Social Leverage

Another Brick in the Wall

By Carla Lever

I realise you might think the life of a columnist is all top hats and transitive verbs; that I sit around idly all week nonchalantly penning this and watching my Rands roll in. I studied English, after all.

I mean, if Emma Watson can do it, it must be a seriously sexy subject, right? You would, of course, be half right. That is to say, the fact that Steve Hofmeyer has so many children means there’s an attraction market for anything.

So what do I do, if not idle around all day? Well, in just another instance of the glitzy life of an English graduate, I get to stand alone in front of large numbers of people in their early twenties and run the gamut of psychological warfare techniques from CIA interrogation official to stand up comedian whilst urging them to both care and know more about everything from novels to newswriting, metaphors to marketing. Unlike the stand up, I don’t have an MC to warm up the crowd. Unlike the interrogation official, I don’t get a panic button under the table.

I know this revelation may come as somewhat of a shock. It always does when you realise people do things other than what you associate them with, sort of like that time Riaan Cruywagen turned up with a bevy of hot tub hotties in that Loeries video. Now I’ve neither been in, nor reported near, a hot tub. Mind you, don’t feel too bad for my stalled career as a terra firma teacher. I don’t just lecture.

In what I like to think of as a linguistic form of litter collection, I also get to edit people’s apostrophe errors and write very nicely worded little adverts for terrifically meaningful things like home loans, so it’s not all uphill. The thing is, apostrophes and home loans behave. They stay where you put them, for starters. It’s people that are the problem.

See, people have moods. They have whims. They tune out, take advantage, don’t turn up. That’s par for the course. What really gets to me is the fact that when they’re not doing those things, their answers tend to take the wind out of my Proudly South African sails. In one memorable class this year, I happened to refer to Hitler. “Who’s Hitler?” asked a languid lady in the front row.

I’m not joking. Sadly, neither was she.

Worse, upon being pressed for the causes of the Second World War (something that was clearly a shaky concept in itself), she hesitantly replied, “Uh….oil?”

Whilst exchanges like these are funny, in a horrific, stab-my-pencil-in-my-eye kind of way, they’re also deeply disturbing. I encounter rather a lot of them, you see. I know there’s joy to be found in setting the standards bar low, but some of the zingers my (early twenties, privileged, privately educated) students have come out with have had me worried our education system is attempting nothing so much as a record-breaking attempt at the limbo.

The list of things that some of my students, all of whom are old enough to drink, vote, procreate and operate heavy machinery, don’t know is frightening. Let’s face it, though: the language they use to write about the things they do know is even worse.

Now, on those bad nights – the ones where I dream of a class of journalism students operating fork lifts, clutching a bottle of Klippies in one hand and their newly-produced progeny in the other as they roll riotously towards a polling station – I must confess to a tendency towards waking in a bit of an apocalyptic mood. And, if I step away from the proxima and look at it objectively, it’s actually not terribly fair of me.

You see, once you get past the painfully deliberate nonchalance, the spray tan, the oversized neon vest and shrunken jean ensemble (designed, I feel, as if thrown together by a hazard unit employee with body dysmorphia) students are, generally speaking, terribly good natured. Twelve years of Outcomes Based Education has left them with great teamwork enthusiasm and a lot of lateral thinking. They want to learn…they’re just not quite sure how to go about it.

It is, of course, not their fault that they’re in this position. It is also patently clear they’re not being done justice by our educational policy at a school level. We need a fix and, try as I might, it’s not going to be found in my College classroom.

 

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carla@48hours.co.za