When writing about universities, it seems best to start in the way the academics would like -pretentiously. Following suit, I paraphrase Wittgenstein when I say that what is written below will likely only make sense to those who have previously had the inklings of these thoughts.
Below, is a manifesto of worries about the culture that universities create in the minds of their students who are also parents.
My general question asks how parents can set good examples for their children when universities—these ‘pinnacles’ of civilisation—provide lectures that have less information than a generic Wikipedia article?
Universities, as you may have heard, are on the out-and-out. Countless disgruntled articles will lament the capitalistic churning and entrapment of student loans and the rise of ‘fluff’ degrees that simply offer certificates for basic life skills. However, these articles still value the university system as a whole.
To these utopia seekers, I suggest that they get pregnant or adopt as soon as possible.
With a child in the mix of arbitrary deadlines, the meaningless power-rushes hidden within academia are highlighted. Scanning reading lists and finding morbidly boring journal articles on esoteric jetsam can make it feel as though the ground of reality is slipping into a whirlpool of transcendent thought. It’s enough to make one’s bones grow brittle.
All this talk of ‘higher planes’ of cultural appreciation seems impossible to tap into whilst a 5-year-old’s spilt yoghurt stares at you from across the dining-table, mocking you with its fast-setting stickiness. When my anxiety rears its pitchfork and its partner-in-crime, depression, mounts over the futility of university work, the nagging question arises of just how I can summon the false energy, the masquerade, to reassure my daughter that not just what I’m working for, but what she’s working for, is worth it?
She’s only seven, but she has an integrated and holistic approach to the meaning of the world. She would rather dance and roam our hallways, watching origami videos, than settle down to read a book that doesn’t connect with her.
I often wonder where she has learnt that approach from…?
Perhaps from my constant complaints about the lines of incoherent boredom that lace journal articles on the aesthetics of the Bayern Tapestry?
From my petulant sighs when members of my virtual seminar group begin a personal digression on what the layout of an abstract poem means to them?
Or…, is it innate within her?
I have always wondered if the university system was against nature. My daughter continually provides a living testimony of such a hypothesis.
These observations and rationalisations don’t stop the thoughts of futility from frequently visiting me and my mind. Continuously, I question whether I disappoint my daughter when I leave a looming deadline until the last minute and use my honed bullsh*tting skills to produce a first-class essay that I know nothing about.
Often the piece taught me nothing except reinforcing an inherent dread over whether my marker will prefer the use of ‘I’ or ‘We’— a 50:50 chance to be critiqued on the subjective ‘objectivity’ of humanities essays.
My daughter’s eyes ask whether I enjoy what I am doing. The pupils ask whether it’s all worth it. The irises question my whole existence in a single flicker.
Sadly, I don’t have time to respond to such existential doubts. I am already laboured with the debt of tuition. Might as well follow through and get a £27,000 piece of verification that provides testimony of my ability to bear the weight of ennui and somehow survive.
There is no cheerful ending to these musings – life isn’t like that. I’ve already hidden so much from my daughter about the reality of the world. Perhaps one day, she will read this and the academia she knows will bear no resemblance to the one I describe here. Things may change. She gives me such hope.