I recently read Doris Lessing's 1987 collection of essays, Prisons We Choose to Live Inside. As an intern with the Correctional Services Program at NYPL, the book had layers of meaning for me. Lessing shares her wisdom, her unapologetic inquiries, and her unique experience through four essays on human behavior.
Her approach is rational and clear. She asks us to use our powerful tools of reflection to amend our behavior, to uplift our treatment of one another to a higher plane. She identifies those tools, unique to human beings, as our greatest assets. My work with NYPL has given me the opportunity to help revamp the library within Rosewood High School for girls at Rikers Island and my work in library school currently has me researching technology training and digital citizenship for prison inmates. In trying to imagine new library programs for the young women at Rosewood, I have returned to Lessing's work many times. She is a constant reminder of the need to ask for more than mere skills from our systems of education. The passage below describes so well the challenge that must be met: the creation of learning environments that allow students to value themselves as learners, as crucial players in the improvement and empowerment of their communities.
From Prisons We Choose to Live Inside:
"We have to look at the word useful again. In the long run what is useful is what survives, revives, comes to life in different contexts. It may look now as if people educated to use our newest technologies efficiently are the world's elite, but in the long run I believe that people educated to have, as well, that point of view that used to be described as humanistic - the long-term, over-all, comtemplative point of view - will turn out to be more influential. Simply because they undertsand more of what is going on in the world. It is not that I undervalue the new technicians. On the contrary. It is only that what they know is by definition a temporary necessity."
— Doris Lessing, 1986