Thursday, July 23, 2009

I'm in Sheffield for my daughter's graduation.

It seems Sheffield teaches a good journalism degree: but it's terrible at ceremonial.

They used a shabby hall for an event that aspired to dignity and authority, but utterly failed to achieve it.

Watching it rather uncomfortably in my plastic chair I felt again all the anger I felt about it all, those years ago when I got my degree: in my shoulder length hair, refusing to wear a tie, I cut quite a conspicuous figure collecting my first class honours in Spanish and Arabic. In those days i never wore shoes either, so I wonder if I even tuned up in sandals.

I always hated the assessment process when I was teaching, and used to subvert it by asking my students to give themselves agrade. Which we would then negotiate.

They used to hate this process, and almost always gave themselves a mark that was less than their real worth.


But self-knowledge, the ability to judge one's own strengths and failure, is one of the most important skills education should be developing in students; and it's that which is utterly disabled by this nonsensical habit of imposing a mark on a student's work from outside.

And this ridiculous ceremony is like the apotheosis of this profoundly damaging, anti-educational practice.

I couldn't help wondering as i watched the academics, looking self-conscious and ridiculouys mostly in their shabbily pompous gowns, just how many of them were the same toadies, time-servers, mediocrities and bullies I encountered at QMU.

I wanted Susie to be there to be see it; she was so anxious in her last illness that her dying would wreck Katie's chances of getting a degree. And I suppose it's because she's so present in my thoughts that for he last couple of nights Susie has been so painfully present in my dreams.

And in spite of everything, it was a real pleasure to celebrate the success of Katie's good friends, and to thank one of her teachers - a good man called Foster - for inspiring and challenging her so much.

And I felt such pride in her, too: at what she's achieved, against a whole host of difficulties.

At the amazing, gifted, beautiful young woman she is.

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