Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Out of touch already

Our department recently had a vote regarding whether, when our students get their final exam results posted up, they should be identified via their names, or via their library card number. Apparently, a lot of students had complained that it is very stressful to get their results, and for other people to see them, especially if they have not done very well.

Anyway, at our departmental meeting last week we all had a vote on it (there is a wonderful chapter in Malcolm Bradbury's The History Man which describes the banality and ridiculousness of university departmental meetings), and it was voted to go with library card numbers from now on.

I voted to keep names, aligning myself with the mainly old white men in the department, who argued that it is a matter of pride to have your name up, and that we are supposed to be preparing our students for the real world, where people's failures or successes tend to be a lot more public.

Perhaps I'm just being horrible. For some reason our students do seem to get very stressed about their exams, moreso than I did in the early 1990s (when there was a recession on and jobs were incredibly scarce - oddly though, none of us seemed to get that worked up about our marks). In the previous few years though, it's not uncommon for a student to have a panic attack in the exam hall and have to leave. And requests for extensions for coursework are increasingly common. At my university, there wasn't such thing as a coursework extension. And it was seen as incredibly uncool to turn up to an Open Day with mum and dad in tow. Now it's normal, and we lay on special talks for parents. On the other hand, we've been told that our university gives out too many low marks and not enough firsts - and that other universities are giving out higher marks, so we a) "do a disservice to our own students" and b) "our university's national rating is lower than it should be, because it is partly based on the grades that students get". So with the exam marking I did at the weekend, I made sure that after I'd marked the papers, I gave an extra 5 marks to everyone, ensuring that there were more "firsts" than in previous years. Give things another 30 years, and everyone will be getting a first. All of these things, I feel somehow are "wrong". Yet perhaps the argument that we are supposed to prepare our students for the outside world is true - if the outside world is changing too.

So I realise though, that I am becoming increasingly out of touch with popular attitudes in Britain. Somehow, in the last 5 years, I turned into Colonel Disgruntled of the Home Counties. On reading this story, about yet another horrific murder of a teenager, I was struck by the phrase "Police are keen to identify the young man, who is Asian and smartly dressed in white tracksuit bottoms, a white "Bench" top and black trainers." When did wearing tracksuit bottoms mean smartly dressed? When people start going on about buying composters for all their rubbish and announcing that they cycle to work to save the environment I want to scream at them "What's so great about the human race that we deserve saving?" When yet another of my "friends" starts talking about how they had such a great night out the other night, which involved getting so drunk they couldn't walk, and then having to spend most of Sunday in bed, I just think "How is this fun?" When I turn on the BBC news and realise that any story about football, such as whether the manager of Chelsea is going to resign, is given priority over real news, I just don't get it. When you can buy jewellry for little girls with the Playboy logo on it, and tv shows like CSI are considered entertainment, all I can think is why? And when the Labour party have carried out changes to the tax rates so that my dad (who is a school caretaker) is actually taking home less money than before, I realise there is no longer any political party left in the country that I can vote for.

So the vote over exam results is just one thing out of many where I feel that I've been left behind, and that my own opinions and interests are no longer popular. I suspect it can only get worse. And I suspect that this is what everyone feels like as they get older. I just never thought it would happen to me.


P.Brownsey said...

You forgot to mention the pressure to mark up bad work on the grounds that the student is dyslexic, "dyslexia" rapidly becoming a sort of catch-all phrase for every intellectual weakness including 'difficulty in organizing thoughts logically' and 'slowness at processing information'.

(I'm a lecturer, too.)

Lost Boy said...

I too am beginning to feel like the last dinosaur. The world has never seemed so shit/ brilliant as it does now. I can't imagine what's coming next; we seem to be consuming and experiencing everything at a ligthning-fast rate.