‘Education means only this – that the lively alert fearless curiosity of children must be fed, must be kept alive. That is education.’
That is what it is, or what it should be. However, in the conclusion to her novel, Briefing for a Descent Into Hell, she suggests a reality of education that is instantly recognisable to anyone interested in education:
one has to be particularly trained to believe that to put a label on a feeling, a state of mind, a thing; to find a set of words or a phrase; in short, to describe it; is the same as understanding and experiencing it. Such a training is the education obligatory in our schools, the larger part of which education is devoted to teaching children how to use labels, to choose words, to define.
Written in 1971 this, depressingly, is suggesting much the same thing as John Stuart Mill did one hundred and two years earlier, when he lamented that universities were failing because they did not train students to question, but rather to accept the status quo. They did not ‘make thinkers or enquirers, but disciples.’ These disciples learned by rote the words and labels and preconceived notions about things around them. Plus ca change.