Ivory Towers, Bloody Flowers…

Why the fuck do people who don’t want to go to university persist on going to university? It’s completely counter-intuitive. I mean, were I one of those strange career advisor people that schools employ, and a pupil sitting in front of me said that they didn’t want to go to university, I imagine my reply would probably be something along the lines of “well, you probably shouldn’t go to university then.”

Furthermore, if I was doing my job properly, and the kid stated that they did plan on continuing in education, I’d like to think that I might follow up with an inquisitive “you do realise what that means, yes? Studying, lectures, engaging with your chosen subject, and so forth?” and if they then proceeded to tell me that what they in fact wanted to do was spend as much time as possible sitting in a flat making spaceships out of 7-Up bottles, gently warn them that a life in academia might not exactly be their one true calling.

(It is entirely possible that my confusion here originates from a failure to understand the true purpose of the school careers advisor. I’ve naively assumed that they have something to do with helping you choose a path in life which suits you, but maybe this is all a front for some more shadowy position. Certainly this would explain my personal experience of the one from Forfar Academy. He looked at my academic record, asked me if I’d considered Cambridge, and then when I informed him that my predicted grades were actually just below the Oxbridge universities’ entrance requirements, he gravely nodded as though listening and proceeded to discuss other options. Five minutes later, I was outside his office, with nothing to show for the experience except a piece of paper on which he’d written the word “Cambridge”– followed, to his eternal credit, with a question mark.)

The brilliance or otherwise of the Forfar Academy guidance system aside, allow me to explain just why this topic has come to mind.

Last Wednesday, at the somewhat bizarre time of 7PM, I had a modernist literature tutorial. The tutorial was to serve two basic purposes; first to allow our tutor to give us some feedback on our recently marked assignment on Joyce’s Ulysses, and secondly to discuss that week’s book, Edith Wharton’s Age of Innocence. After the first section had been completed, the tutor announced that if anyone really wanted to get away early, everybody had been marked as present, and there would be no negative consequences for leaving.

One sudden flurry of chairs later, there were four of us left. This from a room that had moments earlier been packed so full that the large table in the middle wasn’t big enough, and a second ring of students had had to form, on chairs against the wall.

My question here is, exactly what were all those people doing at the tutorial in the first place? Oh, I know why they were there – they were there because tutorial attendance is a compulsory part of the course, and they’d get failed if they didn’t turn up. But why would anyone with no interest in modernist literature have signed up to a modernist literature course at all?

Three possible explanations spring instantly to mind. Either they had been forced to take the course, they had seen it as an easy option towards getting a degree, or they wanted not to do the course but to have done it – to be able to write “I studied modernist literature” on their CV.

To all that, I say: rubbish, rubbish and rubbish. First, the Australian university system is built on an elective system, where you get to pick your courses from a vast range of options. I think there are a few core courses, but ENGL2035 Modernist Literature certainly isn’t one of those. Second, you’d have to be an idiot to see modernism as an easy option. It’s not like studying Shakespeare or contemporary American fiction or something, where the difficulty lies largely with what you say about the books. With modernism, simply reading the books in themselves is a challenge, you need to be fully engaged with notions of narrative, perspective, subjectivity, context and innovation to even understand what it is that you’re reading. And thirdly, the only cases in which modernist literature would be an admirable thing to have on your CV would be when applying for courses or positions where this active engagement with difficult texts and concepts was a necessity – which is clearly not something that people who flee a tutorial on one of the more conventional books on the course at the first opportunity have any interest in doing.

This is not, incidentally, a University of Queensland thing. It’s completely endemic in Edinburgh as well – I guess all that I’ve discovered here is that this academic apathy isn‘t restricted to the UK. All the time, people complain about their courses, or choose courses deliberately to maximise their days off, or come up with elaborate reasons to miss tutorials as though they were some kind of punishment. But they chose to do this. Out of a whole plethora of options available to them — college, apprenticeships, entry-level jobs, benefit fraud — these people decided that the life for them was university. And then they chose particular courses and institutions out of a yet broader array, to select the ones which held absolutely the most interest and value in their lives. And then, they act as though the whole thing is a drag. Are these people really so vacuous that they can’t find any interest in anything?

And don’t give me any of that “doing it for the student lifestyle” crap, either. Fair enough, many people might enjoy intense socialising, binge-drinking and clubbing far more than they enjoy studying for exams. But if that’s actually what you look for in life, and you’re smart enough to go to university as a roundabout way of doing so, then you’re also smart enough to realise that you’re going about things all wrong. You would be much better off getting a full-time job doing something easy, avoiding all the stress of having to turn up to tutorials and write essays and pass exams, and then go along to the same bars and clubs anyway. Students are friendly people, you’d soon find yourself invited to all the parties that you want, and your 40-hour-a-week earnings would more than make up for missing out on student discounts.

Of course there’s nothing wrong with feeling bored in lectures, with skipping class here and there, or with finding out that you aren’t really as into your subject as you thought that you were – I’ve certainly found that my own attachment to the linguistics side of my degree has waned (although only in inverse proportion to my ever-increasing fascination with the literature aspects), especially since coming to Australia where there’s no emphasis on historical aspects. But this isn’t what I see going on all around me. This isn’t a case of people who’ve found that university or their subject isn’t for them – if it was, they’d drop out, and do something better suited to them. It’s a case of people carrying, from the very first day, an attitude which is going to completely annihilate their chances of loving university, of finding the joy of immersing themselves in something because it’s extraordinary and interesting and cool. It’s like the Fug (see previous entry), but deliberate.

I’m not one of those people who thinks that university is automatically better than other life choices. To me, a carpenter or electrician or shopkeeper, butcher or baker or candlestick maker who really enjoys their craft is a far more interesting — and probably far happier — person than a dissatisfied student grumbling their way through an ivory tower that they don’t get on with. And if none of that interests you, and you’d much rather spend your time fishing or playing World of Warcraft, or creating beautiful but non-commercial works of art, cool. Do that; it’s what you love. But for heaven’s sake, if higher education is just going to make you miserable, don’t do it. You’ll only waste the time of tutors and lecturers and university staff who could be tending the buds of enthusiasm in students who genuinely possess it — and waste your own time, too.

9 thoughts on “Ivory Towers, Bloody Flowers…

  1. I hated Uni (mostly). Got on with it came out with an awesome job at the end. Not a waste of time at all.

    Different strokes though.

  2. If question one is why do reluctant students go to study at universities, question two is why do universities want to enrol reluctant students? Ching ching?

  3. I actually whole heartedly agree with this lol XD ESPECIALLY the part about university being treated like the superior path in life XD In fact I’m really sick of superior attitudes these days lol =[ I’ll simplify things and kind of pander to common stereotypes a bit here simply to make it easier to get my point across: In school there were plenty of individuals who considered themselves better than others because they weren’t “geeky”, they put a lot of time and effort into their appearance, their social lives were far more important than their school work and “better” (if your judgement is based on number rather than quality of friends), etc. It’s nice to leave that kind of attitude behind when you go to university. However, I’ve discovered to my dismay that it’s just replaced. The reverse is true where suddenly you have people who think they’re better than the “common masses” so to speak because they’re the “educated” ones that know better and are smarter than them. People that do things like go to fatties and get really drunk and such are just neds and chavs to be laughed at and disapproved of.


  4. I typed a massive thing talking about the kinds of superior attitudes I’ve encountered and over what kinds of things and stuff, but to be honest I’m just kind of blustery XD And finding it hard to stay vaguely on topic XD

    SCREW IT. I typed another crapload of stuff and I just amn’t going to be able to express what I want. What I wanted to say in the most general of terms is that I’ve been genuinely offended by the apparently deep-seated attitudes of some people towards things that are so fucking irrelevant and hypocritical I just can’t understand. Like people that go to Fat Sams. I know someone with the persistent belief that anyone and everyone that goes to Fat Sams is some kind of tink or ned of some form, which is beneath “people like us” (I’m included in the us because I go to university and prefer many of the same things, make the same kinds of choices, and have the same kinds of values as them). That’s the kind of attitude I see sometimes. I’ve literally seen them scrunch up their nose at these people. And I got incredibly offended. My sister goes to Fat Sams sometimes. I just think, She’s not some tink or ned, and she’s certinaly not BENEATH you. She’s not less intelligent, or less capable, or less worthy of respect or consideration just because she’s not in university and has been to Fat Sams before. She’s not throwing her life away down the drain just because she likes to have fun that consists of more than sitting in a quiet pub having a bit of banter. Knowing and associating with people that do stupid things like drugs doesn’t mean she does too or that she thinks it’s okay on any level.

    Your kind of fun isn’t the ONLY kind of fun where anything else is somehow BAD. And your way of finding a good career and happy family isn’t the only way doing so either, and certainly not the “best” way. My mum was 17 when she had me and my dad was 22, both had left school early, maybe even as soon as possible, and I personally think they did an amazing job of bringing me and my sisters up. I had a happy childhood that I am PROUD of, and if there was EVER anyone I would aspire to be like in my career it’s my dad because he is outstanding at his job in the prison service, and he’s climbed high in his career because of it, despite his lack of degrees or whatever qualifications. He left school and had a kid, but look at him now, he has a pretty damn good career imo and has a happy family that he loves more than anything in the world. No qualifications necessary.

    You know what I just remembered? Someone mentioned they were moving to “3 Wells Drive” the other say and I replied “Oh, I used to live there!”, remembering when I was still just a small child. I was slightly wrong though, I used to live at Three Wells Drive, which I realised upon the other person making it clear that it was DRIVE and not PLACE, because that was a dodgy/tinky place with all the junkies. And I kept quiet, for some reason feeling embarassed/ashamed I lived there as a kid. I knew if I were to correct my statement I’d instantly be judged with that knew knowledge. But I now wish I HAD said it because who cares if I lived in some cheap, dodgy, junkie place when I was a kid? My parents were young and working low paid jobs with 3 kids to support. They couldn’t AFFORD some nice place with a good reputation. That doesn’t make me and my family tinks or junkies. Admitting I lived there as a kid doesn’t somehow change who I am.

    …I’m way off track again…

    God. I just get so worked up. These people are fecking clueless, speaking about the kind of people I COME from like they’re a different species to be pitied but avoided at all costs and disapproved of They don’t have the right OR knowledge to make those judgements.

    It’s so weird sometimes because I come from one “type” of family background, but the way I turned out to be as a person just happens to fit in with another “type” of people. One group judges the second as inferior, less intelligent, and more neddy/tinky/dodgy while the second group sees the first as stuck up, snobby, elitist, “suprior” assholes that think they know better and are such GOOD people compared to them when they’re not

    Both to some extent in some individuals are right. But what neither seems to realise is that in reality they’re all pretty much the same. So one likes to go clubbing and the other likes to sit in a pub. SO WHAT. WHY IS THAT SUPPOSED TO BE SIGNIFICANT. It’s not like it makes you a freaking seperate species! >.:D,
    P.S. Sorry for the ramblings, I hope SOME form of point was vaguely conveyed in all of the mess XD D:

  5. Mass comment reply!

    Sarah – fair point, and one I don’t really have an answer to – assuming, that is, that there’s no more enjoyable route which you could have taken to end up with the same job. University as a utilitarian means to an end – completely reasonable (:. I’d still hold that the majority of the people who complain their way through their degrees, flee tutes at the first opportunity, etc., *aren’t* likely to be focused on fulfilling careers in that specific field of study. Admittedly there are those jobs which just require “a degree”, and I guess you could well find NO topic of higher education rewarding – but like I said, Modernist Literature?

    Vader – hard for them to tell, really, isn’t it? Every personal statement the schools send in is going to stress the student’s enthusiasm, present or not.

    Carrie – cheers ^_^. There *is* a distinction between needless “superior attitudes” and thoughtful qualitative judgments, though. It’s okay to have opinions on others lifestyle choices and so forth if they’re well-founded, and to prefer one course of action / type of behaviour to another. If you didn’t, nobody would ever make any life choices at all =P

  6. Right, edited response to include Carrie’s latest. All I can really do is communicate agreement – your comments about your dad’s prison work pretty much sum up what I was trying to say in the final paragraph or so. I one thing that surprised me a lot with early experiences of university was a sort of middle group, that have the alcohol and clubbing obsessed culture that looks down on study, but are in theory university students themselves. But that’s a different (though related) topic, really. I’m not trying to judge or degrade any particular type of life here (I mean, I will and do, at length, in a horribly obnoxious fashion, just not in this article =P)

  7. I didn’t read all the comments on this so maybe I’m repeating, BUT:

    Maybe those students were missing something else that was important and thus left because they realized they wouldn’t be penalized for it? :P TEASING, TEASING.

    On an unrelated note: yay for catching up on reading backlogs!

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