Wednesday, October 22, 2008

How I was offered honours by pulling a Bradbury

One of the best and worst lecturers I ever had was in the last semester of my third year at uni. I had been slowly plugging away at various English and Cultural Studies-type subjects, all in the name continuing my big fish, little pond dominance of high school English, which surely pointed towards an immanent blast off into the interstellar fame and fortune offered by continuing to be good at reading and writing.
I had also continued to study Anthropology all the way through, somehow missing the discrepancy in grades between these two subjects which made up my major. I recently had cause to look over my thin little undergraduate transcripts and only then, with all the subjects and their grades lined up alongside one another, did I notice that in three years I only ever managed one single, solitary Distinction from Napier Building, Floor Six. Every other English grade was lined up nicely over the three years with a big, cheery 'C' for Credit. As in:

"You're a credit to yourself and your family in that you can use a spell checker, the library, a watch to remind you when the tutes were and a calendar to point out when the essays were due."

To demonstrate my Credit-honed grasp upon the beauty of the Mighty Scimitar of The English Language, I shall offer you the following sentence: My anthropology grades were exactly the same, in that they were the exact opposite.
I took just as many anthropology subjects as I did English ones and distinguished myself above other anthropology students and my own English grades time and time again.
Except, and now we come full circle, for that one little hiccough at the end of my final year.

Dr Power was not his name. I will not write his name to save him the embarrassment a self-google might bestow in years to come. He taught a very heady subject called 'Discourse and Power'. I know. I have no idea either, and I took the course. Myself and my two friends, Molly and Andy were the youngest people in the first tute by ten years. The two other youngest student, Craig and Anna, may have actually been near to our age, but Craig's soft, bushy beard and thin spectacles and Anna's dyed-black hair and tough leather jacket to match her tough eyebrows set them at quite a different atmospheric pressure to the floaty meadow breezes we three youngsters were used to.

I can't tell you what the course was about any further than its name. Dr Power was Sri Lankan and so used quite a lot of historical examples from modern Sri Lankan history to illustrate his wordy, complex points. Molly, Andy and I sat up up the back, madly writing useless notes and copying each other's useless notes.

During the first tute Dr Power gave us all his home telephone number with instructions to call with any course-related problems for a discussion any time up until about 11 o'clock in the evening. He explained with a benevolent smile that Sri Lankan households did note keep the same quaint early bedtimes as the Australian households he had experienced. There sounded as though there was much cooking, discussion and general activity in the Power household. Right up until 11pm.

He regularly took us over to The Mansions after tutes and bought us rounds of beers (only we three up the back shyly ordered schooners of ale, everbody else had water or juice). We all sat around trying to follow his leads on course discussion before breaking down into the customary get-to-know-you round the circle speeches before lapsing into further awkard silence and leaving.

A couple of weeks in, Dr Power handed back the first essays and sat quietly at the front of the tute on a chair while most of us worked down the gruel of our insanely low marks. When we could eventually gather the courage to meet our teacher's eyes, he was almost as shocked as we were. He was genuinely troubled. Most of us were all terrible. Particularly our little group of three up the back.
'I don't understand,' he said. 'There is such a discrepancy of marks! Some of you grasp the material quite well, but some plainly have almost no understand of the basic concepts we've been working with.'
We hung our heads.
'Do you ... do you talk about the material to each other?'
We glanced at one another. A couple nodded timidly.
'Outside this tutorial?'
The nodding ceased.
'Do you meet up to discuss your work?'
The absence of nodding continued.
'Do you perhaps even call or contact each other to go over the material?'
Apart from us three up the back, everybody else always left the class in different directions.
'You do not help each other outside this class?'
Head-shaking. Of course we didn't. The idea would have been laughable if there had been a few higher grades in the room to lighten the mood.
'That is a real shame. A real missed opportunity. Because students like Anna and Craig could really help students like Molly and Andy and Franzy.'

We were so shocked we didn't even get offended until about a fortnight later.

This story borrows nothing from The Mighty Ducks. I did not begin to improve. I continued to suck. But some of you will remember that I did escape with a credit for this course. Which is mysterious, given that my essays were so bad they could have sucked bowling balls up chimneys.
Here's how it went down. Or up:

At the same time, I was doing a gender studies course, one that I was quite good at and one that I ended up actually helping to run a year or two later. The fact that I was one of three boys in a class of fifty girls had nothing to do with my enrolment. Hey, I'm a learner. I wrote quite a good essay that examined the use of power in society with gender sprinkled on top. Or something. When it came time to hand up that final glorious essay which was to save me from failure (it was actually still possible to fail in those days, unlike today's courses which allow you to resubmit and appeal until you get the grade you paid for), I simply dusted off the larger chunks of gender studies and sprinkled on some of the bits of Sri Lankan history I had selected at random from our phone directory-sized reader. I slapped on a title which included the words 'Discourse' and 'Power', handed it up with a sigh and went on a very long and enjoyable road-trip to a music festival in Brisbane.

All the way there, I kept receiving messages from my parents. 'Call Dr Power', 'Dr Power is worried about your essay', 'Tell Dr Power to stop leaving messages', 'Why don't you call us once in a while?'.

I finally heard the message left by the deeply concerned Dr Power. He was extremely worried that not only had I handed in a gender studies essay to his subject, but that I had also handed up a brilliant Discourse and Power essay to my equally-confused gender studies professor.
I had to call him. I rang during the late afternoon when I was sure he mentioned something about Sri Lankan nap time, hoping to catch him relaxed and unaware.
'Some of these references are nothing to do with this course, are you sure this is not a different essay?'
The conversation on my part wasn't worth repeating. I mumbled, I prevaricated, I assured him that I wouldn't be handing in another essay and hung up.

He gave me a credit.

Although I never spoke to him again, somehow I'm sure he fobbed me off with the lowest acceptible grade possible so as be 100% assured of never having to deal with, or even speak to me again.

Or it was the typo that was cemented into history.

Please, once again, nip over to poetsquib and read another extended tale of my tepid youth. My first exposure to the most devout of choristers, I. Ron Butterfly ...

We drank in pubs, smoked in laneways and began really obsessing about these new things called “mp3s” which you could get from this wonderful computer program called “Napster” which used “the internet” for something other than email and postage-stamp-sized pornography. We installed ever louder and more impressive speakers into our cars so crap they were cool. Or maybe it was the other way around ...


GTH - Shippy swoops in a plucks the points from all comers with a wonderfully-reflected metaphor and, in case anyone hadn't noticed, for the new write-up down on the Champions' Scoreboard. Give him a week and he'll be running this place without me.


  1. At uni we had one lecturer mark 50 pages * 100 students worth of prac reports per semester. We all knew he couldn't possibly mark them properly. One guy took four of his friends' prac reports from the previous year, photocopied random pages from each, stuck them all together and got a high distinction.

    I got a distinction.

    *shakes fist*

  2. "Because students like Anna and Craig could really help students like Molly and Andy and Franzy."

    lol! ouch

    I got a credit once and I was so enraged I went to the Appeals Committee and jumped up and down like a complete twit

  3. Brocky - That's very interesting ... *makes note in Little Book of Blackmail*

    Squib - You could see that he meant well, and it was utterly true, but still ... way to teach!

    I would say that your behaviour may have been the reason for the credit in the first place ...

  4. Ahh, university. Where would we be without useless notes..?

    I found that if I tried to copy someone's useless notes, I generally got more confused, and the person who's notes I was copying would have to go back and explain what they meant by the notes in the first place and hence entirely re-teach the lecture, which is what confused me, see..?

    Hey, I didn't realise that marks were so important until about 3rd year of university. Why the hell do they give out CP's anyway?

    Keep the roll going - GTH: Music Road tripping to Brisbane and going a bit 'Wolf Creek meets Tom Green' about it when discovering that the assumed 'dead kangaroo' turned out to be a dead emu, getting involved in the art and contemplating the idea of snacking on the biggest drumstick ever!

  5. Hey at least you got some Distinctions in Napier! I got - and I kid you not - 72s in first year, 73s in second year and 74s in third year. Maybe I should have thrown a tantrum or swapped essays around - Roman Art and Archaelogy to the Major English Texts crackpot and vice versa...

  6. GTH - Christmas dinner cooked courtesy of my father-in-law? He lives in a shearing shed 30km outside of Morgan with no phone, electricity or hot water and has been known to eat emu, among other things......


An explanation of The Joy Division Litmus Test

Although it may now be lost in the mysts of thyme, the poll below is still relevant to this blog. In the winter of 2008, Mele and I went to live in Queensland. In order to survive, I bluffed my way into a job at a Coffee Club.
It was quite a reasonable place to work: the hours were regular, the staff were quite nice, it wasn't particularly taxing on my brain.
There were a few downsides: In the six weeks or so that I worked there, there was about a 90% staff turnover (contributed to by my leaving). This wasn't seen as a result of the low pay, the laughability of staff prices or the practice of not distributing tips to staff, rather it was blamed on the lack of work ethic among Bribie Island's youth.
However, one of the stranger aspects of the cultural isolation that touched our lives during our time "up there" was the fact that nobody at my work had heard of the band Joy Division.
The full explanation is available here.
But please, interact a little further and vote in my ongoing poll. The results are slowly mounting up, proving one thing: people read this blog are more well-informed about Joy Division than anyone who works at the Coffee Club on Bribie Island.

Have you heard of the band Joy Division?

Chinese food, not Chinese Internet!

Champions of Guess The Header

  • What is Guess The Header about? Let’s ask regular “Writing” reader, Shippy: "Anyway, after Franzy's stunning September, and having a crack at 'Guess The Header' for the first time - without truly knowing what I was doing mind you - I think I finally understand what 'GTH' is all about. At first I thought you needed to actually know what it was. Don't get me wrong — if you know what it is, it may help you. I now realise that it's more Franzy's way of invoking thought around an image or, more often than not, part of an image. If you dissect slightly the GTH explanatory sentence at the bottom of his blog you come up with this: “The photo is always taken by me and always connects in some way to the topic of the blog entry it heads up.” When the header is put up, the blog below it will in some obscure way have something to do with it. “Interesting comments are judged and scored arbitrarily and the process is open to corruption and bribery with all correspondence being entered into after the fact and on into eternity, ad infinitum amen.” Franzy judges it, but it's not always the GTH that describes the place perfectly that gets it. “The frequent commenters, the wits, the wags and the outright smartarses who, each entry, engage to both guess the origin and relevance of the strip of photo at the top (or “head”) of each new blog and also who leave what I deem the most interesting comment.” It generally helps if you're a complete smartarse and can twist things to mean whatever you feel they should mean - exactly the way Franzy would like things to be twisted." - Shippy Blogger and GTH point scorer.
  • Nai - 1
  • Lion Kinsman - 2
  • Will - 2
  • Brocky - 2
  • Andy Pants - 2
  • The 327th Male - 3
  • Mad Cat Lady - 3
  • Miles McClagen - 4
  • Myninjacockle - 4
  • Asheligh - 5
  • Neil - 5
  • Third Cat - 5
  • Adam Y - 6
  • Squib - 6
  • Mele - 6
  • Moifey - 7
  • Jono - 8
  • The Other, other Sam - 14
  • Kath Lockett - 15
  • Shippy - 19
  • River - 32