We cheated the young. Is it because they are too limp? | Brussels Blog

We cheated the young. Is it because they are too limp?

posted by on 26th Jul 2014

Our shame

I started a piece for YorkMix, York’s great £1 billion giveaway, like this:

My family say I’ve more money than sense and they know I’m not wealthy. Once, after a meal in one of those nice restaurants in Fossgate, I left a tip of £45 and left feeling guilty. Why?

I had been discussing the rise in house prices with the waiter, a man in his mid twenties. He wasn’t a property owner and I was. As a result, I promised to leave him a tip of one day’s rise in the value of my house. Yes, I was being patronising. Years later, I still feel shame for that.

The second shame is that I cheated. At the time my house was increasing in value by £90 each day so I only left half the promised sum.

I still feel a sense of shame on how my generation has cheated the the young – and the poor, who haven’t had house price windfalls.

(For more our housing crime see Our housing market has screwed the young.)

But have they stood up for themselves.

An entry in 2003 on an old website of mine says:

20feb03a: Student on the coach : Most undergraduates are dead wood.

Disappointed by university

I was very disappointed when I got to university. My parents had enthused about their education. The atmosphere they described was one where everybody, students and lecturers, were passionate about their subjects (Interruption from the seat behind: before the Thomas Gradgrinds got hold of it all.) And it was not just an enthusiasm for their particular subjects: They swapped ideas with students from other disciplines.

Hardly anyone interested

But hardly anyone on my course, Mathematics, was genuinely interested in maths – or at least were prepared to show that they were. Students wanted to be given a set of notes to get them through an exam with as little effort as possible. I could see how frustrating it was to the lecturers. Those that tried to teach students to think for themselves got slated in the course appraisals given by students at the end of the course.

Lecturers despair

Now I am a postgraduate I can talk to those lecturers and they seem to be in despair. They are helpless. The university is now run by form fillers aiming for mechanical targets. The idea seems to be to spoon feed the students so that the department can meet uniform but superficial standards required by the system.

No room for inspiration

Undergraduate courses have no room for inspirational mathematics. I respect the lecturers in my department who try so hard fight the system and encourage individual mathematical thought. But they are fighting the government and the hordes of students that are simply at university because society believes it’s best for most people to go to university. In fact, the only people that really gain are those who wanted to go to university because they had the drive to understand.

New ideas not allowed

The dead wood of the time servers, not only held back the few inspired students but because they were exam focussed they created an atmosphere that restricts creativity and ingenuity. After all, trying a new idea is taking a risk – a risk that it may not be wise to take when there is only really time to learn by rote.

Inquiry by argument and discussion – at last

When I was doing A levels we had a small class (6 or 7 pupils). We ended nearly every lesson arguing over some mathematical point. As an undergraduate I never experienced any such heated discussions. Now I am a research student, this inquiry by argument and discussion has finally resurfaced.

An appetite for knowledge

There has been much talk of increasing the number of people attending university. But most people are not suited to attending university. This is not simply a function of academic ability as measured by the exam machine. Suitability strongly depends on a willingness to make the effort to learn and an appetite for knowledge.

Well? …

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