The Parable of the Rich Young Man and the Creative Writing Tutor
And when he had gone forth into the way, there came one running, a rich young student, and kneeled to him, and asked him, ‘Good teacher, what shall I do that I may a get a better mark?’ And the creative writing tutor said unto him, ‘Why callest thou me good? That’s not what you put on your anonymous feedback questionnaire. You know what you have been taught: think long and hard about character, plot and setting; seek feedback and advice; and be meticulous in your rewriting.’
‘But that’s just advice on how to write better,’ said the student, ‘and I want to know how to get a higher mark.’ Then the tutor said unto him, ‘There is only one thing you lack: go your way and write better work, for as your work is, so shall your mark be also.’
I found myself, in a dream, in the drab and windowless seminar room, with an overhead projector on the floor by the blackboard and a stack of additional chairs in the corner. It was the room where I had begun my teaching career, and I was talking to my students about my likely resignation. I explained that the university had changed its recruitment policy to favour what it considered a higher calibre of student, that it was looking to replace its current student body mid-term, and that since it was unwilling to pay for additional mid-term assessments it was placing on the students themselves the weekly task of voting off the least able among them. I explained that I had no intention of permitting such barbarity in my classroom, that there was no-one who wished to be there whom I was unwilling to teach, and that for the acts of resistance I was planning I would almost certainly lose my job.
As I dreamed I felt a rising anxiety concerning the unpleasantness of the weeks ahead and the financial hardships I was facing, until I awoke. Then I thanked the professors beneath God’s throne that I lived in a civilised society devoted to human flourishing, whose leaders would never be so cynical, or so naïve, as to monetise their education system.
After my head of department had informed me by phone that I had ‘left’ the university, after he had wished me well with my future, had giggled and ended the call, I was approached for a couple of years by students who missed me and wanted me back. One in particular described his frustrations with the lecturer now teaching my courses (who not greatly to my surprise was subsequently fired for incompetence), who seemed less interested in teaching writing as a form of art than in ‘grooming [her students],’ as he put it, ‘for Hollywood.’ She was indeed boastful of her Hollywood connections, and it had seemingly not occurred to the interview panel to wonder why someone so well regarded in the film industry would prefer to work for their own, rather ramshackle, institution.
I had in fact applied for the lectureship, formerly filled by my PhD supervisor, and had gained the impression that I had caused actual offence in seeking a post for which their person specifications described me as qualified. Existing staff members had been recruited from Oxford and Cambridge, Edinburgh and in one or two cases Cardiff, and subsequent research suggests that universities habitually consider themselves better than their own PhD graduates.[^1] In this case also the staff were almost exclusively English, in many cases chafed at being stuck in a Welsh university, had no interest in Welsh culture or national life, and were described to me by a more enlightened colleague as possessing neither the talent to contribute to Welsh national culture nor the humility to learn from it.
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