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Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 39, Number 21, September 6, 1976.

Life in the English Department

Life in the English Department

Dear Salient,

What is life in the English Dept.? It is like an actor who has to concentrate on so many trivial directions from a niggly director that he can hardly scratch his bum with conviction any more.

Why do us arts students even come to university in the first place? Why don't we just read our books at home, and never come here? We come to university for one major reason - to talk with others, to exchange ideas and opinions that we wouldn't get on our own. I think the end of all learning is to be able to express our ideas in words, to be able to apply our ideas to living. Learning is a very social activity. I have a hunch that the person who first started up the whole idea of having universities wanted something like that. Of course, no-one's going to be able to express their ideas just slap bang off like that, so what you do is try to marshall your thoughts on paper first (essays), or get yourself artificially inseminated by someone else's ideas to get started (books and lectures), but these are never ends in themselves. The end is to have your own ideas, to engage in discussion. Discussion is our kiln. That's what they mean by university. Otherwise they would call it disuniversity. Or just bugger off.

Some Greek conversationalist before 'Christ, said. 'People's minds aren't buckets waiting to be filled - they're fires waiting to be ignited.' Lectures are like big cement trucks that empty themselves all over you. If you know what's good for you, you'll gel to hell out of it. You learn more off your own bat, and talking to people. This is the way its always been.

Stuart Johnston once referred to some committee as 'just one more part of a machine that grinds to Nowhere.' When thousands of students are marched through identical English degrees, year after year, we've got to stop and ask how authentic and valuable the whole rigmarole is. Are we sheep going up a race into the truck? Is that assessment barking? I think we have become sheep when we spend hours being talked at, when the cat has got our tongue during a tutorial, when we nervously string together sausage cliches in the exam room. But the most damning 'achievement' of the present system is the way no ones knows each other. Will we be able to point at our friends, as a French scientist once did, and say 'These are my books'? We have wasted what was of the most value.

Peter Hallwright, that keen youth who killed Shakespeare last week, claims we're just "quibbling about assessment". He's the sort of person who thinks people sit on the lavatory just to hear the plops.

Martin Doyle.