My name is Dani, and I am powerless.
It’s been sixteen years since I began a relationship with education institutions and even though there’s overwhelming evidence to suggest they’re terrible for you I’ve never had any really bad experiences. In fact, I’m one of those weird people who liked school. And who would go back, despite loving the fact that university has made me independent enough to burn 2 Minute Noodles on my very own stove.
What works for me
I was told that when I reached university I’d be just another number, something a small-town girl who loved certain subjects mostly because of the teachers who taught them found horrifying. What would history be like without Ms Nel and her gun impersonations, random baking handouts and stories of Hitler’s lovers? What would English be like without Ms Claassen getting me excited about the convoluted poems simply by sounding excited by them herself? I’d be unable to continue with biology, but if I slipped into a Micro class I was sure I’d be uncomfortable that Ms Wiegman, who I’d known from Moms and Tots since before I turned one, was no longer the one explaining with that patient, unflappable demeanour of hers.
History and English, for the record, were both not what I was expecting at all and I dropped them both with relief at the end of first year. My teachers ruined their subjects for me because there was no way anybody would live up to them being them. I meant it when I said that my ‘good matric results’ were all because of them, Mom and God; I’m living proof of what a good, passionate, education-focused educator can do.
Thankfully, Rhodes was kind enough to offer me that human aspect I needed in my two majors. All right, I probably would have continued with Linguistics and Journalism despite the lecturers and their lectures – and once or twice it was definitely despite, with teeth grit and everything – but the people teaching writing and English-nerding definitely played a huge part in my decision. My brown-nosing cred is going to skyrocket for this, but the lecturers are definitely my favourite part of Rhodes. It took forever to stop freaking out at having to call them by their first names, but after a while I was lucky enough to get to know some of the quirkiest, most interesting, most passionate and most knowledgeable humans in this country. They push me and guide me in equal measures, and I think I learn more from a quick-question-turned-to-two-hour-offload-session with them than I have from any book. Even though some of them can quote said books at me if asked (and still make them sound more interesting).
What doesn’t work for me
Possibly unsurprisingly, the human aspect has been the worst part of education at Rhodes for me. I love talking to people; I hate interviewing them. I hate having to take their pain, excitement, triumph, grief, rage and put it to paper, because I hate turning something as complex as a human being into 300 words. We can’t even write ourselves without omitting some of the truth; how on earth could I be expected to sit across from a stranger and ask these things? Also, I hate having to ask people for time and I don’t do well in front of strangers. Interviewing is not for me. And I sat through three and a half years of it.
As astounding as one human can make the learning experience, all it takes is one human to ruin it all for you. I dropped English because of my first year tutors. I despised going to isiXhosa because of my tutor, who on one occasion told me I was “the problem in South Africa” because I was unable to translate a sentence not even touched on in class. I did worst in the sections of Linguistics where the lecturer did nothing but read off slides, about as engaged in their topic as they were the pigeon that got stuck in the lecture hall one day.
The worst aspect of Rhodes education, however, has got to be how forwardly backward we are. There aren’t any classes where we’re sat down and told, “Listen, you’re white, so you’re privileged. Let’s talk about this.” There is one department that will let you learn about tales that aren’t Shakespeare; about mythology Hollywood didn’t find interesting enough to turn into a film, yet. But in the same breath we’re told we’re Post-Modern. There is no one identity. You can be whatever you want to be.
Unless you have to write an essay. Then you have to be whatever your lecturer has told you you are. They’ll all deny it, of course, and I don’t think any of them really mean to put you in boxes. But sometimes, in an effort to destroy the confines of the past, one creates new confines. And then you, as a student, need to decide whether you want to voice your opinions, even though they go against the ones you were given and handed references for, or if you want to get that first-class pass. I didn’t have too bad a time with this, luckily, but I watched my best friend go through Psychology where she was told over and over again how backward it was to be a Christian. We’ve moved past religion – we’re truly enlightened enough to see that a Big Man In The Sky is absolutely laughable. If she’d written her beliefs – that there is one true God and His son Jesus came to earth to save us – she would never have passed. So she compromised as much as she could, and wrote the things they were so convinced was freedom from oppression.
I’d like to say that I’m the type to sacrifice my marks to keep my morals completely squeaky clean. But I’m not. My name is Dani, and I am powerless.