Wednesday, 19 January 2011

Teaching again

Term has started again and I'm back at the coalface in the dark, dank gloomy chasm that is the mind of the undergraduate.

'Interrogatives', I told the grammar seminar, 'a word derived from the Latin 'inter' meaning 'between' and 'rogare' meaning 'ask' ...' and they looked at me as might a couch potato whom I had just reminded of his need for a twice weekly stroll around the park ...

'What were Balzac's politics?' I ask a class full of French students (as in 'from France'), 'given the joke he has just made about the Palais Bourbon where the National Assembly sits... Well, he was a monarchist, and a sort of lax legitimist during the reign of Louis Philippe [blank faces] You do know who Louis Philippe was, don't you...?' At this point I began again, 'Well, you know place de la Bastille...' and they had the good grace to burst into laughter. Still ...

I love teaching. It's just that I wonder whether they have ever been taught anything ever before they got to university! Apologies to school teachers (for I was one once). I couldn't get my pupils to remember much either!

6 comments:

Sue Sims said...

Oh, they're taught a great deal. Trouble is, most of it is lodged in a small* compartment of the brain labelled 'Knowledge For Exams'. The compartment opens at the beginning of each lesson, shuts tightly at the end (which is why, at the start of the following lesson, the student remembers nothing discussed the previous day), and is then cleaned out just before the appropriate exam. After which, naturally, it's empty again.

To be fair, were it to fill up and stay that way, it might interfere with all the other areas of memory which are stuffed tight with the winners and runners-up of X Factor for the last six years (or whatever), the various celebrity relationships which litter the pages of the tabloids, and the latest developments in EastEnders.

Cynical? Nope - just been teaching girls since 1975, so realistic.

*It has to be small, considering the overall size of their brains...

Richard said...

Perhaps you need to adopt the mannerisms of Professor Kingsfield. The part that starts around :54 http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6afpb26_WEM

Genty said...

It’s been a long time since Matthew Arnold's dictum of "the best which has been thought and said" was thrown out (about the same time as Vatican 2) and pop culture raised to equal, then pre-eminent, status.

In tandem came the prevailing view that the creativity of the little darlings was being stifled by the discipline of learning and that one view was as good as another, however ignorant. Welcome to relativism.

I remember the educational upending well and am not in the least surprised by the result. It seemed to me at the time that many of those who had been given the opportunity to go to university had promptly pulled up the ladder for succeeding generations.

In an office where I was the only non-graduate the 30 and 40-somethings were obsessed by soaps, reality TV and celebrity.They were incapable of logic, their subjective reasoning based on sentiment and emotion. What they knew about the wider world would fit on the back of a postage stamp. They were complacent and, saddest of all, incurious.

My generation has much to answer for. I can only admire educators battling against the "melancholy, long, withdrawing roar". I couldn't do it.

GOR said...

When I first came to the US many years ago I joined a bowling league made up of teams from different departments from my company. Those were the days before automatic scoring machines where you added up the score on paper (as the maximum score is 300, it’s not exactly Advanced Mathematics…). Most people added the score in their heads and then put it on paper. Not so the team from IT, which always had to use a calculator. Knowing that proficiency in Maths is a prerequisite for programmers and IT specialists, this always amazed me. I put it down to mental laziness and the advent of the pocket calculator.

Since then we have had the computer, laptops, Blackberries, the iPhone, iPad, iPod, Kindle, Txt Msging and God knows what else (I’ve stopped counting). The ability to think, to reflect, to recall from memory has gone by the board because now there’s “an App for that”. I fear for the survival of the species…

… and the mental health of teachers!

Richard Collins said...

Coalface? Chalkface surely?

Ches said...

I speak metaphorically, Richard!