Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 30, No. 7. 1967.
Out of the sand?
Out of the sand?
Sirs.—Having only Just got around to reading the April 14 issue of Salient I notice that B.G.S. is still trying hard to poke his head out of the saund—I mean Shand—ah . . . sand.
We got some more of this self-deceptively, well-meaning crapulence about "The pursuit of truth" and the freedom students must have to make this pursuit.
This cliche is peddled out from time to time in order to try and preach to students what they should be at university for. These scrupulously truth-seeking masses are meant to be able to consume knowledge and express informed opinion to the "ignorant masses." Tills assumes a number of things about the attitudes of students and what their so-called studies involve.
Firstly, the editorial did not attempt to discriminate in any way; it implied that all students are pursuing truth! Secondly, it implied that the pursuit of truth is an integral part of studies at university. Both of these statements are bull . . . The examination of accepted standards and beliefs and the pursuit of ideals is a result of the striving of individuals and while being related to studies is not necessarily stimulated by them. The whole university, students, staff, department-heads, chancellor, the lot would have to pay more than lip-service to something more valuable, universally, than the acquisition of a meal ticket before this university could gain any stature as a place of learning and a creator of valid ideas.
The attitude expressed in the editorial also assumes, that students are interested; in the pursuit of truth—more rubbish. Students in this country are encouraged to! specialise early and there are, many advantages in doing so. The Government will come clean with aU sorts of goodies to anyone who says he or she wants to be a teacher but they will be waiting for, and will make sure they get, one way or another, their pound of flesh—and the blood. The need for a well-rounded education is not stressed at any level and so emphasis is laid upon the students getting some qualification for a certain field of employment—and this is what they are interested in at university. If they are undecided about their future they still come to university but their mind is lust as closed as anyone else's when it comes to accepted values because these things are such a closed book at secondary school. How many people can remember discussions in class at secondary school about politics, religion, humanity, ethics or how small a part of education getting a meal ticket really is?
A good indication of the interest of students is demonstrated at tutorials when the broader implications of anything that is being discussed arise. How many students can actually relate what they are learning to the world which is so infinitely greater than the one in the tutorial room?
How many students do we observe who actually do try to form ideas of their own in a subject and how well is this received by other students and staff? How often do we realise that those in the tutorial that get the highest marks are those that have the least to say, disregarding shyness and similar inhibitions? I think one would probably find that the answers to these questions would reveal that there are many things within the organisation of the whole NZ education system that do not encourage students to think for themselves or learn to do so.
The whole system is oriented towards examinations. As a prerequisite to sitting these one must get a pass in class exercises, essays, term examinations and practicals and| one must attend tutorials which are often useless owing to lack of flow of ideas. These things do not produce education; they produce examination-passing which is a completely different thing. After producing an essay a week, or three essays every two weeks as some people have to, trying to keep up with notes and essential reading in order to be able to pass the term ex-animations, and doing three hours of practical each week, there is little time or mental energy left to become interested, in the fullest sense, in studies. With a continual pressure of work university becomes a drudgery which one has to keep justifying to oneself. This is best done in terms of the myth of the meal ticket, specially since most students are completely unaware of any other value of education as a result of the education they have already had so the whole worthless process becomes self-perpetuating.
Some lecturers I have spoken to find that classes in Adult Education are far more interested and receptive than university students. Their attitudes and interests are not influenced by examinations and the only pressure upon them is to learn and this is governed by themselves—not forced upon them. The pursuit of truth is possible under those conditions where there are no artificial spurs to try and force students to asorb and not much else.
While agreeing with most of the ideas in the editorial and disagreeing with Mr. Shand I can understand what prompted him to say what he did. He questioned the purpose we serve by hanging on to academic freedom when such a small percentage of students are interested in the pursuit of truth. Surely, to hang on to it at this stage would be a contradiction of common sense and we are rightfully expected to have that.
No, sirs, for students to claim a right to academic freedom they must be pre- pared and able to put it to its fullest use but under the present system and with the attitudes this system creates, there is not a dog's show of being prepared or able. With regard to the present situation Mr. Shand's opinion is, unfortunately, relevant and this, of course, pleases him and The Establishment as it relieves a great deal of pressure upon them. It is obvious that those who feel pressure as a result of academic freedom are going to take every opportunity of curbing it and that is exactly what Mr. Shand was attempting to do, even to the extent of threatening to cut the universities' money supply.
Clearly, BGS was the one guilty of "woolly thinking" because the ideas he advocated in his editorial are not as relevant to the present tendencies of university students as he made them out to be. While the present system remains, scrupulousness about academic freedom is a waste of editorial space. Only when he has some practical ideas about changing the structure of university education should he start prattling about academic freedom.
In the meantime Salient editors can stop brick-walling their brains out on the trivial and nebulous aspects of university such as "the pursuit of truth" and stick to writing about intensely important matters like how many "students" are in the University senior A rugby side. If BGS carries on along the lines indicated in the editorial I have discussed then GPC will only have to look as far as his co-editor for a perpetrator of another "great hoax."
It would appear my editorial is only peripheral to the argument the writer presents.
In my editorial I referred to academic freedom as "the freedom staff and students have to pursue the truth as they see fit." At no stage did I suggest all or any percentage made full use of this freedom.— B.G.S.