Old wine in new bottles? Sathya Sai Baba's entire pedagogical and educational system is extremely backwards in comparison to modern secular institutions. Not only is it less truly science-oriented than traditional in content and methodology, but it is draws much of its 'inspiration' from predominantly ancient Hindu scripture and ''spiritual values'. Sai Baba holds up the ancient Indian gurukul system as an ideal, and though it is given lip-service it is far too impractical for use in his institutions, where he presided as the 'guru' teacher until his death in 2011.
Sai Baba's presumption was that he would introduce a new system of education world-wide, called 'Education in Human Values' (EHV) and alternatively 'Educare'. In more advanced countries, nearly all efforts in that direction had - despite its being free and run on a voluntary basis - failed to attract clients, except on a shoestring basis. Then he decided on a new name, 'Sai Educare', and policy was changed to introduce a more ambitious plan to establish Sai Baba 'faith' schools and colleges in a more traditional way, rather than relying on free courses at the local community level (which was the mainstay of EHV in underdeveloped countries). The Sai Educare Foundation is still trying to establish itself, and with very considerable financial backing from rich Sai devotees in India and particularly in the USA. It set about acquiring properties as locales for schools and colleges, but with some notable setbacks as it was considered cultist by various local communities and such institutions were not allowed to establish themselves. Others closed due to sex abuse scandals that engulfed Sathya Sai baba from 1999 onwards.
The instigators of Sai projects do not publicize their plans or facts about their current work except within Sai devotee circles, for their Organization has met with some powerful opposition hitherto and have chosen to try to find a kind of 'back-door' way into education. This is via the establishment through formal routines for private schools and colleges in countries where, for example, educational rules are liberal about religious or 'spiritual' educational institutions. Also, in the UK, it established itself under the neutral name 'The British Sathya Sai Education in Human Values Institute' with Sai Baba devotees such as Carole Alderman and M. Majmudar and achieved some success in infiltrating the educational system, though without promoting Sathya Sai Baba as such Dr. M.Majmudar
The main lines on education in the Sai Baba movement's ideas and plans also concentrate on rote learning - always surrounded by the inculcation of values Sathya Sai Baba teaches - which are closely linked to Eastern values - especially those of scriptural Hinduism and consequently lead to a cultural vacuum for non-Hindus by excluding large and important values which belong to the Western social heritage and its educational principles.
Barry Pittard was a teacher at Brindavan College, where he taught Sai Baba students English for 2 years. His opinion of the predominant teaching methods and requirements on students were far from positive, and this agrees entirely with what one of Sai Baba's closest officials - editor, V.K. Narasimhan - told me in no uncertain terms numerous times when we discussed the colleges and 'deemed' university (later raised to full university status through Sai Baba's huge political influence).
I participated in the forerunner of Sai Educare, the so-called 'Education in Human Values' (EHV) programme, in which from 1985 in its early days and to which I at the outset contributed some of my professional expertise from University work by supplying some vital system planning in European EHV. I soon realized that the basis for an effective value educational programme was very weak and there were a number of insurmountable internal hindrances in the Sai organization and wider movement to its development into any kind of widely-acceptable programmes.
It turned out at the time (from 1987 to 1990) that the rather grandiose plans its official leaders (such as the Sai devotee, Victor Kanu, in the UK and Thorbjørn Meyer in Continental Europe) put forward failed very signally to materialize in Europe. The free courses offered were not taken up by more than a handful of parents, despite considerable efforts and much voluntary preparation work and only one or two teachers managed to introduce some measure of this 'value education' into their work at schools. The same voluntary-based and elementary free schooling was, however, is more popular in countries where education of any kind is at a premium, such as Africa, Thailand, Brazil and so on.
Even now, after ten years of operations, there is nothing to indicate that Sai Educare has anything radically different to offer than was already available in the
'Education in Human Values' programme. In the first place, the only people who have been involved in the preparations of the European variant are all Sai devotees. There was talk of inviting international lecturers to the 'high school college' that was planned (but which was forced to withdraw from Copenhagen by angry residents). These 'international' teachers would doubtless nearly all have been either convinced Sai devotees or those initially positive to Sai Baba and his teaching. It can safely be predicted that very few persons of any pedagogical or educational standing would be induced to lecture in Sai Educare connections if they were properly informed of the nature of the widely alleged testimonies that Sai Baba is a sexual molester of boys and young men and has never been cleared by any proper investigation of highly suspected as an accomplice to murder and its cover-up.
The Sai teaching's shortage of universal educational concepts and contents: Most of the hindrances in the Sai Org. to developing a healthy teaching environment were - and still are - doctrinally based. The main problem is that the largely traditional religious teaching of Sai Baba is a mixture of fundamentalist Hinduism drawing upon various Indian traditions and only most superficially on more modern ideas. Many of the restrictions that affected EHV stem from the highly conservative and traditional culture expressed by Sathya Sai Baba, which is without doubt carried over in no small measure into Sai Educare.
The Sai doctrine quite purposely and explicitly ignores the rich scientific and humanistic culture of the world as virtually irrelevant to the spiritual life or value education (i.e. except for anything that can be used in support of the Sai doctrine)! By is very name and practitioners, Sai Educare cannot be other than mainly based on Sai Baba's idealistic - but often highly unrealistic and anti-worldly - teachings. Unfortunately, Sai Baba's teachings fails to recognize properly what Jack Kornfield has said: "Ideals are reflections of our deeply religious nature. But, as we know, ideals can be poison if we take them in large quantities or if we take them incorrectly; in other words, if we take them not as ideals, but as concrete realities. …ideals are tools for inspiration, not realities in themselves." (p. 121 "After the Ecstasy, the Laundry").
Further, should it be conducted without genuine discussion but with patronizing censorship and fobbing off honest questions - as in all Sai Organization connections - it cannot become more than a sectarian and traditional curiosity. It is virtually unthinkable that the total banning of critical thinking and questioning of the more doubtful tenets of Sai Baba's 'teachings' in the Sai movement will not seriously affect the conduct of teaching at Sai Educare schools or colleges. This authoritarian agenda is well-know from the Sathya Sai Organization, in which Sai Educare remains based, though formally independent of it. It is upheld by those same people who mismanaged EHV, causing it to make almost no progress outside the Sai Baba movement despite 20 years of great efforts. Only those who broke out of the Organization on grounds of censorship and unrealistic restrictions that were imposed had any measure of success in conducting free value classes. This they did without using the name of Sai Baba or making his teachings too prominent. These persons were consequently ostracized by the Sai Organization and instead set up their own programmes in such countries as UK, Italy, Sweden etc. Unfortunately, even these initiatives suffer from many of the flaws of the EHV system's inherent limitations.
Signs of this are already evident in the nascent Sai Educare activities
in Australia. Like the 'EHV' work, this educational system can safely be
predicted to thrive only in isolation, all conducted in sovereign disregard
of recognized pedagogical and psychological research. The mental climate
generated by this and shared by Sai followers who wish to imprint values,
that is, by who will define the core of any system using the name of 'Sai',
is seriously lacking any genuine empirical or comparative study, for the
entire doctrine is axiomatically inimical to such concerns. It is evident
that any such educational system would fall far short of excellence.
The parameters for the value education are initially set by Sai Baba's teaching, especially on what he calls 'human values' - which specifically exclude at the outset as worldly such values as justice, social equality, human rights and open-ended fact-based researches. This is a serious flaw in any teaching claiming to have anything to do with 'human' values. Moreover, the values are held by SSB to be transcendental absolutes that therefore cannot be modified and do not have their origin or justification in human praxis, but only in divine will. It is easy to see from this why Sai Baba avoids all discussion of sexuality, of sex problems in society (including AIDS, contraception questions etc.) and is against what any educated modern person would call women's personal, social and political emancipation.
This makes for doctrinal teaching as opposed to realistic research, to the deduction from supposedly indisputable axioms as to how people are and should be, as opposed to the discovery of what they can and so should reasonably aspire to from their given social, mental and emotional existence. The first makes for patronizing teaching and (often concealed) authoritarian attitudes, the second for independent investigation, learning by trial and error, and open communication and research between truth seekers. Without independent thinkers and the wear and tear of opposing hypotheses, debates and critique, all but elementary education becomes a mere ritual without lasting, constructive effects.
My Russian colleague in education, Serguei Badaev, has remarked very appositely: "Critical thinking, as one of a basic skills of character building, is absolutely opposed to the EHV and Sai Educare approaches. I think it is a threat to the SSB mini-empire. The situation is in a sense very similar to what occurred during the Soviet regime. Communist leaders needed people with good character to work hard and with enthusiasm. But the regime tried to restrict firmly (or to control) the area of application of their intellect and research skills to keep themselves safe from their analysis. The same with SSB. There is a sort of invisible circle around him where you should abandon your critical skills and submit completely to his uncertainty and mystery. Another interesting aspect of Sai education is an idea of separate education of boys and girls which is taken for granted without any serious justification. Further reflections on this matter is found at Is Sathya Sai Baba's teaching really universal, or sectarian?
The Shadow of Pederasty over the Preceptor: That I find it necessary to warn most strongly against the establishment of so-called Sai Educare schools and colleges in any civilized country does not mean that I reject the ideals that motivate these activities, as far as those ideals reach. This is because they use the name 'Sai', referring to Sathya Sai Baba of South India has a long doubtful reputation as a sexual abuser of young men and boys, including many of the students of his colleges
I am well aware that many of those involved are good people with respect for excellent moral and social values. It makes it the more saddening that they remain so fundamentally misinformed and refuse to re-examine their own beliefs or study the evidence properly, That Sathya Sai Baba is openly admitted by many of his defenders involved in leading the 'Educare programme' to perform unasked for and unwanted molestations of the genitalia of young men, oiling and rubbing them, is a shocking fact. Such handling of genitalia without prior agreement even by a doctor - is an offence under the law.
This behaviour by Sai Baba was confirmed under intense media pressure - and only after many years of keeping it a secret - by several leaders of the Sathya Sai Organization, not least in Denmark and the Central Coordinator in Europe, Mr. Thorbjørn Meyer and his close associate Director Jørgen Trygved (On National Danish TV News), have supported this form of molestation of young men and minors. Meyer wrote to me that it is "the age old Indian oil ceremony". There is absolutely no justification for it, however, and it is neither 'religiously nor spiritually significant, as some claim. No such 'age-old ceremony' can be documented anywhere (not surprisingly), and several experts on Hinduism have denied that any such practice is traditionally condoned. (Further documentation concerning 'genital oiling' can be viewed at http://www.saibaba-x.org.uk/11/dane.htm
On the contrary, such actions are known world-wide to be typical ways of
initiating gradual homosexual and 'pedophile' seduction. This is also firmly
backed up by dozens of accounts and a score of affidavits sworn under oath
of more serious sexual abuse by Sai Baba. To support such actions is simply
immoral. To try to forward education in the name of a person, Sathya Sai
Baba is to risk that among the visiting 'teachers' Educare
in Europe intends to invite from India, there will be ex-student victims
of Sai Baba's long abuse, some of whom themselves came thereby to practice such
abuses. Society will simply not tolerate it.