Wednesday, August 09, 2017

Thoughts from Galicia: 9.8.17

Spanish life is not always likeable but it is compellingly loveable.
- Christopher Howse: A Pilgrim in Spain. 

If you've arrived here because of an interest in Galicia or Pontevedra, see my web page here.

Life in Spain:-
  • I caught a bit of an ad on TV offering help to Brits who'd lost their deposits on off-plan properties in Spain during the phony, construction-driven boom. Trying to find the company name on youtube, I came across this video and then this one. Might be of help to someone.
  • President Rajoy was in the media yesterday, lauding tourism. Back on earth, here's some information on what 2 places are doing to hold back the rising tide. Canute-like??
Wider afield . . . Don Quijones continues, here, to cast aspersions on the Italian banking industry. And also on the European Central Bank. This, he says to no one's great surprise, is bending and breaking its own rules to keep Italy and, thus, the EU project on the rails. As he puts it: The European Commission has repeatedly threatened to impose fines on Italy for breaching EU budget rules, but if it ever did, it would be the ECB that would end up paying them. Italy, he opines, remains the Eurozone’s weakest link. And with each passing day, as the economy grows more dependent on ECB funding, it grows weaker.

Good to welcome to Nutters Corner, a first class member of the breed - 'Pastor' Robert Jefress - who is responsible for this bit of wisdom: When it comes to how we should deal with evil doers, the Bible, in the book of Romans, is very clear: God has endowed rulers full power to use whatever means necessary - including war - to stop evil. In the case of North Korea, God has given Trump authority to take out Kim Jong-Un. As one atheist commentator puts it: This is what modern Christianity has become. Forget Jesus. Forget peace. Forget turning the other cheek. It’s about incompetence, brute force, rash thinking, and using God to justify the worst kinds of human behavior. The only good news is that these mad theists are slowly but steadily reducing as a percentage of the US population. Let's hope the world survives to see them become as politically irrelevant as they are in most (all?) other developed nations. But the evangelist pastors aren't the only nutters in the US-North Korea imbroglio, of course. 

Attached is article articulating fears which have dogged me for years - on the ability of modern graduates to write proper English. 

But, anyway, It's bullfight (corrida) time of the year again here in Pontevedra city, as part of our 2 week annual fiesta. Dedicated, I think, to the Wandering Virgin. These days we can only afford 3 bullfights, which must be a huge disappointment to the peñas (competing groups of aficionados) whose members don't necessarily attend the corridas but who, rather, spend the evening and night drinking, vomiting and urinating – but not fighting - in and around Plaza de Teucro in the old quarter. Not a night to go there then, unless you're happy to be sprayed with red wine.

Finally . . . Last week I dug my 33 year old Raleigh bike out of the garage and had new tyres fitted to it. Yesterday, I parked my car as usual on the other side of the river and biked, rather than walked, into the old quarter. Although I doubted anyone would steal my old crock, I still secured it to a fence with the security chain. Or, rather, I didn't - as I couldn't remember the combination number of the lock. So I pretended to secure the bike by making it look as if the chain was locked. Which was a bit of a waste of time, as I'd only passed it between bits of the fence and neglected to pass it around any part of the bike.

Today's cartoon:-


My fellow lecturers won't say it in public, but students today are moaning, illiterate snowflakes:  Tibor Fischer

When I tell people who have had nothing to do with universities recently that I’ve taught British undergraduates who are simply incapable of writing a correct sentence in English, most smirk in disbelief. Perhaps because I’m a writer of fiction they assume I’m indulging in some dramatic exaggeration. When I raise this with fellow lecturers, however, they nod mournfully.

There is still a mania that everyone should go to university and every endeavour should be a degree (whether sculpting or golf management). It’s had a very bad effect on education.

There’s an “everyone must pass” attitude, which is compounded by the “sick note” epidemic. The student who is currently suing Oxford University because it allegedly “didn’t take her anxiety seriously enough” isn’t an unusual figure.

Lecturers don’t like to speak out about this because life is precarious in the academic world, but in private I don’t come across anyone who disagrees with what I’m about to say. Here goes.

Almost every fourth essay you have to mark has a cover sheet pleading extenuating circumstances: Asperger’s, autism, anxiety, depression, ADHD, OCD, dyslexia, dyspraxia. In my day, extenuating circumstances meant that your family had died in a car crash a month before your finals.
And if you don’t pass, no need to worry because you’ll almost certainly have the chance of a resit or a resubmission. Essentially, if you can be bothered to turn up, you’ll get a degree.

When I suggested to my department head that it might be beneficial to axe one or two students to gee up the performance of the rest, he commented, without any hint of irony: “We can’t fail them, because then they’d leave.”

I taught English literature for four years at Christ Church University in Canterbury. I taught some 120 first year undergrads, of whom I asked the question: “What is a sentence?”

Only six came up with the formula: subject, verb, object (and two of them were foreign students). They hadn’t heard of this grammar stuff. Some were even shaky on what an adjective is. And these weren’t physicists or business studies students, this was the literature class.

Everyone is guilty. The Labour Party for comprehensive education (I went to a comprehensive. It was indeed egalitarian, in that everyone got a mediocre education). Margaret Thatcher for the turn your shed-into-a-university policy. Tony Blair for abolishing the requirement for foreign languages.

And then of course the Equality Act, which requires Universities to make “reasonable adjustment” for those less able. What a gloriously flexible, litigious word “reasonable” is. Again, I doubt many academics will go on record with this, but I had experiences with students who had some “disorder” who were extraordinarily able in using their disability to their advantage.

It’s the job of a university to strive for excellence (although that’s tricky to define in the arts). This idea that a university is in some way in loco parentis or a carer obliged to wipe bottoms is misguided.

It’s wonderful if universities can provide that sort of extra-curricular support. But that’s not their purpose. It’s their job to set a high standard, and it’s the students’ to reach it, whatever their difficulties.

In the humanities we seem to have a system where many students pay a lot of money, learn very little and gain very little employability. The students I mentioned who are functionally illiterate represent perhaps only one per cent, three, five? But there they are, at university.

The real problem is the much larger group who don’t really have the tools to benefit fully from a course, which is quite often not that demanding.

The educational absurdity of Dickens’s Dotheboys Hall in Nicholas Nickleby is being recreated in our arts faculties, where all you need to do is read a couple of books (or watch the DVDs), rehash some platitudes about racism, gender stereotypes, climate change and say Foucault to scrape a degree.

I can’t think of a solution to this, but I suggest we stop kidding ourselves that things don’t need to be tightened up. Or as one of my despairing colleagues proposed: “Why doesn’t the government just give everyone a PhD and get it over with?”


Maria said...

The problem with being able to use the English language properly to get across an idea so that someone else can understand it has been under attack for years. In the US, mine must be the last generation that had sound grounding in grammar, and in the use of literary tools to write half-way decent prose.

But it's not only English. Here, in Spain, my daughter had grammar up the wazoo during all her years in primary and secondary school. She can recognize a relative clause from a mile away. However, the only reason she can write decently is because she was an avid reader as a child, and tried to emulate her favorite writers by writing her own stories. In school she was barely taught to write any type of expository essay. And what she learned, she picked up in the International Baccalaureate classes.

So, let me be a little "conspiranóica" and suggest that this is done on purpose, to have the elite be the ones with a prime education, and the rest be ignorant worker ants. At this point, it sounds like the only reasonable conclusion to arrive at for the dumbing down of our educational systems!

Richard Ingham said...

It's not new, sadly.

About 15 years ago I marked an excellent undergraduate essay, very competently written, with impeccable grammar, spelling and punctuation. The student came to an individual tutorial. I told her I was puzzled as to why the cover sheet of the essay had a blue sticker on it saying she was dyslexic.

She answered that she was studying French as a joint subject, and she sometimes got the French word endings wrong. The special-needs people at the university told her that this indicated dyslexia.

I don't remember what I said.


Anthea said...

Dyslexia, dispraxia, diswhateverxia - special needs departments in colleges and universities are empire-building. THe more they diagnose with some kind of "need", the more funding they get. The examinations officer in one college Imworked at commmented to me thatvthere were so many applications for special consideration in the collegebthat henthought the local water must be causing brian damage!!!

As regards getting French verb endings wrong, well, as a linguist, a teacher of French and Spanish for more years than Imcare to say, my belief is that that indicates sloppy, lazy work and has nothing to do with dyslexia!

Okay! rant over!

Anthea said...

Further comment: when I wrote brian damage I meant brain damage. Does this indicate that I too am dyslexic!?

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