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Underwater cities and other wonderful ideas


Teaching through songs and stories
Doris Lessing Writer
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I wanted to talk about something that has recently gone... teaching children through stories and songs, because in Africa they were using it until quite recently. There is a novel by a woman called Marian Lebor, a woman who has died unfortunately. In the course of this novel she describes how a girl is sent to her grandmother to be finished off... her education, as you know, we used to send girls to Switzerland, or somewhere. Now, the grandmother taught this girl by means of stories and songs, taught her the history of her clan, the way you behaved and how you behaved to elders, how you behaved to children – it was a whole education, and it was all in stories. I haven't been told this... but I'm prepared to bet that our civilisation is not really very helpful to this idea. Now, I used the idea in a short story or short novel – in four short novels – it's called The Reason For It. I created a culture – it only lasted for four generations – where the best ruler... the people were taught through stories and songs, which of course has been done in the past, before we were literate.

And this came to nothing, not because there was anything wrong with this method of teaching but because there became a very stupid ruler who didn't see the point of it, so the whole thing just went. But there were four centuries, and one century or two centuries was a brilliant culture, all through stories and songs, and I'm wondering when this idea is going to come back. It'll come back, you know, because it's so useful.

British writer Doris Lessing (1919-2013) was awarded the 2007 Nobel Prize in Literature. Her novels include 'The Grass is Singing', 'The Golden Notebook', and five novels collectively known as 'Canopus in Argos'. She was described by the Swedish Academy as 'that epicist of the female experience, who with scepticism, fire and visionary power has subjected a divided civilisation to scrutiny'. Lessing was the 11th woman and the oldest ever person to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Listeners: Christopher Sykes

Christopher Sykes is an independent documentary producer who has made a number of films about science and scientists for BBC TV, Channel Four, and PBS.

Tags: Africa, The Reason For It, Marian Lebor

Duration: 2 minutes, 10 seconds

Date story recorded: June 2007

Date story went live: 21 October 2011