The gift of being a student

I have always believed education to be a gift.  I mean, it is a human right up to a certain age but past that point, then it’s a gift surely?  To be allowed to read and write stuff  – to create strings of words in a way no one has ever done before is a gift.  That precious time spent thinking about the way facts fit together, pulling together your thoughts into something someone, somewhere, has to read is something wonderful.  In exchange for a 2000 word essay, derived from reading and reflecting at postgraduate level taking up maybe 7-8 hours of your time, then someone will have to spend a couple of hours reading and considering what you have said. It is a wonderful opportunity to be allowed to create something like that.

The amount of reading and thinking you do before an assignment is, usually, reflected in the grade you get back.  To be clear,  I’m sure we have all gotten a piece of academic work back from our reader and are bummed out at the grade, but when you reflect upon it (and maybe read that feedback your reader has given you to help your next attempt) maybe you realise that the grade given is a fair reflection of the work you did.  I’m sure, in fact, that most of the time it is a fair reflection of the amount of work you did.  Even if you are one of those polymath, instant-soaker-upper-of-material kind of a person, you still have to think to write an essay.  Regurgitating facts doesn’t get you very far after a certain point in education.  It’s that thinking time that’s the real gift of higher education.  Being given the space to think and conjure up ideas that maybe no one else have ever thought of before is invaluable. When you get a good grade, it means that your reader appreciated the time you spent thinking about the question they set you. Trust me, reading as much as you can and being given the time and freedom to think about what you have read, may never ever happen to you again the second after you graduate.

There will come a time when you make it into the workforce. You get the job you wanted and people start giving you money for the work that you do.  When this happens (unless you become a university lecturer, I guess) you will have to fight to find the time and space to think; to reflect and maybe write about the product of your reflection.  You will have to decide that thinking or writing is a greater priority than tidying the kitchen or cooking something reasonable to eat.  Sometimes it might be that writing is a luxury use of what little free time you have.  Eating and tidying are really important, after all.  As is settling down, having a family and a life. All of these are great things, but they are also things that reduce the time you have to think and write about the product of your thoughts when you are no longer a student.

But here is the real kicker. Even if you do read and reflect and think and create thoughts that no one else has ever thought, then no one might ever read it. No one has to read the stuff you produce anymore.  Even if the words you type or write are absolutely perfect…Even if each one was ripped from your very soul, never again will someone have to read the stuff you write.

Yes, being a student is something very precious.

Think about that for five minutes before you start your next assignment.


Hmmm – write or work?  I have wasted 90 minutes trying to decide.

I have no shortage of work to do, but my story keeps jumping into my mind and interrupting my entirely worthy attempts to moderate.  I have a lecture to write and one to revise.  For once, I have no marking but it is looming somewhere over yonder.  I have to make a whole series of decisions about work stuff and all I want to do is write.

Whatever I don’t do today, I’ll have to do at the weekend.  Life sucks…

Doing Heritage…

Today, being a nice day, I decided to go out and about and take some photographs.  After some pretty basic Wiltshire research I picked Stourhead, the National Trust property about 30 minutes from here.  I have plenty of work to do, but it was all blue skies and warm, here.  Outside my study window is a continuous stream of builders with various yellow vehicles.  So I gathered up some neuroanatomy reading and hightailed it out of here.

Today is Friday and I expected it to be quiet, and I guess it probably was.  There were lots and lots of retired couples and the occasional mum and small child.  Around the park I could see people scattered on the grass soaking up the last of the summer sun (actually also pretty much the first of the summer sun).  I started my very slow, photographic walk around part of the lake.

One of the worst things about chronic pain (aside from feeling it, obviously) is that you almost HAVE to relieve the frustration of it in some way.  And you need to do this every day or so or you start yelling and screaming at people who really don’t deserve it.  It was fairly inevitable therefore that after the four long days of induction week at work, poorly controlled pain (at the moment) and coming home to a building site every night, my fuse was pretty short.  What tipped me over the edge?  Read on…

My walk was very slow and I hadn’t gone that far before a group of people stormed past me as if the hounds of hell were on their tails.  Every now and then one of them stopped to take a photo on his phone and then ran to catch his group up.  What’s the point of that, I thought?  Why pay £50+ each (or £80 for a couple – don’t get me started) for National Trust membership, if you route march your way around with nary a chance to glimpse the start of the autumn colour change?  I heard one of them shout “Is that The View?” (seriously, you could hear the capital letters) pointing to a hazy glimpse of a building through the trees.  “Probably”, the lead one shouted back as he disappeared down the path.  Now, this exchange irritated me for some reason.  I found myself thinking that even if I could still walk that fast, I wouldn’t.  I would still meander purposelessly and just take photos. I would sit on every available bench/wall and simply look.   After all, the National Trust is a heritage institution; a way of preserving the past for future generations.  You are almost honour bound to breathe it in, smell the roses, read the information signs.  You should not, in all conscience,  be treating the place as a grand prix circuit.  Turner was here once – where would we be if he had just blasted his way through? Maybe I am being unreasonable.  It could be that they had an important thing to get to somewhere, but c’mon, at least take a look look at where you are running through! I was so mad I obviously didn’t say or do anything!

Further down that path, I was just leaving the Ice House (built around 1800, very deep) having been impressed with my camera’s attempt to suck up enough light for a reasonable photo, when I heard another group say “Shall we do the Ice House?”  Do the Ice House?  Do? What does that even mean? What are they going to do and how are they going to do it, I wondered?  Had I ‘done’ the Ice House now?  I don’t think I did.  I marvelled at it and I shivered a little in it.  I wondered how long it had took to dig the hole and make the bricks that lined it.  I thought about the convenience of my refrigerator and how dark it must have been for the servants, if asked to get ice cream during a late night party.  I didn’t ‘do’ the Ice House; I tried to experience it.  Surely that’s the point?  Or am I missing something?

A little further on, I was passed by a far more agreeable couple who had bought the tree identification leaflet (there are thousands of trees at Stourhead).  They were happily occupied with scouting out the little black identification numbers and then reading aloud about the tree from the leaflet.  This was much better because it was different.  You could only do the activity on this piece of land with that particular leaflet.   If the National Trust have decided that the history of trees is important enough to write the leaflet, then I will go back someday and try it out.  And so I smiled at them and felt my blood pressure go down a few notches.  I wasn’t so frustrated anymore because of late September sunshine, dragonflies and people ready to give me a seat on their bench kind of make it better.   I  have decided that this is my idea of a happy retirement; companionship, appreciating historical estates and finally learning to identify trees.