Letters & Essays
Craziness in education
Not only is the possibility of teaching or tuition being a positive factor in someone's education greatly exaggerated, but its negative potentialities (which may be very great) are overlooked.
I concluded retrospectively that everyone's determination to make me do maths as a sole subject, and at far too late an age for taking a first degree, could only have arisen from their awareness, subconscious or otherwise, that this was the subject in which supervised courses of 'preparation' could have the greatest negative effect.
I got the top scholarship to Somerville not on the strength of the maths, in which I had been thoroughly turned off and messed around by being forced against my will to attend (and 'do set work' for) supervised courses at the Woodford High School and Queen Mary College.
I translated all four languages on the translation paper, and wrote essays on the general essay paper for which I had deliberately prepared by becoming familiar with the basic views of past leading philosophers. No school had contributed anything to speak of to my being able to do any of this, although I had had some lessons in French and a few in German. My facility in reading languages arose, at least in part, from my having identified for myself the readers which provided the most rapid access to doing so. I had likewise found for myself the books which gave the most rapid overview of everyone's views on the most important issues, notably Will Durant's Story of Philosophy, which gave the lives of leading philosophers of the past with a summary of their philosophical points of view.
At a Somerville social event while I was an undergraduate a don I did not know came up to me and said she remembered my essay paper in the entrance exam; the most remarkable she had ever seen.
Part of what made me successful (in the areas in which I might have been successful on social terms if not prevented from acquiring qualifications) was my exploratory attitude to the learning materials available, and skill in picking out the best. Since the age of 13 I had found the idea of being forced to sit through lessons or lectures, and then being 'set work', horrific.
A Professor once asked me how long I was at the Society for Psychical Research and I said about four years; but that is not really meaningful unless you take into account my extraordinary speed of uptake in any new area of information. Four years was quite long enough for me to become better informed than anyone else about everything in 'the subject', as well as in related areas of psychology, psychiatry and electrophysiology that might contribute to progressive research, if that should ever be possible.
But there are not supposed to be any innate differences in ability, so it never has been taken into account that I could do much more than other people, and much faster, and that I not only could but needed to do so. Nor has anyone shown any recognition of how much progress I could have been making, and would have made by now, if not kept completely inactive; unless you regard the universality of the squeeze on me as a recognition that I could not be allowed to do anything at all, as I might make too much use of even the smallest freedom.