So riddle me this, readers: why is it that Humanities students, who are registered for this degree presumably because they like
this reading and writing kick, are apparently constitutionally incapable of actually reading
anything? There's this strange, Teflon-slippery resistance to actual text which characterises the undergraduate gazelle in its natural habitat. They start out by not reading my door, which is decorated with a variety of informative notices including a strict injunction to print out their record before they ask me anything about their curriculum, and which is further embellished with an Ursula Vernon Snoggox by way of reinforcement.
This is a snoggox. I feel it perfectly encapsulates my basic attitude of suspicious rage when confronted by a non-transcript-bearing student. They completely ignore it, and the notice. They further ignore all the notices which delineate, in words of one syllable, my consultation times, and bound cheerfully in at all sorts of odd hours, conspicuously failing in any way to brandish a transcript. Then they look wounded when I imitate the action of the snoggox and grump at them.
This quasi-religious abhorrence of the textual extends to actual classroom practice. I'm teaching internet sexuality at the moment. Their reader contains a choice selection of sex-bloggers, and bits of both the Very Secret Diaries and Cassie Claire's knotty bit of Weasleycest. Apart from being interesting, accessible and dodgy as all get-out, these extracts are further characterised by being short
. Have any of the class done the required reading before the lecture? Not bloody likely. A couple of them, if I'm lucky.
I suffer a profound failure of empathy over all this. OK, I passed second-year English with flying colours despite having only read a third of Middlemarch
, a novel I unaccountably loathe, necessitating having to fake my way through the exam question with every evidence of success, but other than that I did the damned reading and then some. My intellectual intake at the moment is down at the level of The Vampire Diaries
, but even so I read eight books this weekend. Quite apart from my own problem of becoming ridiculously twitchy when deprived of text, it's a basic courtesy to your lecturer to prepare for the class.
I don't want to bemoan the decline in the undergrad student, because I don't think they have actually declined, much. Their schooling is a lot more undisciplined than mine was, but they're still bright young things. What has changed is the amount they read, because more and more their daily lives are not about text, they're about image. They all watch TV and movies, and they frequently impress me with their analytical insight watching movie clips in class. But they don't read as much any more; most of them certainly lack the obsessive, personal, continuous, instrumental relationship I had and still have with books. I read my set works because they were books
, not because they were set works. This also explains why so few of these kids relate to the internet in the way I do: most of my interactions are textual, I spend a lot of it writing and reading rather than looking at pictures. For me, it's always about the words. For them, large tracts of words are not just irrelevant, they're increasingly opaque and difficult, because increasingly their skills and focus are going elsewhere.
This is, of course, inevitable; culture changes continuously under technology, and by definition we're all obsolete the instant we acquire a competency. I can't rail at this and say it shouldn't be happening, that would be futile, but I find it sad. I have to work increasingly hard to share a vocabulary with my students, and it's very difficult to teach across a divide between worlds.
On the upside, Vampire Diaries
took a sudden upswing in Episode 5, and is suddenly about things that are a lot more real and interesting than all the teen angst. Either that, or the Stockholm Syndrome's got me.