Students, Goddamn stupid kids, etc.

Rob Schaap rws at
Thu Feb 11 23:22:35 PST 1999

G'day Yanqui observers,

Oz studes enjoy a public education system that is but terminally ill - yours sounds quite dead.

One thing I do notice - here the grade one and two kiddies do harder (and more) work than we did at same age (6 and 7). At high school, they choose their subjects much earlier, and consequently have a narrower and more instrumentalist take on the the world at large and education in particular. The problem is there, I believe. Also, grammar and spelling are not particularly stressed any more. They may have been over-stressed when I was a teenager, but I find punctuation is beyond student and teacher alike these days - making for hopelessly ambiguous and unreadable essays. If we do indeed do our abstract thinking in language, I suggest this might have profound implications for generalised critical capacities throughout society.

BUT, the middle-class 19yos I teach are not beyond reach. One must go with Mike Perelman's prescription (expect the lights to go on in only some eyes, otherwise you'll die a young and disappointed soul), but they do go on. And I'm often surprised at the difference one makes to students who honestly admitted they were bored and uninterested throughout the whole semester (they turn out to be able to do something acceptably thoughtful if they really have to). From this, I jump to the optimistic conclusion that the impact teachers make is not always discernable immediately apre-course. I too was a sullenly resentful adolescent - hated my course and my teachers and thought only of drinking (at which I was good), footy (at which I was okay), and sex (at which I might have been okay; my approach work was so woeful I never really got to find out). A couple of decades down the track, I am much more the product of those people's efforts than ever seemed possible to them or even thinkable to that preoccupied lump of fretting testosterone. Thank gawd most of those people were decent types ...

And, practically, I reckon telling studes the exam questions is a must. You get better scripts to mark 'coz they do 90% of their 'putting-it-all-together'in that last sleepless fortnight - it tends to move them voluntarily to work together, too - which is something all on its own.

And I don't reckon video is much use unless the programme in question is an absolute corker of no more than 30 mins' duration - I even believe in not over-using overheads - copying overheads is a brain-deadening act, and some might confine their note-taking to that alone. Monotone but slightly off-colour humour every ten minutes might act as useful attention-keeper - but then, I tend to be a bit monotonously off-colour anyway - ya gotta play to your strengths, eh?

I suspect they take all this would-be-life-changing-holism with them as a cosmetic tool for dinner parties and such - as they duly don the power suits and make for the maws of the advertising and PR factories. But at least it remains there for some moment when changes to/in their being might excite a sudden sit'n'think, eh?

Cheers, Rob.

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