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A few quotes I like about education and reading books



I have been musing for some time about a few quotes by the great English writer Doris Lessing on education and reading books.


1. “Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself — educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.”

(Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook)


As you know ‘indoctrination’ means teaching someone to accept a set of beliefs without questioning them. I was very curious about the origin of the word ‘indoctrination’ and I found these definitions in the dictionaries on the Internet. You can see the meaning of the verb ‘indoctrinate’ here and here, and that the word “doctrine” comes from the old Latin noun doctrina which meant “teaching”, “instruction”.

In my opinion, educational system in many countries in the world, even in the 21st century, is based on this principle of memorizing what you are taught by the teacher without thinking or questioning beliefs/opinions/theories etc. Schooling system in which you are taught what to think, and you are forced to learn without discovering things by yourself or to read something you do not want to read is not a good educational system. A really good educational system should promote learning and knowledge by fostering curiosity, individualism, and open-mindedness.

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2.  “A public library is the most democratic thing in the world. What can be found there has undone dictators and tyrants: demagogues can persecute writers and tell them what to write as much as they like, but they cannot vanish what has been written in the past, though they try often enough…People who love literature have at least part of their minds immune from indoctrination. If you read, you can learn to think for yourself.” (Doris Lessing)


3.  “There is only one way to read, which is to browse in libraries and bookshops, picking up books that attract you, reading only those, dropping them when they bore you, skipping the parts that drag – and never, never reading anything because you feel you ought, or because it is part of a trend or a movement. Remember that the book which bores you when you are twenty or thirty will open doors for you when you are forty or fifty – and vise versa. Don’t read a book out of its right time for you. ” (Doris Lessing)


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4.  That is what learning is. You suddenly understand something you’ve understood all your life, but in a new way. (Doris Lessing)



2 responses »

  1. Ljilajana! That quote from Lessing is incisive. I used to read Lessing a lot in my late teens. Haven’t encountered her in a while. I don’t like the words ‘teacher’ and ‘teaching’ – my mind affixes negative connotations to both. Even the visualisation of the act of teaching is conventionally an arrow that flows from the whiteboard/instructor to the student. How could that be a desirable dynamic in a post-constructivist world of learners?


    • ljiljana havran

      Thanks a lot Adi for your comment and very interesting thoughts on teaching.

      Doris Lessing is a very daring woman/writer who fought against prejudices, gender roles and stereotypes. I enjoyed reading her London Observed: Stories and Sketches, a few months ago, and then I was thinking about some of her incisive quotes on education and reading books.

      I agree with you about the connotations of the words ‘teacher’ and ‘teaching’, but I’m wondering which word would be better and more suitable. And I’m dreaming about a modern, dynamic education system in which ‘learning’ and ‘knowledge’ will be the most important words (not ‘teaching’ and ‘testing’), and which will encourage curiosity, playfulness, critical thinking, creativity…



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