Image of Cilla with 3 copies of her PhD

Read how Cilla grew to love learning below...

As a kid, I was a voracious reader, mad about the world, lapping up all the thinking, arguing, political battles and books in my house.  No book was ‘out of bounds’ in my self-educated, scouser family. No-one went to university but this was how you learnt about the human condition and the world.  Back then I had no interest in formal education and there was never any expectation that I would stay on at school, I hated it.  In my secondary modern the five CSEs on offer were just enough for the shop or factory we were headed for.  I left at 15 with three and went straight to work on a factory production line. It was fine – I liked going to work – it was what I wanted to do. 

Yet after 7 years of work my thinking about formal education had started to change. As a shop steward I had begun to read different types of books, think about new ideas and meet people I really liked with the same values and views as me. Some of these people had been involved in formal education - working class kids going to university and acquiring qualifications. Others hadn’t and were Gramsci’s ‘organic intellectuals’  - deeply intelligent critical thinkers  without a  qualification between them. When I was 23 the union told me about some scholarships to a union friendly ‘second chance’ College. The plan was for me to go and get some political education and after a couple of years, go back to the shop floor and work for the union. I didn’t really want to go – I was dreading the formal education - but I thought I probably should, that I had a lot to learn. 

Starting at College...

Two days after I arrived at the College I had my first seminar. It lasted an hour and was a disaster. I sweated over the pre-reading and struggled to deal with the discussion in class. It was completely above my head. I was nervous, lonely and out of my depth. I just couldn’t understand what people were talking about. I must have been one of the youngest at the College and was certainly one of only a handful of women. I also felt like I had sold out – I should be at work and here I was, indulging myself with reading and essay writing. What on earth was the point of an essay? What had I done? This wasn’t for me, I’d made a mistake.  A whole day in front of me with nothing to do but read. I wanted to go home. 

The epiphany... 

And then it hit me. That’s all I had to do today, read. The same for tomorrow and the next day for two whole years. It didn’t matter if it took me years to learn to understand the difficult stuff. I had all the time in the world. I didn’t have to go to work. And why should I feel guilty anyway about having a bit of time to do some education?  This is what privileged people had automatically - time to think and learn, read and write.  I remembered my grandfather talking about knowledge being power and that working class people didn’t go to university not because we were thick but because we had to go to work when we left school. Now I didn’t have to go to work – well, not for a while. I could try and get my head around it all. 

It was the most wonderful feeling.  That moment, that feeling, has stayed with me all of my life. I can remember it exactly, like it happened five minutes ago. From then on I had a new consciousness about education and what it might mean to me and my future - what it might mean to us as a society if we all had the time to think, learn, read and write. Education is about hope. 

And as for learning? Absolute, unconditional love.

Has Cilla's blog inspired you to write your own about why you love to learn? Submit one before midnight on the 28th February and you'll be entered into a prize draw to win a £50 Waterstones voucher (T&C's apply). See how you can enter here.