Lies We Can Understand


All the way through school, ever since A Levels, I had this theory. Teaching is done through storytelling – sometimes the stories are interesting, and sometimes they aren’t – because that’s how we communicate. But nearly always the stories have a strong element of fiction involved. For the most part, things are just too complicated to get across to kids (or even adults) so they’re simplified. The younger the pupil, the simpler the story, until it barely resembles what’s actually happening any more.

Lies we can understand.

Here’s how it went for me: at A Levels, they said ‘everything you learned up to now was wrong, to get the basic principle in your head. Here’s how it really is’, and at uni they said ‘everything you learned up to now was wrong. Go find out how it really is’. That in itself is simplifying it, but actually not by much.

Ideally, what should be said to every child, repeatedly, throughout his or her school life is something like this: ‘You are in the process of being indoctrinated. We have not yet evolved a system of education that is not a system of indoctrination. We are sorry, but it is the best we can do. What you are being taught here is an amalgam of current prejudice and the choices of this particular culture. The slightest look at history will show how impermanent these must be. You are being taught by people who have been able to accommodate themselves to a regime of thought laid down by their predecessors. It is a self-perpetuating system. Those of you who are more robust and individual than others will be encouraged to leave and find ways of educating yourself – educating your own judgements. Those that stay must remember, always, and all the time, that they are being moulded and patterned to fit into the narrow and particular needs of this particular society.

– Doris Lessing, The Golden Notebook

I’m under no illusions – I’m one of the ones that stayed, because I can understand and work with the system. And because I get the point of stories. They are to communicate and teach, even if the actual words used aren’t true. And they do that even if you don’t mean them to. Hollywood showed us that with films like Braveheart, where now the whole world doesn’t really know what happened but thinks they do.

At quite a young age my grandfather told me to always keep in mind what morals my stories demonstrate. It’s something very easy to forget in the heat of imaginative creation, and I think it’s not a widely common point of view. That doesn’t make it any less valid.

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