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I was reading The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie after reading an article about the author, Muriel Spark, in The Atlantic. It is a very funny, though ultimately tragic, book and I will send the passage below to the Literacy and Numeracy Secretariat for their consideration:

“I am summoned to see the headmistress at morning break on Monday,’ said Miss Brodie. ‘I have no doubt Miss Mackay wishes to question my methods of instruction. It has happened before. It will happen again. Meanwhile, I follow my principles of education and give of my best in my prime. The word ‘education’ comes from the root ‘e’ from ‘ex’, out, and ‘duco’, I lead. It means a leading out. To me education is a leading out of what is already there in the pupil’s soul. To Miss Mackay it is a putting in of something that is not there, and that is not what I call education, it is intrusion, from the Latin root prefix ‘in’ and the stem ‘trudo’, I thrust. Miss Mackay’s method is to thrust a lot of information into the pupil’s head; mine is a leading out of knowledge, and that is true education as is proved by the root meaning.”

I like how this is put, especially in an age of ‘backward design’ and teaching to the standardized test and curriculum, where we seem to be setting up artificial boundaries for what can and should be learned. A safe, fenced in playground instead of a voyage into uncharted seas. Unfortunately, in the novel, Jean Brodie turns out to be a manipulative egomaniac and a fascist sympathizer, who celebrates Mussolini’s “organizational skills” (would she give them an E, for excellent, in the skills section of an Ontario report card?). She also refers to her select students as ‘la creme de la creme’ which is more annoying for it’s French pretension and redundant phrasing than as an expression of country club superiority complex. Still, Miss Brodie, like her namesake novel, leads us out into uncomfortable and dark territories that stir and terrify the soul — and it is on these adventures that real education happens.



  1. Hi Tim,
    I really enjoyed this post. It resonates with me especially since this week we lost our playing field for a year. It was fenced off to allow the grass to grow uninterrupted. Where will the children play? On a crowded blacktop! I can see the irony.

    • Thanks, Simone. This grass growing thing is happening all over the place I think. The two elementary schools near us both re-sodded their fields and both were back to their worn out state within 6 months. Kids playing always triumph over grass!

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