On the merits (or otherwise) of the arse-kicking approach to education

So, as a final goodwill gesture before term finishes, I agreed to be interviewed by some first-year students in class. The deal was to talk in Japanese about our years abroad. I made a pretty good fist of it, although since I got back from Japan my speaking ability has gone way downhill from simple lack of practice. Also present was Ilkka, from the infamous year abroad briefing (which has now assumed legendary proportions among people who were there), and a few others.

The session concluded with some advice from us to the new generation about the year abroad and the semester leading up to it. Among some questions from the floor (about how to recognise Yakuza, as well as more quotidian concerns), one student asked me how many students made it from our first year to the year abroad. I answered truthfully: “About half the class.” Then I wondered why he looked so shocked. In fact, all of us advised the first-years to work harder, in no uncertain terms.

Tough love? Sure, but I felt good doing it. For one, it was funny as hell to watch their expressions when Ilkka told them “You can’t just expect the Japanese language to magically pour into your head. Do the work, or you’ll fail.” But also, I think this kind of “motivation” (read: arse-kicking) was what is missing from the staff this year. In my first year, our year abroad director was a sarcastic, cynical Australian academic named Dr. Weste, who left at the end of last year. His sardonic asides during lessons and frequent threats of dire consequences if we didn’t do the work did a lot to help shake me out of a rut and do better.

I’m of the opinion that everyone secretly likes the Dr. Cox-type character – someone who will mock, belittle and scare you into working harder, but genuinely does it in your own best interests. Not only will it motivate you, it shows someone cares far more than a diffident, impersonal response.


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Filed under arse-kicking, education, friends, thoughts, university

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