishes, yard work, and sibling care.

A mind all logic Doc ID 824

“A mind all logic is like a knife all blade. It
makes the and bleed that uses it.” R. Tagore, Stray
Birds, CXCIII (Assagioli’s note from his archives)

Have students design a project or learning plan, along with scheduling their time at home. When children can find and care for their own belongings, they feel capable and responsible. Younger children can be independent for long stretches of time when they have carefully arranged spaces for dressing, hygiene, preparing food, cleaning-up, and independent play.

Remember to promote the process, emphasizing awareness, presence and the joy of caring for belongings and others as opposed to the final result. Parents also need to learn that clean-up of an activity is also the child’s work and provide the guidance necessary for the child to learn this process of keeping things tidy and in order. All these practices help students to train their will.

Teachers of older students might try creating a class that self-governs. The class might elect a mayor, community council, judge and various committees functioning under the tactful guidance of the instructor. The choices, decisions and responsibility inherent in self-government helps to develop some of the essential qualities of the will and constitutes the best type of education of freedom and democracy.

Open Avenues to Spirituality

Creating a space for students to experience and express their spiritual feelings is perhaps, at this point in time, the most necessary and the least attended to. Children and young adult students should be amply informed of the sufferings and misfortunes that much of humanity, including perhaps those close to them, are enduring at this moment. Consequently, discussion and reflection on current events and their feelings about them should occur frequently whenever possible.

Evocative WordsNow is the opportunity for all young people to learn how to approach crisis with a positive, loving attitude. It is essential to use the events to arouse the higher qualities within them, such as sympathy and compassion for others; the awareness, responsibility, and determination to correct what social ills they can, and the acceptance of the afflictions that they are unable to eradicate.

Teachers and parents need to avoid all expressions of irritation, depression, fear and other negative thoughts and emotions in the presence of children. Above all, bitter discussions caused by conflicts between the parents´ points of views should be eliminated. Adults also need to abstain from “projecting” onto children their own negative states of mind and aggressive impulses. Try instead to use humor whenever appropriate and maintain a cheerful atmosphere as much as possible.

Spontaneous spiritual experiences frequently occur in children. Without the obstacles often found in adults, their consciousness is open to higher energies. Therefore, teachers and parents need to pay attention to these spontaneous experiences, to appreciate their value, and to encourage their manifestation.

Ways of opening up to spiritual energies include:

  • Cultivate a sense of beauty, especially the aesthetic appreciation of the various aspects of nature: the sky, the sea, mountains, flowers, etc.
  • Cultivate a sense of wonder and admiration for one’s inner and outer worlds.
  • Promote the use of evocative words and/or symbols of higher qualities.
  • Present young people with examples of persons who have led a spiritual life especially during historically challenging times: the great religious figures, geniuses, heroes — not only warriors and conquerors — but philosophers, poets, artists, scientists, and workers in the humanitarian field.
  • Wisely adapt methods such as concentration, observation, and meditation in order to promote a spiritual life. For adolescents, introduce spiritual psychology that favors an understanding of their inner make-up, puts emphasis on their essential spiritual nature and on their higher potential.

Consciously Choose Right Relations

In order to encourage right relations, be sure to acknowledge to the students the need for grace and courtesy at home. Many of us are house-bound or limited in our outside activities and, therefore, experiencing more family togetherness than we are accustomed to. Practice and encourage kindness, patience and acceptance with humility.

Peter Pan Nursery Children PlayingYou can encourage right relations among students virtually by having lunch together, singing, dancing, and doing yoga together. Of course, physical interaction between students should occur as must as possible as well. Parents and grandparents can play games together with their children and create a communal time and space to share reflections and experiences that have emerged during the day. Teachers can also foster ways for students and families to collaborate remotely in large and small groups.

Moving beyond the family and class to the wider community, help students to provide a service to others in the following ways:

  • Write friendly letters to the elderly and letters of gratitude to community service workers.
  • Make face masks.
  • Plant a garden. Weed someone’s garden in the neighborhood.
  • Connect with younger children in earlier levels of the school for reading aloud.
  • Create care packages for postal office, delivery, supermarket or hospital workers.
  • Donate time or food to local food banks.


[1] Rabindranath Tagore, Letter to Mahatma Gandhi. 2 March 1940. Rabindra Bhavan Archives, Visva-Bharati, India.

[2] Quayum, “Education for Tomorrow,” p. 20.

[3] For example, see Roberto Assagioli, “L’educazione sessuale.” Bollettino Filosofico, III:1, 1914; Roberto Assagioli, “Come s’imparano le lingue col subcosciente.” L’economia umana, 3, 1954; Roberto Assagioli, “Psychosynthesis in Education.” Greenville, Delaware, USA, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, 1959; Roberto Assagioli, “Creative Expression in Education.” Journal of Education, 145:3, 1963; Roberto Assagioli, “Notes on Education.” Greenville, Delaware, USA, Psychosynthesis Research Foundation, 1968. Retrieved on 17 July 2020 from https://synthesiscenter.org/articles/0321.pdf

[4] For example, see Roberto Assagioli, “L’educazione dei giovani particolarmente dotati.” Umanità in cammino, IV:2, 1959; Roberto Assagioli, L’educazione dei giovani particolarmente dotati. Firenze, Istituto di Psicosintesi, 1963.

[5] Assagioli, “Psychosynthesis in Education.

[6] While I have compiled these suggestions, some of them come from Roberto Assagioli, “Notes on Education, The Deeper Meaning of Education,” Psychosynthesis and Research Foundation, 1968, Downloaded on 17 July from https://kennethsorensen.dk/en/notes-on-education-by-roberto-assagioli/. Others are derived from Kitty Bravo, “Montessori Pedagogical Guidelines for Supporting Learning at Home During COVID-19.” The Montessori Foundation, n.d., Downloaded on 17 July 2020 from https://www.montessori.org/montessori-pedagogical-guidelines-for-supporting-learning-at-home-during-covid-19/

1 thought on “Lessons from the Classrooms of Tagore and Assagioli

  1. annacitrino

    Thank you for these suggestions here. They provide many suggested opportunities for dealing with difficult situations and emotions while practicing ways to be centered and to nurture an inner life we can draw from like as if from a well.


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