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

Questions:

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.

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You’ll Get Over It (obscenity warning).

When I was a kid at school my teacher called me something that no teacher would, or could, ever call a pupil today.  He called me a ****.  I was twelve, and so were the other twenty nine sniggering boys who were in the room at the time.

A bit of background.  Every Monday my clarinet lesson was smack in the middle of the morning, which disrupted my Technical Drawing class, a joyless class where we learnt to draw perfect circles with dangerously sharp compasses and dissect them with straight lines.  To ask permission to leave the lesson, I had to go through this wretched pantomime of putting up my hand, and him saying;

What is it Noble?”

And me saying, or stammering rather;

I’ve got a…a clarinet lesson, sir.” 

And every Monday brought a new insult.  Here’s one.

Off to your banjo lesson again are we?

Despite predating by some thirty years my acute interest in Appalachian music, I nevertheless felt it necessary to correct his use of the first person plural “we”….oh no, that was a dream I had….no I was terrified of him actually.  And the Boomtown Rats had just released “I Don’t Like Mondays”.  People said about Frank Sinatra, they said it felt like he was singing just for you, and Bob Geldof’s piercing whine went similarly to my bobby socked core.

So the **** marked a new development in this man’s reign of terror.  Often, he would grace our drawings with epigrams like “well done, 3/10”, thoroughly deserved when a dissecting line was one or two degrees out of whack.   Evidently it was important to start priming the kids who would go on to push Technical Drawing into the future, the men from the boys as it were, the men who were twelve from the boys who were twelve.  Many a pre-adolescent boy’s dream of a glittering future that was somehow bathed in knowledge of angles and set squares was dashed on the rocks of Mr Wrack’s brutal marking system.

Anyway, the word has fascinated me since.  It inspires such fear and hushed disapproval.  To say this word, you have to be with a social group possessing an almost molecular familiarity with each other, because in any other situation it is a huge risk.  It’s an admission of baseness, a declaration of debauchery, it reveals in its messenger a complete and absolute lack of consideration for the feelings of anyone else.  To say **** is a sacrilegious act.

There are many good hearted people in the world, and some are religious and some are not.  Many of the latter (I suppose I would like to count myself among them) take comfort in the smug knowledge that we do not believe in anything that does not conform to hard science, that is received wisdom masquerading as fact, that takes allegorical stories as historical document, that views as obscene anything that breaks rules originating in the faded and remote histories of places unseen and unknowable.  Finally, the hard won common sense nurtured by our up-to-date knowledge and enlightened democracy has triumphed over old world superstition, mired as it was in the shock and awe of religious splendour and corruption.  We see things from every angle, we refuse to bow to prejudice in any way, and in doing so we walk on brave and strong into a new world of understanding.  It’s really great.

“Erm, did someone just say the c word?  I don’t use that word.”

“Why not?”

“It’s ugly.”

“What does that mean?”

“Well, you know, it’s….”

“Shunt, punt, hunt, grunt, runt.”

“It degrades a part of the human body that for some is…”

“Prick.  Cock.”

It’s like arguing for dinosaurs against a Creationist.

Should words have rights?  I am angered and upset by the discrimination against this word on the basis of ugliness (this would not work if **** were a person), inappropriateness (oh come on, what does that mean), sexism (in a world where “dickhead” is so often the only word left to describe such a huge range of people in life).  ****.  Listen to the sound of it, its perfect bluntness, it’s over in a moment but it leaves such a glorious dent in any conversation.  Maybe it’s too good for us?  Maybe we have not yet proven ourselves worthy of its use?  I think we need to show some humility in the face of a word like this.

 

So what does this have to do with music?  Well, sitting at the piano and trying to find the next section for a piece of music I had written, I found the perfect foil in some Elton John-styled chords, which got me thinking of the eighties, then school, and then this very story.  Mr Wrack.  Icon of my school days.  Immortalised forever in my tune of the same title.  Who’s laughing now?

What a cunt.

An eye for a bargain.

“Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them: for this is the law and the prophets.”  Matthew 7:12, The Bible (King James Version).

Heady words indeed.  Put yourself in their shoes.  And so, with this in mind I have embarked upon an online course in photography.  Part of my daily life has involved the infliction of teaching, the battering of knowledge into poor, defenceless students.  I thought it was about time I had done unto me whatever I was doing unto them.  Obviously as a teacher I can’t afford the three million pounds a week that learning costs these days, so I went for an online offer that knocked 90 percent off.  A whole series of videos for twenty quid.

I have tried this before with golf.  I made the mistake of thinking that a good teacher can turn you into something you weren’t before.  I was not a golfer and, after several weeks and at great cost, I remained lacking in that area.  He was not a great teacher, being a golf professional who had never quite made Ryder Cup status and found himself in a field near Chingford talking about the specific trajectory of the wrists in a golf swing to someone who had no idea where his arms were unless he was looking at them.  I had enough physical coordination to walk and to use opposable thumbs to an intermediate level.  I had no ability and I wanted to know if I could gain some.  I realise now that it was not his to give.

So, back to photography.  I bought a camera some years ago, and have dabbled a bit, picking up bits of information here and there, making lots of mistakes and coming up with the odd good photograph.  I suppose I’m at that stage where every time you learn something, you increase your knowledge by fifty percent; somewhere near the bottom, comfortable, occasionally excited, salivating at equipment I can’t afford that I still believe will take a good photograph for me.  I know enough to have an idea that a photograph is good, and not enough to know that it could be better.  It’s just a bit of fun.

So, full of all of this, I eagerly log on to my first lesson.  A voice says hello, and welcomes me to this course in photography basics.  Straight away, he sounds like he doesn’t want to be there.  He isn’t there, it’s a recording.  But he sounds like he doesn’t even want to be that.  He sounds hungover, irritated at the thought he has to go over the relationship of aperture to shutter speed again.  It’s as if he has to be there every time someone plays this video, he has to struggle out of bed after a night out with his photography friends who already know about the effect of light on a landscape, about the Rule Of Thirds, about a raised hand too close to the lens that distracts and clutters.

This is not irritating at all, just vaguely amusing.  And after a few episodes, I am getting to like this guy; it seems that the longer we spend time together, the more he is warming to me. He understands that I am keen to learn, and that hearing the basic tenets of his craft explained again and again in slightly different ways is hypnotising me into understanding them.  Sometimes he gets into arguments with himself, and starts to bring what seem like like aspects of his life experience into the monologues;

“…it’s all about direction, it’s up and down and left and right and forwards and backwards.  You can’t just look forwards.  Believe you me, I know people in life who only look forwards, never to the right or the left, and especially never behind them.  And it’s unbelievable.”

This is totally irrelevant, and almost completely non sensical, but the message is getting through.  As I type this, I am distracted by the bookmark that says “photo course” in my browser, I can’t wait for the next instalment.  There is a lot of stuff I already know.  But to know it again is to know it better, as if repetition has its place in learning as well as in practice.  And occasionally he will tell me something that changes everything and declutters my brain, something is demystified.  But it’s importance often goes seemingly unnoticed, maybe it’s one sentence in the middle of a rant about light (only a photographer could have a rant about light) or a casual aside about diagonal lines receding into focal points.  But what is happening is that I am starting to trust this guy, or the voice of this guy, whose name I can’t remember.  I can see beyond the gravelly croak of his despondent delivery into the world of his visual imagination.  The surface of a person is such a resilient and persuasive advertisement, it’s catchy and attention grabbing, but the real stuff is underneath.  The real stuff is the number of times he has picked up a camera and done something with it that works, minus the number of times I have done that.  The shortfall is the reason I am persevering with it.  That and the twenty quid.

I think it’s useful to be taught something if one is teaching others.  I think I was looking for some kind of salutary lesson about how difficult it is to learn, how people who teach don’t understand their students and the obstacles that the gaining of knowledge and experience present.  Instead, I realised that as a student, it’s often your engagement with a subject that makes the teaching effective.  You have some ability already, and the teacher brings it out, directs it, sometimes enhances it.  I suppose i knew this already, but to experience it directly is a good lesson.   It’s easy to throw tennis balls at people and blame yourself for the fact that no one catches them.  But they have to jump.  And they might realise that the jumping is the fun bit.  Obviously, there are some people that just aim for the head and throw as hard as possible, in which case the lesson is to duck.

I think I’ve got enough mileage out of that analogy for now, maybe it’s time for a creative writing course.  When I find one I’ll skip to the chapter on endings.

Merry Christmas.