Saturday, March 15, 2014
‘WHEN I was a young boy
Back in Orangefield
Used to look out my classroom and dream
Then go home and listen to Ray sing
“I Believe To My Soul”, after school.’
Van Morrison, 1986
Grandpa went to school back in 1986. He told me he used to do the same thing as Van Morrison. I’ve been asked to compare school now with what it was like back then. Here are my findings. It can be summed up in two neat sentences. No wonder grandpa, and Van Morrison, used to look out their window and dream. School must have been that dull.
My interviews and research both tell me that school students early this century, and, incredibly, for the whole century before that, used to have lots of different teachers verbally giving instructions the whole time, and students were supposed to take it all in and listen and act upon their teachers’ instructions, every lesson. At least, it seems, this was the case for senior school. In junior school it was limited to two or three teachers, but the same thing effectively- that is, human instructions all the time, the whole class at the same level more or less, bells ringing like church and telling people when to come and go, handing in sheets of paper and getting them back with written comments in red pen!
Now grandpa, mercifully, things are no longer like that! Surely it occurred to people back then that education cost so much unnecessary money. Teachers were paid reasonable wages, and there were thousands of them here in Victoria. Yes, we save a lot of money these days, no longer being so inefficient and paying these superfluous wages. The money saved goes on ever expanding digital tools to make this generation the brightest Australia has ever produced.
So here goes grandpa- I bet your day was never like this. My alarm’s whirring sound informs me it is half past ten. I pack my software, noodles and fruit bars in my knapsack and I am out the door by eleven o’clock. The underground train stops at ‘Education Station’ and the whole crew of midday starters (there are about 30,000 of us in the northern region) pedal with one of the awaiting bikes to our respective building. The glass elevator takes me to level 63 in a matter of seconds. We all walk through the silver doors and find the nearest terminal. I have just made it. The screen on the glass panel clicks over to midday, June 17, 2052.
Next to the panel is an array of different coloured tutorial sticks. Being Saturday, the last school day of the week, today’s tutorial sticks are yellow. ‘Language 5’ glows in its plastic holder. This is the one I remove and I plug it into my computer and place my headphones on. I settle in the comfortable chair and devour today’s lesson which is all about Indonesian transitive verbs-‘ Saya suka menonton televisi.’ Reaching the target set for me by one o’clock, I browse the news for ten minutes before I resume. The tabloid site is by far the most fun. ‘Another plane load of asylum seekers intercepted at Nokia Airport.’
A second stick is fitted and this time the hour long tutorial is a multiple choice test on Shakespeare’s King Lear, the text I have chosen this semester to study. I love multiple choice tests. A correct answer provides you with soothing electrical currents that glide over your whole body. A wrong answer results in an uncomfortable tingling and burning sensation that runs all over your arms and your thighs. This is what’s great about these tests. Rarely do you get the answer wrong, as you are so keen to experience the warm, soothing sensation. Question 46 is: ‘Lear’s daughter, Cordelia, is banished by Lear because a) she is jealous of the other sisters, b) she has always been the ungrateful and unruly daughter, c) she is tricked into being unco-operative by Regan who manipulates her, or d) she is unwilling to go along with the false charade her sisters seem to be engaged in.’ I press ‘d’ on my screen, and sit back in the chair awaiting the sensuous soothing that is coming my way.
Modern day learning is such a powerful thing. We learn at our own pace. We embrace the fun tutorials that we are presented with. We don’t have other people around us to distract us, who are often either ahead of us in terms of learning, or are behind, potentially slowing us down. We don’t have clumsy and faltering adults standing in front of us spoon feeding our lazy minds. There are no adults to be seen, anywhere. We are all adult, anyway, in our own individual circumstances. I have no doubt we are the generation of thinkers. We are the brightest students this country’s ever created.
My afternoon continues, with tutorials about ancient Greece, twenty first century science, and Klimt and the Vienna Secession. It isn’t always multiple choice of course. A learned professor informs me about the wonders of ancient mythology. I am presented with lovely, extreme digital close-ups of Klimt’s Beethoven Frieze. I listen, and take notes, and ask the professor questions when it seems fit. He answers promptly, and engagingly, from somewhere in the cyber world. Of course he isn’t live. These days all questions are predictive. He is able to correspond with thousands of students across the planet at the same time. It becomes a fun game to try and stump him.
After I have exhausted my fifth yellow tutorial stick, I decide enough is enough for one day. Another day in which I have learnt an incredible amount. It is six o’clock in the evening and my trip home awaits. Before I leave the building, however, and descend the 63 levels, there is one more pleasure that awaits. The same thing all six days of the week in the name of education. There is a real time teacher on a large screen near the lifts who wishes you goodnight. He or she always has a smile and they invariably have such an amusing face. Although brief, it is a lovely bit of interaction, and deep down you know that the teacher knows that you have worked hard today, and that you know so much more now than you did before you went to school this morning. I really like that time of day, as it is slowly getting dark outside. The exit tonight has a lovely purple and silver light splashed over the lift area.