November 17, 2010

Leela Academy - the playful academy

I love places of higher learning. If I could time travel, I would first navigate my time machine back to Plato's Academy then to Nalanda University (who wouldn't want to attend a university with a name that means: "insatiable in giving"?) These two cradles of higher learning ignite my imagination.

Rafael's School of Athens - depicting Plato's Academy

Nalanda University ruins - Bihar, India

Then some times I feel like catapulting my time machine into the future. What forms will higher education take? Will there still be institutions of higher learning?

One thing I am certain of: Places of learning will be more playful and give more space for different ways of learning that involves the whole person, even the body. One time I sighed to a friend in a letter:  
Why did I get into the academic world when I could have played football? The university people live either in the past or in the future. The present is of no interest; the body of even less. And their egos are big and bizarre. Most of them still think Darwin said: "Survival of the fittest!" When what he really said was "Survival of those who fit!" How can I make my academic life more like playing football? Indeed, how can life be more like playing football? 

For some time I've had a dream of creating a learning place called Leela Academy. In Hinduism, Leela is the playful nature of the divine consciousness.  

The Leela - depicting Krishna at play with the cowgirls

I was very encouraged when I came across psychiatrist Stuart Brown on my webbed wanderings. In his book Play: How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul he writes about the vital importance of play to human beings - how play helps brain development and promotes fairness, justice and empathy. He can even calm the serious skeptics -people concerned about the "bottom line"of work: Playful people are more effective, productive and healthier, he claims.

Realizing the important role playfulness has, Dr Brown became serious (pun intended) and established the National Institute for Play. Plato is quoted on the website: You can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation. So, good old Plato probably demanded a certain portion of play in his academy. Taking all of the above into consideration, my Leela Academy is not necessarily a Utopian idea. Anyone want to join me? Watch Dr Brown below and get a taste of why play is so important for us:

Other books of interest:

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