Wednesday, August 16, 2006

A Degree of Self Awareness

I was just returning from town, and couldn't help but notice the conversation behind me. A student was talking about his courses. "I'm doing Orton, Beckett and Pinter this year." His companion said something, that I didn't hear. Then: "Last year, I did the Victorian novel, but it really messed up all my grades. I got to the exam and just couldn't answer anything. I'd not read any of the books. I'd seen the film, or read a little bit - I tried, but I just couldn't read them. But it meant I failed that unit and it brought all my grades down. But this will be all right, because they're plays, and short." His tone of voice throughout was great, as if it was the fault of the Victorian literature course that he'd failed - that somehow he should have been able to pass it without actually reading the books. I was weirdly pleased. After all, you clearly still have to read the books to succeed at an English Literature degree. I doubt he'll find the playwrights any easier, even if he gets to the end. I'm not going to tut-tut his stupidity as a sign of this generation, since I remember a similar thing when I was studying for my English degree in 1988. I came out of an exam - usually something like American literature or Women Writers - and students were complaining how hard it was. "You see, I hadn't read any of the books," they said. I missed my share of lectures and seminars without any discernibly negative effect on my degree, but that's probably because I did read the books.

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