The academic year comes to an end. With all the due dates piling up, students are under pressure. They played no part in that pressure. They didn’t see it coming. They couldn’t have. How could they? Stuff just happens to them. No agency. No will. It’s a pile of structure coming down and hard on them. Or are things left till the last minute? I mean, the papers, the reading, the preparation for the finals?
I have seen many come to class with nothing. Literally. No pen. No pencil. No notebook. Ney, they bring their smart phones — the blackberries, the iphones, the galaxies, you name it. They text away throughout the class. Twitter. Facebook. WhatsApp. BBM. They chitchat. Fuck the colleagues sitting next to them. So rebuked them. It’s like you’re not speaking to them. What you say gets in the head through one ear and out through the other in a matter of seconds. And you are back to square one.
You thought university was for reading, investigating and learning. That’s true for the exceptional ones. The sad truth is that a lot of them don’t read, don’t investigate, don’t learn. Ever! Why bother with reading? It’s hard work. It’s boring. It’s a drag. Not even the study-guide. Those who read, attend lectures and take notes are deviations from the standard. They are easily identifiable. And they do well. I got the shock of my life when a student was dismayed I expected him and his colleagues to actually read. How could I expect university students to read? What planet did I come from? These are the most senior university students. It’s the last few weeks before the end of their degree programs.
If they don’t read. If they don’t take notes. How do they expect to get through the course? Good question. They expect me, the lecturer, to hand over my slides. Why not? Is it not their right? Are they not entitled to them? They can strike for slides. Slides – the only thing they plan to read. But read them just before the test. That’s why they must know what will and won’t be in the test. What’s the scope of the test? What’s the structure of the exam? What’s the mark allocation? How many questions will be there? They ask. You’d think after getting all these questions answered to their satisfaction they’ll obtain exceptional makes. Well, think again. Everytime I hear any of these questions I die inside. They want all the possible questions. Not orally. In writing. Writing is my job. Not theirs. It’s their right. It’s their entitlement to know all the possible questions. They paid for it. Or didn’t they? Believe it or not, a student writes to:
We have been programmed to think that’s the right way of learning. To be spoon fed all the way to the finish line. It’s what Olivier is talking about in his article really, we are testimonies of what he titled the crisis in higher education! [As you can see, this student is an exception among her peers. She’s a reader. That’s why she can make reference to Olivier’s article]
In the first week I announced that there would be no slides. To try to wean them from the habit. It’s painful. They don’t like it. They hate it so passionately. Baby bottle paraphernalia, bottle feeding, which the system sells to them as education. They buy it. They consume it. They get bloated. They love it. They enjoy it. How dare I try to snatch it from them? Hell no! Allas! But the most celebrated pedagogo in South Africa, Es’kia Mphahlele, says: Read, read, read until it hurts; or else you are not learning? To hell with this dead old man! To hell with his pedagogies!
In the end I realized that though they blame the system for the deteriorating education quality, they themselves have, in fact, in very deed, become the system without they realizing it. I realized it was too late for them. I realized there was no hope for them. They wanted the structure. They wanted to scope. They wanted their baby bottles. Baby bottles, baby milk, baby feeding, mistaken for education. They wouldn’t have it any other way. So I gave it to them.
There are pleasures to be had drinking baby milk for education. No doubt. There is a price to be paid for doing it. No doubt.