Wednesday, 4 February 2009

Adios, libertad...

Some Contemporary Students, Yesterday
For my first month into the "New Year", shall we see how far I've gone with my Resolutions?

I shall refer my dear reader to Resolutions 1, 3 and 6. Despite no real attempt to live up to these, I have managed to progress quite a distance in theese fields. The reason, I hear you not give a damn about? Exams, friends.

That's right, the totally horrifying experience with no redeeming features but it's eventual cessation has reared its ugly head, yet again. Now, as most of my dear readers are probably students, I can already imagine how many of you are thinking: "So what? I'm writing dissertations" (yes, ka-os, you can laugh at how much of a great time you had at my age, by bypassing all of this). Except for two things: 1) You're probably not writing them, are you? I know how it works: pissing about for a term, then shitting yourself and not sleeping from Easter until the end of the year. Further, 2) You're in the UK, your home country; you know, the place you've grown up and learnt the system, and probably have a good grasp of exam technique.

For some unfathomable reason, a Spanish university student's Christmas isn't spent getting over the inundation of work heaped upon you over three months from October; rather, it's a time to stop for religious/hedonistic reasons, before returning for three more weeks of tired, uninspiring classes before three more weeks of cramming for anything beteween five and seven one-after-the-other exams. That's not counting written coursework essays and (in one case of mine) writing, filming, editing and premiering a short film. I have no problem with assessment - how else are we to prove we are clever and deserve a piece of paper hung on the wall saying so? The problem I do have, however, is with the idea that remembering a series of facts, and making a solid written argument off the cuff in the space of an hour is an appropriate method of assessment. Especially considering that certain geniuses (a demographic which I humbly distinguish from that to which I belong: I'm just good at bullshitting - take this blog, for instance) aren't actually very good at expressing themselves under pressure. Furthermore, we have developed other methods, such as the aforementioned, which do so very well at measuring our level of learnt skills - which is, some would argue the whole point of education. Take this quote from La magia de escribir (The Magic of Writing), a book specifically about the beauty of understanding the written arts and using them as inspiration for one's own efforts: -

Hemos confundido ciencia con educación. Hemos convertido el libro de texto, especialmente los de secundaria, en pequeñas introducciones a la lingüística y a los estudios literarios. Toda la magia del lenguaje se pierde al intentar describir las piezas de su mecanismo. El profesor se convierte en un taxidermista del lenguaje.

We have confused science with education. We have converted the textbook, especially that of the secondary school, into short introductions to linguistics and literary study. All the magic of language is lost by trying to describe the components of the mechanism. The teacher becomes a taxidermist of language.

Now, though this refers specifically to philological and literary study, and the fact that I don't entirely agree with the statement, the essence of the argument rings very true to me: the meaning of education - to amaze, encourage appreciation, and inspire - has been replaced in favour of a "learn the rules and repeat them parrot fashion" attitude. Exams, thus, have become tests (a different thing), and so one no longer feels that one can dare to express a doubt or new vision of something, since it may be a dangerous tack. That ain't the way I roll, and I have been rewarded by my teachers more often than not. Having said that, I have still had to learn what is the standard practice before breaking it,and there have been times when I have been punished for it (yes, I'm talking about you, A-level Drama Written Exam Marker; lucky for you, your details are kept classified).

Of course, exams will never go away, and we will always be subjected to them in one way or another; and I am also a lazy son-of-a-bitch who hates having to revise anything (I'm fond of the "read it, talk about it, remember it and the chat, and move on" approach to a text), so the point of my rant is only really good for one thing: to tell you I bloody hate exams!

What does this have to do with my Resolutions, then? I'll tell you. I live a much healthier lifestyle, since I now no longer have time to eat; I'm spending a LOT more time on my studies, because I'nm terrified of failing my exams; and I'm writing about Spain, since it's Spain's fault I have to do exams right now!

I can't really complain, too much, what with me not living in Gaza or Sudan; but at least they have an excuse. What will I tell myself when I see my marks? "Ah, I wish I hadn't spent so long eating, dinking, making merry and writing blogs, and had dedicated more time to study..."?

Chance would be a fine thing...

Some Handy Advice From An Insightful Person, Somewhere

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