On Quitting Academia

Malcolm Gaskill at the LRB:

Widening opportunity in education is the noblest of social and political projects. But the cost is now clear. In the ‘bad old days’ students were, as they are today, taught with commitment and passion, but sometimes eccentricity added a spark. Provided he – and it was usually a he – turned up fully dressed and sober and didn’t lay hands on anyone, the crazy lecturer could be an inspiration. Expectations were less explicit, the rhetoric and metrics of achievement were absent, which made everyone feel freer. Even applying to a university seemed less pressured, because it was so unclear what it would be like when you got there. You absorbed teachers’ anecdotal experiences and sent off for prospectuses, including the student-produced ‘alternative’ versions mentioning safe sex and cheap beer. Even after matriculation I had only a vague sense of the structure of my course. The lecture list was to be found in an austere periodical of record available in newsagents. Mysteries that today would be cleared up with two clicks on a smartphone had to be resolved by listening to rumours. This news blackout has been replaced by abundant online information, the publication of lucid curricular pathways, the friendly outreach of student services and the micromanagement of an undergraduate’s development. Leaps of progress all, if it weren’t for the suspicion that students might develop better if they had to find out more things for themselves. We learned to be self-reliant and so were better prepared for an indifferent world; we didn’t for a moment see the university as acting in loco parentis. Excessive care for students is as reassuring as a comfort blanket and can be just as infantilising.

more here.