National Student Survey, 1263

(…George Benson believed that the children are our future, and I guess only time will tell on that one. It’s great students can voice their opinion these days, but this is nothing new. Going through the bins in the library, I found this ancient manuscript of what appears to be a partially completed National Student Survey originating in a Medieval Kyoto monastery.  Cautiously unfolding the parchment,  I transcribed what I could, as it was written mostly in Chinese characters of which I have no knowledge at all; anyway I did my best.  Known for its rigorous enforcement of a strict master/student protocol, medieval Japanese monasteries nevertheless enthusiastically encouraged student feedback in questionnaires eerily similar to those today.  I have updated this account a bit in order to try and make it more relevant so now young people can understand it too…)

Date : April 4th, 1263

Subject : Enlightenment Foundation Module

National Student Survey


The teaching on my course1. Staff are good at explaining things.

2. Staff have made the subject interesting.

3. The course is intellectually stimulating.

4. My course has challenged me to achieve my best work.

I don’t like the way staff explain things at all actually.  First of all, it seems we have to do all the work, it’s all questions and no answers. He asked us what the sound of one hand clapping was. I did it, I clapped one hand and the teacher was like, but there’s no sound and I was like, I know but isn’t that just your opinion (which the teacher seems to think is important by the way). I tried it again. I watched a girl on YouTube try it, and her results were the same despite having fifty thousand likes on a video sharing platform that doesn’t exist yet. Not a whisper. Try it. Clap one hand, nothing comes out. It’s just lame.  Two hands clapping is apparently cheating, breaking the “***rules***“.  Rules are just a way of limiting our self expression, in my opinion.

Learning opportunities5. My course has provided me with opportunities to explore ideas or concepts in depth.

6. My course has provided me with opportunities to bring information and ideas together from different topics.

7. My course has provided me with opportunities to apply what I have learnt.

Look, I have a lot of ideas, and especially a lot of concepts, which are like ideas in that you don’t have to do anything.  My teacher said, that’s great, you should explore them, but this lesson isn’t the place.  I said isn’t that just your opinion.  He hit me with a large stick.

Assessment and feedback8. The criteria used in marking have been clear in advance.

9. Marking and assessment has been fair.

10. Feedback on my work has been timely.

11. I have received helpful comments on my work.

Marking is rubbish here.  I definitely don’t like being assessed.  Apparently there’s no guarantee that I will get a good mark although I paid a fortune to come to this place.  I get feedback but some of it is critical and that makes me sad, representing bad value for money.  My teacher said some of the best lessons he had made him sad, and the sadness enabled him to seek out what he needed in order to improve.  He also said that you wouldn’t feel like that if you didn’t have to pay for your education.  I said exactly, that’s why you should give me good marks. This time I saw the stick coming and got out of the way in time.  The teacher smiled.  He said I had at last learnt something.

Academic support12. I have been able to contact staff when I needed to.

13. I have received sufficient advice and guidance in relation to my course.

14. Good advice was available when I needed to make study choices on my course.

15. The course is well organised and running smoothly.

16. The timetable works efficiently for me.

17. Any changes in the course or teaching have been communicated effectively.

I must say things are pretty efficient here, there are lots of emails about doors working, then not working and then working again.  I know every detail of the well being of every entrance mechanism in the building.  This makes me feel empowered.  The timetable of getting up at 4am, eating rice and then meditating for twelve hours every day (until enlightenment comes) is quite simple to follow, except one day I missed it because it wasn’t in my calendar, so on that day it didn’t “work efficiently for me” as I wasn’t there. There is definitely room for improvement here.

Learning resources18. The IT resources and facilities provided have supported my learning well.

19. The library resources (e.g. books, online services and learning spaces) have supported my learning well.

20. I have been able to access course-specific resources (e.g. equipment, facilities, software, collections) when I needed to.

Libraries are so uncool, scrolls and all that shit are just not edgy enough for the way I like to do things.  I prefer my own vibe.  Other people have already done things, now it’s my turn.

Learning community21. I feel part of a community of staff and students.

22. I have had the right opportunities to work with other students as part of my course.

This is true, I get to sit in silence for twelve hours next to people I like who, like me, are silent.  Some days, we all get together and try, again, to clap with one hand, which is like silence but with aching arms.

Student voice23. I have had the right opportunities to provide feedback on my course.

24. Staff value students’ views and opinions about the course.

25. It is clear how students’ feedback on the course has been acted on.

26. The students’ union (association or guild) effectively represents students’ academic interests.

True feedback is found in the clear mirror of your quiet self, they tell me.  This is the kind of shit we have to put up with.  I tried to complain about the clapping thing. Apparently it’s kind of a riddle, and there’s no definitive answer, which means the mark is totally random.  I said, how long will it take me to work it out.  My teacher said, ten years.  And if I try really hard?  Twenty years, he said.  If I was allowed my stick in class, I calculate I could just about break his nose from here.

Overall satisfaction

27. Overall, I am satisfied with the quality of the course.

The course is a journey, life is a journey, life is suffering.  Satisfaction is superficial, coming only to those who do not embrace true and constant change.  Quality is an illusion, all is vanity.  I don’t know what is left of this question, or how to answer it.  Instead I sit, and I think what now.

Nothing to see

My kids are asleep.  It’s 7am and I have been encouraging a kind of premature blindness by watching music on my phone.  My new meditation cushion, looking for a moment like a huge blood red eye, fixes me with its glare.  I decide to start, you have to start somewhere and my somewhere is now.

So, like I say, I decide to start.  Sitting isn’t easy at the best of times, seems an unruly way to arrange oneself, and is usually done with the aid of that great invention of the civilised world, that enemy of good posture, the chair.  Shoving another couple of cushions under the red-eyed zaku I manage to get almost comfortable.  I am trying to relax and stay upright.  I have no idea what upright is, I have little idea of what relaxed means.  I take a wild guess on both and let my eyelids drop – I see the curve of the wall under the window, above it the jagged bottom edge of the white curtains.  It’s too bright in here, even for Winter.  I start, losing my balance almost immediately.  I change my position a little, I start.  Again.



There is a sudden sensation, feels like pins and needles, pins and needles running towards my head and spreading across my chest.  I remember something about breathing – I start to do it.  My shoes are just on the right of my field of vision, they are….loud… I can’t stand their presence there, then suddenly they are gone.  Or something that the shoes represent is gone.   The acceptance of the shoes is part of this process.  Now they are just a pair of shoes.  What kind of progress is this, I am thinking, the shoes were shoes, then they were loud shoes, now they are shoes again.

There is an itch in the small of my back, further up a kind of shimmering pain that glides across my shoulders only to disappear as I remember that I have never watched a Berg opera, I am scared of talking to people on the phone, I am behind with everything and my back hurts.   Letting thoughts come and go slows nothing down, they move faster and faster like boys and girls spilling out of a classroom at lunchtime, and with all the attendant noise and confusion. The shoes are back.

The curtain’s edge now looks almost violent against the straight, calm lines of the laminated floor.  There is a point at which I suddenly feel that I am not here, my edges have dissolved, an invisible narrator in a film about the lines created by the jagged edge of a curtain against the parallel laminated floor.  That same feeling I get when I’m playing and it’s going well.  And then it’s gone again.  A passing signal on a short wave radio.  There is no emptyyourmindsloweverythingdownbecomeonewiththeworld thing, it feels like a roller coaster ride through a deserted amusement park, rushing past colourful billboards advertising all the self-defeating crap in my head.   Sitting still and almost unable to move now, I realise how quickly the mind seems to pull inward thoughts and feelings, images and ideas, how it is in the pulling, the exertion, that they seem to exist and flourish.  This movement all feels real, physical, not a transcendent feeling (apparently that would be pretty good going for my first try…), more immersive, like the difference between riding in a luxury car and sitting inside the engine that drives it.  Something like the bracing reality of a stroll on the cold pier of a coastal town when that crisp air hits you.

By the time it is over, a half hour period marked by the awful digital chimes of the iPhone alarm clock, I feel like I was just getting somewhere.  Or nowhere.  I was just getting nowhere when the awful chimes stopped me in my tracks.

It is strange to report that my first half an hour of meditation, or “sitting down not on a chair and with no external stimulus”, produced such striking results.  Aware of the traditional long haul associated with this practice, I am guessing I am at some kind of pre-amateur delusional stage.  For the moment I’m enjoying the nursery slopes.