Education, Education, Education

In which The Author has the six-week blues

It’s the eighth week of my course and I’ve got the six-week blues.
While returning to university has been the best thing that’s happened to me since I met Emma, I seem to spend a lot of time explaining stuff to people who should (in theory, at least) already know it. On Saturday I had a drink with my old friend Ian L., the hairdresser (see ‘Monday, Bloody Monday‘). He told me about the course he did a couple of years ago, as part of which they were taught ‘basic skills’ – incidentally, the same thing that Carys is interested in teaching.
Ian and his fellow mature students were in class with a group of recent school-leavers. He was shocked by the fact that they’d gone through the entire compulsory education system and emerged unable to read, write or do arithmetic to a reasonable standard.
I’ve been similarly shocked by the level of general ignorance among some of my fellow students. In the course of a single day a couple of weeks ago, I had to define the words ‘seldom’, ‘succumbed’ and ‘exonerate’ to Sammy H., a nice little girl in my Combined Studies group. To make matters worse, none of those words was used in isolation, as though it was just a quick crossword clue. Seldom occurred as part of a Lickert Scale questionnaire, alongside Always, Quite Often, Occasionally, and Never, thereby enabling one to work out the meaning simply from the context. Succumbed turned up in a Psychology lecture on infidelity, and once again the context made its meaning obvious. Exonerated was mentioned in Criminalistics, when Richard P. was talking about the role of forensic evidence in the courts.
During a Forensic Science tutorial a couple of days later, twenty-three young students and I were examining a life-size model of a human skull. To the lecturer’s amusement, and everyone else’s bemusement, I was the only one of the group who yielded (or maybe succumbed) to temptation, held the skull at arm’s length, and said ‘Alas, poor Yorick.’ It went over everyone else’s head.
Twenty-five yars ago, we’d have been queueing up to do that! There was even a lager advert which parodied the graveyard scene:

Considering that David Tennant’s portrayal of the Dane was a must-see at Stratford for much of last year, I thought somebody might have at least chuckled. Or maybe I should just reconsider my theatrical aspirations …
Last week, I had to show two of my colleagues in Psychology how to save a file created in OpenOffice in a Microsoft-compatible form. Now, I’m a few months short of my forty-fourth birthday, and everything I know about software is what I’ve gleaned over years of potching. I’m probably missing something very obvious a lot of the time, but I get by. I managed to construct a slide show in OpenImpress last Friday, from a standing start and with a couple of pints under my belt. My colleagues have been surrounded by computers all their lives. They’ve grown up taking this stuff for granted – but they still need my help to do something pretty straightforward.
That general ignorance isn’t confined to the students, unfortunately. In one of our Psychology lectures, we were discussing how children develop their reasoning skills. Gareth M. illustrated his point by describing how a child will make a transition from unstructured play to a more ‘scientific’ approach of working out how something works. His particular example was a pendulum – and I had to tell him which of the variables determines the period of oscillation. I don’t think anyone else in the room knew either.
Gill A. told us last week that Melvyn Bragg was from the North-East of England. He isn’t. He was born in Wigton, in Cumbria, on the other side of the country.
I emailed Richard over the weekend, asking if I could have another attempt at a practical exercise which we did two weeks ago. I was working with Siân D., another mature student, who’s experiencing a lot of difficulty getting to grips with the course. We wasted at least a quarter of our allotted two hours while she struggled to get her head around the metric system. I haven’t got all the data to complete the sketch. Richard emailed me back, saying that it accounts for only five per cent of the module and that I should just submit whatever I come up with. Consequently, I’m going to fuck this exercise up completely.
The slide show I was working on in the bar is part of a group exercise in Psychology with Sammy H, Emma, Siân and Angharad. I wasn’t able to do the data collection, as I had flu that week. They took the questionnaires around Treforest and got forty people to respond – thirty men and ten women. When we got back together, we needed a further twenty women to balance the sample. I told them to leave it to me.
I went to the coffee shop of the nursing school on the other campus, and found twenty female piss-artists within five minutes. Then I fired up the Netbook and started a spreadsheet to collate the data I had with me. The girls joined me later on, and I was able to put all our data into a manageable form.
Gareth sent a mass email last week, cancelling his regular Thursday tutorial and inviting everyone to join the Friday group instead. It would have been the ideal opportunity for us to sit down and put our presentation together. I was the only one of our group to turn up. One problem with Combined Studies is that we get a lot of timetable clashes, but surely they weren’t all otherwise occupied at noon on Friday.
I know Siân’s got family commitments, but her heart isn’t in it. When we did the fingerprints practical, we had to write fake details on the record cards. I wrote Siân’s name and in the box for ‘Charge’, I wrote ‘Extreme Self-Doubt’. She laughed, but I think she knew there was more than a grain of truth in it.
Emma’s a nice kid, but she’s young and seems to drift through the lectures. Last week, she and Sammy spent most of Tim R.’s lecture doodling. I don’t think they were paying any attention.
On Friday, during his rescheduled tutorial, Gareth asked me where the rest of my group was. I said his guess was as good as mine. I told him that I was losing faith with the rest of them, and that I’d probably try to join another group for any further projects.
James E., Dan, Nicky H., Nadine and the other Steve seem to be fairly together, although there’s a bit of a free-for-all approach. Maybe someone a bit older, with reasonable organizational skills and some experience of delegation, would be a good addition to their team. I told Richard the same thing in my email, and he said that he’s prepared to take a flexible approach to groupwork. I’m afraid I might have to leave Siân to her own devices and team up with someone else who shows a bit of commitment.
I’ve been out of the education system for most of my life, and I’m not going to throw away this opportunity to do well. I’ve already had one assignment assessed. It was for Creative Writing. I didn’t really enjoy it. I wasn’t happy with my first piece, so I scrapped it and started from scratch.
Catherine returned our assignments last week. I had seventy-two per cent – equivalent to a First. I don’t know what the others got, but I don’t think Danielle was too happy. It’s fired me up now – I’m determined to maintain that pace, and if I leave the others behind, then I’m afraid I’m going to have to do it.
Mind you, it’s not all doom and gloom. On Thursday I decided I’d wear a collar to lectures for the first time. Nobody commented on it, but when I was in the restaurant lunchtime Nadine asked if she could join me. Until now we’ve acknowledged each other in lectures, but we hadn’t spoken much, if at all. I got to Stephen L.’s lecture earlier than the others on Thursday afternoon, and found a decent seat behind a gang of female Police Science students. Immediately, they turned round and started talking to me.
On Friday, Nicky immediately commented on my ‘new look’, and kept referring to it on and off throughout the next two hours. Later on, when I was in the bar working on my slide show, Sarah T. came over and invited me to join her and her friends on their table. It could just be a coincidence that I’m suddenly attracting all this female attention, but whatever’s caused it – I’m not complaining!

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