Saturday, March 26, 2016

Doris Lessing on Students, Teachers and Books

By Doris Lessing

Once upon a time —and it seems quite far-off— there was a respected figure, the cultured person. He —it used to be a he, but as time went by it progressively became a she— received an education which differed very little from one country to another (…), but which was quite different from what we know today. Our great essayist William Hazlitt went to a school at the end of the 18th century whose studying programme was four times more comprehensive than that of any comparable school today: an amalgam of the basic principles of language, law, the arts, religion and maths. It was taken for granted that this education, already dense and profound in itself, was only one facet of personal development, since students were expected to read, and they did so.
This type of education, the so-called humanistic education, is disappearing today.  Governments (…) are, more and more, encouraging their citizens to acquire professional knowledge, while an education perceived as an integral development of an individual is not considered useful in modern society. The education system of days-gone-by would have contemplated literature and Greek and Latin history (…) as the basis for everything else. He  —or she— used to read the classics from his/her own country, maybe one or two Asian writers and the best-known authors from other European countries: Goethe, Shakespeare, Cervantes, the great Russians, Rousseau (…).
This does not exist any more (…). Instances of this academic excellence of days-gone-by remain in some universities, in some schools, in the classrooms of some old-fashioned teachers in love with books, perhaps in some newspapers or magazines. (…)

Extracts from the acceptance speech given by novelist Doris Lessing upon receiving the Prince of Asturias Prize for Literature, on 26th October, 2001. She is the highly-acclaimed author of The Golden Notebook.

No comments: