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Bless ’em (or I despair…)

December 18, 2009

‘Okay, everyone. The essay is due at the end of the week. Are there any questions? Is anybody unsure of what they are doing?’

Silence.

‘Any questions at all? Anything you’d like to share or debate with the seminar group?’

More silence

‘Anybody concerned about essay writing style? (Silence) Anything?’

Silence.

Then, a young woman’s voice to my left: belligerent in tone. ‘I don’t understand.’

‘Okay’, I say, ‘What are you unsure about?’

‘I don’t understand anything.’

This is quite an admission but I ask, ‘Is there anything specific you want me to explain?’

‘Look, I don’t understand anything that you’re talking about.’

I might be in trouble here. What if I’ve spent the past three months communicating nothing to anybody? I need to recover the situation. So I ask, ‘Have you been reading any of the relevant literature referred to in your module guide?’

‘Aye, I got that book you told us to read. The black one.’

‘I’m sorry, what book is that?’

She’s becoming exasperated now, rolling her eyes.  ‘The black one. The one with the colours on the front; you know, the orange and yellow and red colours. I don’t know what it’s called.’

Suddenly, the dreadful truth dawns on me and I cry, ‘You haven’t even read the fucking title of the book!’

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11 Comments leave one →
  1. CharlieMcMenamin permalink
    December 19, 2009 12:10 pm

    There you go, missing the golden business opportunity staring you in the face, just like all you whiny lefties.

    There a market for a 40 page Buffer Guide/Very Short Introduction to Whatever It Is I’m Talking About and you have a captive audience who will buy it!

    Mind you, you might first have to find a cartoonist to draw the pictures…..or a web savvy geek to work it up into a Facebook application.

    • Rabelais permalink*
      December 19, 2009 3:52 pm

      Yeah, they might buy it Charlie, but the feckers won’t read it. I tell you, it gets me down and then I remember, hey, I’m still getting paid. And that’s some consolation.

  2. December 23, 2009 10:29 pm

    Classic. I laughed until I cried, and then cried until I laughed.

    • Rabelais permalink*
      December 25, 2009 9:46 am

      Hi Jenny,
      I suppose you got to laugh. I mean, they’re paying for an education and then they stubbornly refuse to engage with it. Bit like paying at the Asda check-out and then leaving all your bags behind.

  3. goofananda permalink
    March 3, 2010 9:42 am

    Re: Rabelais’ comment of 25th December and the Asda checkout reference.

    But you must remember that you’re using an older person’s logic, (30/40 something?), where money and education have some value.

    When you’re a late teen/early twenty something, as I’m guessing most of your students are, then nothing really makes much sense in any worldy way, the only thing that really gets through are instinctual things, like hormones and finding the opposite sex attractive.

    My student days were a crazy scrabble of desires and primary experiences. Women, music, film, art, presence, body language and power spoke to me. I was asleep in half the lectures, (although being on the subject of art they tended to be in a darkened, warm projector theatre, a bit like a womb, and coupled with the dulcit tones of some of the teachers, had a very soporific effect).

    Maybe these experiences you have are all lessons in crushing your teacher’s ego. Destroying your notions of how things ‘should’ be in a textbook teaching environment. Perhaps you have more to learn from them than they do from you, maybe about reinventing the cliched student/teacher dynamic?

    Just thoughts.

    For what they’re worth.

    From a total outsider to this situation.

    I hope things have improved for you since Dec ’09.

    Go well.

    • Rabelais permalink*
      March 3, 2010 11:56 am

      Hi Goofananda,
      Thanks for the comment. Before ‘older persons logic’ consumed me I was young once to. I recognise all the symptoms you mention: ‘a crazy scrabble of desires and primary experiences. Women, music, film, art, presence, body language and power’. I also slept through a number of lectures but then again I wasn’t paying for it back then.

      The title ‘Bless ’em (or I despair) just about sums up how I feel about students. On the one hand, there are some I wish would just engage a little more because I really believe that they’d enjoy studying. On the other hand, I don’t want to meet the 19 year old that wants to spend all their time with their head buried in a book at the back of the library.

      Mark Fisher (author of the book Capitalist Realism and the K-Punk blog) refers to the students of his experience as afflicted with a syndrome he calls ‘depressive hedonia’ which refers to being on a constant search for pleasure. I just wonder why it is that education and the acquisition of knowledge are considered as unpleasureable?

  4. goofananda permalink
    March 3, 2010 9:26 pm

    “I just wonder why it is that education and the acquisition of knowledge are considered as unpleasureable?”

    You’ve got to somehow get across to your students the passion YOU feel for the subject(s) you’re teaching.

    If you’re not feeling it then you shouldn’t be teaching.

    Use that passion to dissolve the prevalent ennui, to transgress the mind-numbing tedium that hangs around institutional dogma/rhetoric/furniture/classrooms.

    Knowledge IS FUN. Show them.

    Find a way to relate to your students as people, not students. They’re all vastly different. Find a relevance for these peoples lives with what you’re saying/doing. Remember how YOU felt when you were younger. Figure out how to make their eyes light up, how to find their spark. Find out what they’re interested in. Figure out how to enjoy yourself in their company. Get some impassioned rapport going. Transcend course modules and syllabus structures.

    Go on, do everything upside down and back to front if you feel like it, funk up your lessons, turn the lights off and have a candle day, take out the furniture, stand on your head, wear a clown suit, have a fancy-dress seminar, say everything in rhyme, make them all wear blindfolds, try some skits, illustrate things with ridiculous examples, encourage spontaneity, encourage laughter, have a rota so that each student has a turn at playing teacher, do whatever it takes to step out of conventions and find a ‘nowness’, a presence, a live current, a way to make your time with them an experience that you’ll both share, that you’ll both look forward to, that you’ll both enjoy. Make your lives richer. Richer in terms of depth of experience. Expand. Grow. Learn. Together. It’s what we do.

    Pleasure’s alright. It doesn’t have to be ‘depressive’. Just make sure that whatever juice you’re putting out there is coming from a wholesome place, one you believe in, and it can be ‘optimistic’. Desire drives us all. Tune into life a bit more and watch how others feed off your energy. Expect more from life. Put more into it. And you’ll be blown away by the results.

    (You’ll have to temper the above with just enough relevance to make sure that you stay on track enough to not lose your job or get arrested/sectioned..(there are some conventions worth bearing in mind!)..but if you’re being honest enough with your passion for life, with your passion for knowledge, with your passion for ensuring these people in your care come away with a greater vision, with your passion for goodness, for ‘Godness’, then who cares about jobs, one door will shut and another will open..growth happens, there’s always pastures new).

    If you’re not having a good time, neither will they. They’re your mirror. Your reflection.

    And vice-versa.

    Cast off all expectations to do with education, to do with syllabuses, to do with how lessons should be. Experiment. Dare to be different. Be radical. There’s nothing to fear, you’ll only engineer respect. You have immense power. Use it! Trust that little spontaneous voice in your head that comes up with creative sparks. That’s the magic juice of the universe talking, learn to listen, don’t hesitate, doubt or fear. And acknowledge and encourage those creative sparks in your students. They are, after all, little fragments of the universe like you. Ultimately all is infinite knowledge expressing itself infinitely in infinite space. We’re all reflecting off each other. (Check out the Vedas, quantum physics or go chat to a Swami). We’re all plugged into the same source. The more you learn from your students, the more they’ll learn from you. Open the doors. Let the floods begin! Realise it’s all a game, all a play, all a stage, that nothing is ‘real’, that we all know everything we’ve just forgotten we know it. And have a laugh on the way. Poke fun at your seriosity. And tickle your demons. They’re made of powder-puff fantasy.

    Be honest with your students and yourself. Tell the one you ‘wish would just engage a little more because I really believe that they’d enjoy studying’, just that. Take the ’19 year old that wants to spend all their time with their head buried in a book at the back of the library’ out for a game of frisbee. He/she’ll be glad that someone’s freed them from the tyranny of dusty nerdiness, the slavery of ‘I must achieve/be perfect/win’, the shackles of ‘all knowledge must come from the written word’.

    We’re all on journeys. Use your older person’s wisdom to try and see the individual flames which light up these students’ lives and help to steer them closer to their sources, that which makes them happiest. And by crikey that process will make you happy!

    Be warm. And loving. Kind and compassionate. And acknowledge your humanness. You’re perfect as you are.

    Above all have fun. Enjoy yersel’ laddie.

    You’re a long time dead.

    (Or eternally alive, depending on perspective!)

    Shine on.

    P.S. Feel free to ignore all of the above.

  5. Rabelais permalink*
    March 4, 2010 12:55 pm

    Jaysus, Goofanada,
    I don’t know where to start. I’ve read your comments a couple of times now. First of all I thought you were a Buddhist, which is great because while I tend towards a robust Marxism at work, I like to think I’m a little more Zen at home, especially when pottering about the garden trying to make my herbs and tomatoes grow. But I suspect you’re not a Buddhist at all but one of those new age management consultants that I’m going to be rude about in a forthcoming post. Are you? Some of your comments wouldn’t look out of place in a human resources handbook. You know the sort of thing that blames under-performance on ‘uninspiring’ individuals within the corporation. Anything but continence the notion that failure may be systematic or at the level of management.

    Knowledge about a subject and enthusiasm for it are no guarantee of success in the seminar room these days, especially when the prevailing culture in education and the policies pertaining to it are inimical to learning. And while dressing up as CoCo the fucking clown while giving a candle-lit lecture on commodity fetishism appeals to my inner Dadaist, it will in all likelihood get me thrown off campus and possibly sectioned.

    And yet, Goofanada, once I get past all your extraordinary rhetoric I find that I agree with some of what you say. You emphasise the virtues of being experimental, radical and honest. I approve of all these, especially at university, but in my experience these virtues are in little demand in higher education and in fact can land you in a lot of trouble.

    We live in instrumental, conformist and mendacious times, when banality is presented as something to aspire to. I don’t know what to do about that but I doubt that the ‘magic juice of the universe’ is going to help much. I’ll stick to whiskey – neat.

  6. goofananda permalink
    March 4, 2010 8:38 pm

    Hiya Rabelais,

    No, no new age consultants here!

    Not even someone who has moved within the ranks of any corporate structures at any time in his life.

    Just a misfit creative (artist?) with Zen leanings, bored out of my mind, like you it seems, with homogeneity, conformity and banality.

    Excuse my last post. I donned a new hat. Gushed a bit much I guess. Thought I could light a candle under your bum and inspire some optimism.

    A friend who lectures on media studies/I.T./communication wrote on Facebook how much she found herself identifying with your original post to this thread, with an unwritten but audible heavy sigh. I was curious to see what had provoked such a heavy response, had a peek, and felt moved to write what I did to you. Too much time on my hands perhaps. Then you replied and I got involved.

    So, sorry for the last dose of over-verbose Dada Disney optimism. But it’s a lot more fun than the grey grumbling that normally prevails here in the UK. ‘Hanging on in quiet desperation’..as Pink Floyd puts it…

    Thought for one fleeting instant that I could perhaps inject a little va-va-voom into the proceedings, give you a little encouragement and moral support to go ahead and be a little risque, shake out some of the cobwebs which frustrate you.

    But I’m sure you already knew all of the above. And I know you’ll understand your students and your work situation much better than I. So, sorry for any patronising tom-foolery that you may have interpreted.

    I, (and I’m guessing like you too), look at the state of culture here and think it could be so much more fun, so much more alive, so less full of cardboard people stuck in cardboard roles that were outdated years ago, so less stuffed to the brim with bored rhetoric, pointless tasks, and people asleep at the wheel. For some reason we all seem unable to move on.

    Anyway, I’ve got nothing to say really.

    Just enjoy tapping at keyboards from time to time.

    And I’ve enjoyed our tennis!

    Good luck with your students, and your garden.

    Maybe you’ll find your plants more responsive?

  7. Rabelais permalink*
    March 5, 2010 11:05 am

    Hi Goofanada,
    The injection of ‘va-va voom’ is very much appreciated and I enjoyed your comments. They were thought provoking, infuriating and made me laugh and smile. Here’s to more ‘Dada Disney optimism’ in the future and I hope you call by and comment again soon, Goofanada.

    Best Wishes,
    Rab

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