Baby bottles for education

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?

English: Girl with a feeding bottle

English: Girl with a feeding bottle (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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.

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4 thoughts on “Baby bottles for education

  1. Fabulous! So well put! I have some major concerns about attitudes towards reading in schools and at universities. I mean, where do most students think knowledge comes from other than from reading? Lecture slides? Seriously?

    Have you read The Shallows by Nicholas Carr? It’s a great book on how the internet is changing the way we read, think and remember and goes a long way in explaining our diminishing abilities in reading complex, extended texts. Definitely worth a read.

    • Hi Nicole — Thanks for your visit and comment. No, I haven’t read The Shallows. I’ll add it to my reading list. It sounds like a worth read. I’m glad you suggested it. So thanks. I don’t think we have understood the how profound are social and psychic transformations wrought by internet. So I’ll be happy to read it.

  2. If all lecturers were to write in this fashion, and most students would care enough to read the written, the rising “standards” of baby bottle education would gradually decrease. How painful it is to come from a poor background and fall victim to the student lifestyle we witness today.

    You come to tertiary having high hopes and dreams, leave every November with a hung down head and a huge worry about whether you’ve made it or not. This is not because the person does not do the work right, it is simply because they do not know what they are here for. Once you figure that one thing out about yourself, then you will realise whether you’re doing the right thing or falling for the wrong thing. Before that happens, get ready to fail miserably.

    • Thanks, Lesego, for your comments. Everything is in fast pace. We grow faster nowadays but mature much later in life. The world’s complexity increases faster than ever before. So it confuses us. We fail to focus on anything. Fail to know or discover what we want. Careers for life or jobs for life will soon be no more. Because things (including careers and jobs) come and go quite fast. The test is whether we will be able to reinvent, rebrand and reorient ourselves continually and fast enough to keep up with the changes.

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