Murakami on Education

Aside from Kurt Vonnegut and Barbara Kingsolver, the author whose oeuvre I’ve plunged the deepest is Haruki Murakami. Known for his gritty and mundane, yet  surreal and whimsical, fiction (I especially recommend his novel The Wind-Up Bird Chronicle and short story collection The Elephant Vanishes), this “heroically imaginative” writer exhibits “deadpan mania and genius,” according to the website Goodreads.

The following quotes come from his memoir, What I Talk About When I Talk About Running. I had no idea that one of my favorite writers had such a Sudbury-esque outlook. Here, it turns out, is a wildly successful, internationally renowned author for whom conventional schooling only got in the way…

“I could never stand being forced to do something I didn’t want to do at a time I didn’t want to do it. Whenever I was able to do something I liked to do, though, when I wanted to do it, and the way I wanted to do it, I’d give it everything I had…From elementary school up to college I was never interested in things I was forced to study…I only began to enjoy studying after I got through the educational system and became a so-called member of society. If something interested me, and I could study it at my own pace and approach it the way I liked, I was pretty efficient at acquiring knowledge and skills.”

What a testimonial to the power of innate curiosity! I also find it interesting that a writer from Japan—whose education system was held up for years and years as something we in the West should emulate—would come down squarely on the side of educational freedom.

“People have their own individual likes and dislikes. Some people are suited more for marathon running, some for golf, others for gambling. Whenever I see students in gym class all made to run a long distance, I feel sorry for them. Forcing people who have no desire to run, or who aren’t physically fit enough, is a kind of pointless torture. I always want to advise teachers not to force all junior and senior high school students to run the same course, but I doubt anybody’s going to listen to me. That’s what schools are like. The most important thing we ever learn at school is the fact that the most important things can’t be learned at school” (emphasis added).



Filed under Quotes, Sudbury

5 responses to “Murakami on Education

  1. For many years I have heard artists say that they would need to take a course in ceramics or photography in order to graduate and that they had no interest in that particular course. But then, they got their fingers wet in the chemicals or clay and they were hooked. Sometimes we reject experiences just because they are new. We might find that they suit us well.

    I agree completely with the last line that what we learn in school is that the most important things aren’t learned in school. Robert Frost said, “It takes all kinds of in and outdoor schoolin’ to get adapted to my kind of foolin’.”

  2. Kim, I understand the experience of doing something you didn’t want to and finding out it’s actually something you really enjoy. What I don’t get is using that argument as the basis and justification for a coercive educational system. The human costs are simply too high, as “for your own good” schooling is horribly inefficient and inhibiting at best. If one’s education is externally directed, who’s to say what other things (and how many) one might have encountered and unexpectedly loved? I’ve found there’s infinitely more exploration, more stretching into new experiences, when you let students direct their own learning.

  3. Good point. The exception doesn’t prove the rule (is that the saying? I don’t think so… but it works.)

    • Yet another of the bazillion things I like about Sudbury is how readily it challenges assumptions about the nature of learning and how to foster it. (I believe the original saying is “The exception proves the rule,” but with “proves” meaning to test or challenge, rather than simply to verify.)

  4. He talks about letting kids guide themselves in such a matter of fact way, like you’d have to be an idiot not to see it. Whenever someone does that I appreciate it, especially when it’s a kid.

    Some of this stuff is what my son said at his thesis presentation on Friday. It was very zen – he even got a question about unknowing.

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