I remember believing in so much when I was younger. I remember believing that my life was nothing more than a movie that some director forgot to stop; I always thought there was a man running alongside the cars or buses I was riding in. I swore there was a ghost in my grandmother’s upstairs rooms, that there were talking weasels in my attic, that were there child-eating monsters in my basement, and that snakes lived in the toilet. I believed a lot of silly things.
But I also believed in a lot of things that have stayed with me. Particularly, I believed in the importance of education; this was something that wasn’t taught to my parents, but they made sure to teach this lesson to me. And it’s been something that has been the driving force in nearly everything I do: to learn as much as humanly possible. It’s what makes me read everything I can, watch educational videos, or do things to learn about them; it’s what makes me curious and want to know whatever it is that I can. It’s what makes me enjoy people engaging in intellectual debates with me and explaining the other side to a situation.
It’s why, as a child, I wanted to go to kindergarten a year earlier than the school district’s restrictions allowed; it’s why I had a vendetta against them that led to me graduating a year early against their advice. It’s why I went off to university, and it’s why I came out with two degrees in areas I love more than anything: history and anthropology. It’s part of why I taught at a school for foster youth for a couple years, and it’s why I moved to Australia to get a post-graduate degree in teaching. It’s why, when I became jaded with two countries’ systems of education, I continued my studies on another post-graduate program in an area I’m passionate about: the environment.
And now, it’s why I hate how universities are structured. It’s why I’m perplexed by its continued existence, and it’s part of why I will happily explain to anyone that it is not necessary and is nothing more than a money pit.
I started out doing a teaching degree when I moved to Australia, and it was something that I was looking forward to because I wanted – and, honestly, still want – to teach and work with students; I wanted to be one of those teachers who could show them how important it is to learn whatever they can about whatever they could. But I soon fell cynical to the entire teacher-training process. I sat through classes where they told us that we couldn’t ‘talk at our students’ as they talked at us, rarely allowing us to have an opinion; I went through on-site “training” where no one was really accountable for what I learned when I was in a school and frequently told me to “do something I could be better at” without explaining to me what I’d done badly. I wasted time on assignments that I felt were useless and did nothing to make me a better teacher while simultaneously being told to create assessments that were meaningful to my students. I sat through a class on diversity where the lecturer simply couldn’t do more than tell me that ‘kids were different from each other,’ as if I couldn’t have deduced that from my experiences with all other people in my daily life.
It really made me start asking questions. Why was it okay for them to completely contradict themselves? Why was it okay to give me meaningless assignments? Why was it okay that they could just stick me in a school for a number of hours with no one really being accountable for helping me, even though they pay ‘supervising’ teachers to take on student teachers?
At the end of it, I came away with the feeling that they don’t care about me so long as they’ve got my money. They don’t really seem to care what happens to me during or after university, which was even more apparent in having a course in the master’s program where students had to find a job on their own to even complete it; the only other option was to defer until a later semester.
So I changed programs to something I thought I could keep believing in; I switched to something else I wanted to do, thinking there might be more teaching involved and student assistance. And again, I was wrong. None of the classes focused on anything. They’ve merely been some individual who knows a lot about something talking at me about it for three hours at a time; they’ve refused to engage me in discussions, to try to talk about anything in the topic. Every time they do an assessment, they don’t give any functional criteria; it becomes a game of mind-reading, and I’m not a telepath.
I’m not trying to say these people who are teaching me don’t care; some of them, to some degree, must care enough to try. I do feel that most of the people I interact with, though, are doing it because it’s a pay-check; they’re doing it because this was what they found, and they don’t care as long as they make a living from it. It’s the same in all areas of education. There are tons of primary and secondary teachers who genuinely care, but there are those who couldn’t give crap if they tried. It’s mixed, and that’s how all jobs are; there are people who love it and want to improve it, and there are people who are just there because someone’s paying them to be.
But I’m constantly dealing with lecturers who, when I ask a question, tell me to “refer to the course outline.” It doesn’t matter what I ask; that is their response. I have lecturers who openly acknowledge that they’re boring and bad instructors, that they could be doing a better job; they do nothing to improve themselves. I have tutorials being taught to me by students who took the course last year, and they do nothing more than give me the answers to worksheets rather than help me work through problems I don’t understand. I have instructors who give me criteria that may as well read “do an assignment on something” because it tells me nothing useful about what I’m supposed to do.
And the really annoying thing for me, though, is that the entire university experience feels like some factory assembly line; it feels like no one cares, no one wants to help, and no one wants to address any issues. They just want to push me on through, without really caring if I’m functioning at the right level or not. They ask for feedback to make us feel better, but they never want to use it. There is a massive disconnect, and it’s more than apparent.
So I want to propose something. If universities are going to continue running as the business they clearly are, I want to have the same consumer rights that I have elsewhere; I want a warranty or a guarantee for their product. I want a longer consensus date to remove myself from courses without financial penalty, to get a credit or a refund; I want to provide useful feedback about why I’m leaving those classes or why I chose to stay, and I want it used to make the product better. I want the people who are teaching me to be trained in engaging techniques, rather than people who simply think teaching is talking at people. I want to not be penalised for dropping bad classes because I’m on a student visa, which currently forces me to be a full-time student (rather than a good student who makes an effort – I also feel that this is a bit of a disgusting requirement for university students, but I have a lot of other complaints about the visa process to address elsewhere).
I want to believe in our education systems. But right now, all I can think is that I do not want any child or adult to believe our current school systems are “education.” They are not. They do not foster understanding, they do not motivate learning, and they do not wish to engage with students; they’re nothing short of broken institutions that need radical fixing to make them worthwhile again.
I believe in education, but I do not believe in our schools.
<Razmos> It looks like snatch anchor
I cannot unsee this.