The fourth and final time I made a concerted effort to reconcile with Academia I was living in Germany. By that time I’d moved from Canada to the UK and done a certificate in TEFL [Teaching English as a Foreign Language] and had subsequently worked in the UK and Spain before Germany. And I was still on the fence about the university thing; fearful that I’d end up falling by the wayside unless I buckled up and got the damn degree.
It wasn’t as though I wasn’t getting an education, however, albeit an unconventional one. I was learning a lot about life and love; I was well on my way to becoming fluent in German; and I had a work set-up that afforded me lots of free time. In that time I systematically raided the English-language section of the local library and read books vociferously. I was educating myself.
I had a friend at the time who was a lecturer in English at the university, and while he agreed with my assessment of the system, he nonetheless encouraged me to put myself through it. In his view, the system needed ‘good people’ and if it was going to be changed, it would have to be changed from within.
I certainly was not on an altruistic mission, but I bought into his logic. So I signed up – and in my very first lecture I emerged just as crestfallen as before. I just couldn’t resign myself to it. Time was too precious. As was my life.
MEANWHILE, ONE DAY AT THE LIBRARY…
As I was moping around, full of doubt, trying to make up my mind, I picked up The Golden Notebook by Doris Lessing. I had read a couple of her books and respected her as a writer, so I took the book home. As I read the introduction, I was absolutely captivated. In it, she described her own experience with Academia, which completely resonated with mine.
I don’t own the book – as a novel I found it interesting but not great – yet that introduction had a profound effect on me. So much that I can still remember a lot of it. One of the most fascinating [to me] points she raised was why society does not tend to focus on those who drop out. Generally dropouts are written off as failures – no one ever thinks to question whether or not the system has failed.
Doris Lessing herself dropped out of school when she was 14. She had an aptitude for writing and published her first novel when she was 18. It was well received, and more books followed. She never finished school, but nonetheless became a successful writer.
Soon she began receiving letters from students studying her work. They would read something like: ‘Dear author. I’m writing a paper on your work, could you please send me a list of critics who have reviewed your books… etc. etc.’ She found this exceedingly strange and wrote back, saying: ‘Why don’t you just read the book yourself and make up your own mind?’ To which the student would respond, ‘Yes, but if I don’t quote the critics, my professor won’t give me a grade.’
She found this bizarre. After all, there were so many books in the world, why spend months and months on just one, picking it apart, analyzing it in minute detail, and quoting critics? So she decided to attend some of those classes where her books were being studied. And was absolutely aghast; couldn’t believe what she was seeing or hearing. They were missing the point entirely. They were making mincemeat of her work – and forcing on them ideas and concepts that were not her own. Worse, they were not allowing the students independent evaluation or thought.
[You can believe that this resonated bigtime with our YT!]
SO WHAT CAN BE DONE INSTEAD?
Should people be discouraged from attending university? Surely not, because as someone pointed out in the comments yesterday, it is virtually impossible for a normal person with only a high school diploma to make a decent living – at least in the US [and I suspect in most other places]. Doris Lessing had one possible solution: the more robust individuals, those most likely to be able to find their own way in the world, should be encouraged to leave the system. The others should be encouraged to stay in school, but should be told something like: ‘You are being indoctrinated with the accepted theories, beliefs, etc. of this particular time in history. We’re sorry, but we just haven’t figured out a better system.’
Personally I don’t have any solutions. Except my own: to find my own truth and to work on keeping my passions intact. The amazing thing I’ve found is that when I do that, everything else falls into place.
SO AFTER ALL THAT, DO WE STILL WANT WEATHER?
Nah. Just this: Windy, temps 4°C, sunrise 11.01 sunset 15.37.