Academic failure

Posted: 01/04/2014 in Mandtao, Science
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Mandtao 30/4/12


I should note here that I am not an academic success, in truth I have wasted my abilities. But Nana have I?

That is a reference to a lasting memory I have of my father’s mother who was a teacher. We were sitting in her house playing cards, I was about 14 at the time, and she asked how I was doing at school? I told her I was doing enough to get by, that I would do enough to get O and A levels (I’m that old!!), and go to university. She freaked and stormed out of the room crying. I was knocked back as she called out “You are too intelligent to be like that, it’s such a waste”. I never grasped what such a tremendous compliment that was, I am not saying she was correct in her assessment but my education became just as I had said and it was such a waste. I did maths because I found it easy, went to uni and got a second class degree in alcohol and maths, was able to extend my drinking for an extra year as I did a year’s advanced study, and throughout there were many asides that I could have achieved far more.

And I could have done far more except for the fact that I never had desire for knowledge and learning until I grew older. That started when I left uni, and met people searching for knowledge in the London underground scene. It was then that I got switched onto a plethora of 60s and 70s heroes who opened my closed university mind to the wealth of knowledge that was available as learning. Pirsig will always be my biggest such hero, but Capra, Zukav, Colin Wilson, and others were all heroes whose writings taught me to question. That questioning then took me to religion as hitting bottom with the alcohol again opened my mind to what was available in life. Nana, this questioning was the intelligence you sought for me, and your flagging it has always been with me, but in truth schools were never the place for such intelligence as a life as a teacher has taught me.

My search for knowledge left the London underground as a compassionate nature took me into child care and teaching. And when I recovered from the daily compromises that those institutions required of me, learning occasionally occurred during the holidays. 20 years later I found myself in Botswana where other expats spent their time drinking and chasing the beautiful women. As I didn’t drink that chase was curtailed a bit for me as the associated Aids was not a price I wanted to pay. My first year I met someone who said he was doing an M Ed to pass the time, I scoffed “a waste of time” and then the next year started one. It was a great experience, and it is the process of that experience which has led me to this blog. Near where I lived was Shashe Dam, the local reservoir, whose levels rose and fell with the season. At low water you could sit under the reeds overlooking the water, it was so peaceful. During that peace I would study and really get into the learning that became my M Ed.

That M Ed brought out in me the search for knowledge that schools, Nana, could never have done – my Nana was into schools; what were schools to her? Exam factories and not places of learning, I assume. The M Ed I did allowed me to develop areas of professional expertise I had worked on as a teacher, and reinforce them with academic understanding. Books and experience is an ideal combination for the development of genuine learning. When I was qualifying for the M Ed I spoke to my tutor who encouraged me to think of a higher level of qualification.

Then I met the gatekeepers, these were the people who I would have to do research with. My dissertation had been concerned with the underachievement of black students and significant for me in that dissertation was the recognition of mind and its motivation. Now mind was something I knew about through personal religious work and meditation, and I worked on a rather grandiose research proposal – seeking the commonality in religions on what mind was about. I sought not a consensus because academics don’t seek a consensus on mind, they are happy to have disparate views so that they can all hold their professorial seats. But insight dictates a commonality in the understanding of mind, and as academics in general do not use insight universities are not places to further a study of mind.

But I pursued it. I first met this American at my Scottish university, and all I saw was this rigid gatekeeper. He was a young child with no understanding just full of books. He had no ability to recognise that experience has much to offer in the field of knowledge. He told me, a man 20 years his senior that I needed to go back and be an undergraduate. So from my tutor encouraging me I am knocked back by this child, and returning to the tutor I was told “not my bag mate”, but he made calls. To the institution’s credit they offered me an unpaid tutor but he told me the same thing “go back and learn”. I did try but I changed jobs and had less free time. When I did submit something it was dismissed as “Hindu-Buddhist inclusivism” or something like that.

To be quite honest I didn’t have the time anyway, so the rejection was beneficial. I did further studies in religion, primarily developing meditation until 5 years later I found myself in a position to retire early and spend time studying. In some ways the M Ed was useful. The course required a high level of self-direction, and with that self-direction being partially rewarded I am prepared to confront the establishment and say my studying is valid even though I didn’t get past the gatekeepers. That self-direction is also to be found in this blog, it is my intention at the moment to produce something substantive that would be that confrontation. We’ll see

Academic failure, Nana? Yes. Failure in the search for knowledge – absolutely not. I love learning. Here I am now sat at one of the most beautiful beaches in the world, the surf rolls in as the waves increase with the season, and I am writing blogs about science and axioms and Capra and …. loving it.

My M Ed can be found here.

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