Wednesday, 9 November 2011

We don't need no education

Thankfully it was yesterday and not today that I travelled to central London early in the morning and came home walking past the University of London Union building. As you know our young men and women were out demonstrating today, starting at ULU.

Here's Toby Young's comment

and James Delingpole's

and a student's view

I came home frustrated, so frustrated. The only comfort is that today's demo shows that anthropology graduates are not the only ones who live in cloud-cuckoo land.

I had the impression that the workshop I was attending was about getting people within anthropology to think outside the box and say how anthropology could or should be taught so that the richness of anthropological research could be used outside academia.

So I didn't mind a former MA student complain about how her course did not meet her expectations. Great, I thought, such honesty. Department staff have better sit up and take notice. The student is now a "customer". How do we meet their needs?

We had a recent PhD student telling us all the wonderful things he's done: refusing to "give office hours" because as Graduate Teaching Assistants (GTAs) they are not paid for office hours (which I assume means consultation hours, ie making themselves available to students they tutor at regular advertised times).

Prat! I thought. When I was graduate tutor at NUS we all had to have fixed times for consultation. We are not only facilitators at tutorials. We do not only mark essays. We also provide some pastoral care to our students. We knew we had to do that when we agreed to become tutors.

We were not paid a lot of money, but it was our duty of care to the students. We took the responsibility of shaping lives very seriously.

This GTA would only do it if they were given more money.

Then he boasted about not agreeing with the policy of submitting attendance registers to the UK Border Agency. Apparently this was required to help the agency weed out those bogus students who sometimes cause a lot of trouble, either from a terrorist perspective or slipping into the great illegal/informal sector which costs the tax payer a lot of money in the long run.

Prat! I thought. Does he think he is on the moral high ground by simply claiming that he did not want to be "gatekeeper" and agent for the Border Agency?

Has he ever considered: If only we did not have to waste so much time, money and effort tracing the illegals, if only we manage to stop these illegals worming their way into our benefits system and sponging on it, or working in the black market sector without paying due taxes, we would have more money to spend on hospitals and education, pay our academics? Yes! Including him.

So on the one hand he wants to be paid more money. On the other he refuses to safeguard the finite amount of money available to pay people like him. "Eating cake" is the phrase that comes to mind.

Reminds me of the time my friend had heart trouble when visiting the UK. After a short hospital stay he offered to pay his bill as it would be covered by his insurance. But the staff -- presumably also refusing to act a a gatekeeper to a National Health Service -- told him that they would not be contacting his insurer.


That means they now cannot recoup the money spent on him that could be used to treat the next British heart patient who needs a hospital stay. It is the NATIONAL Health Service, not INTERNATIONAL Health Service, for crying out loud.

And then as Anthropology PhD students they didn't like very much having to study statistics .... I thought anthropologists are supposed to provide a holistic perspective.

Young students are allowed to be idealistic.

Most of the time we grow out of it. As we pay taxes, get married, start a family. When thrown into the dog-eat-dog world we begin to realize university is not at all like the real world. Grow up!

However, sometimes, they take this idealism to an unsustainable plane.

It would be a gross understatement to describe the last speaker as such. Despite the grey hair, this speaker does not seem to have grown up.

He rambled on about how he was unemployable, found a job, and then is now unemployable again. He is attempting to overthrow the British government come 30th November and then we can all happily return to being hunter-gatherers, when we would have more time to play, for music, for food, and sex and all that.

Is it any surprise that he has been sacked by a few universities?

He handed out leaflets for a blockade of the "ring of steel" (within which, incidentally, my husband works) that would "bring down the government". Capitalism has had its day, he thinks.

Yet just a few minutes before that this man was happily tucking into a store-bought sandwich in plastic wrapping carried in an orange plastic carrier bag, and drinking water out of a plastic cup, poured from a plastic bottle. Where would he be hunting and gathering if nobody now makes sandwiches for sale?

Is he any good at all with a rifle, I wondered. (I was pretty good at air rifle myself.) He would need something to hunt with. What happens when there are no more capitalists to make rifles for him to hunt?

O well, maybe he is good with a slingshot.

If these are the images that the British people have of anthropologists, no wonder anthropology departments are having trouble recruiting. Would parents across the country encourage their children to study this subject if all they could get up to is complain about everything?

What have they done today to make them feel proud?

What have they done in the last two weeks to make the world a better place?

How much taxpayers' money have they wasted today simply on the policing cost?

And what are they saying? I have a right to education, whatever that may mean. The taxpayer should fund my studies. Even if it means the hospital attendant, the school cleaning lady and the checkout girl at the supermarket must pay for it.

After all that cerebral exercise it was so good to return to sewing and making physical things with my own hands today.

Please tell me your views of anthropology graduates. Thank you.

No comments: