I didn’t want to do a vocational degree. In fact I had no idea I could do a degree of ANY kind at one time because I simply imagined one had to have a whole string of prior qualifications before setting foot in a learning environment again. I don’t have a single certificate to my name unless you count a diploma from Durban Business College in 1969. All I possess is a keen interest in people; I never realised that this energy could be channelled into a practical learning environment.
I come from an era where your teacher and your GP was God, and there was a lot of bowing and scraping went on towards persons in positions of authority; they were to be revered and one had to be in awe of them. I never knew why, the rules were never explained to me. Apparently everyone else was born with a ‘rule gene’ and seemed to require no explanation, whilst I was left confused and uncomfortable, and consequently blamed for not obeying the rules. So straight away at college, it was as if 40 years had been 40 minutes; I was propelled straight back into that unnerving confidence draining classroom, separating me from the lecturers, with them on a pedestal, out of my league, superior. It took some nerve for me to keep control.
I still get extremely hot under the collar and squirm with discomfort when fellow students don’t show due deference to the lecturers, as if somehow it’s my fault. Ludicrous though it may sound, and I have to admit it does sound bizarre. They play with their phones and respond in challenging tones; I would have rather died than do that, even if the lecturer was wrong about something. I still couldn’t say so because of their pedestal. In my day it was called ‘answering back’ and it was simply not allowed.
My reaction to situations with those in positions of authority, or anyone who challenged me for that matter, was always that they must be right, simply by virtue of the fact that they spoke their mind. I reacted by responding (if at all) in a manner I imagined they expected from me, what I thought I was expected to think, or expected to say. I never actually knew what I thought, as I never really did. Think for myself that is. I didn’t learn how. This chronic debilitating state of self spilled over into all walks of my life and made me hate confrontation; I would agree with each and every side of an argument, ricocheting from pillar to post, simply because I lacked the confidence or ability to argue otherwise. It was stressful and caused me to forget any points I did manage to make into the bargain, often within moments of saying it, because I had also agreed with another viewpoint to the extent my own became blurred and I would forget what I had said. This still happens on occasions. I was never allowed to argue or discuss with anyone because my father deemed it showed a lack of respect. He was a very misguided and insecure man.
I am discovering that the lecturers can in fact handle dissent; they don’t explode in a rage, as was my experience at home when younger. My primary socialisation had a deep effect on me. Others may not enjoy confrontation any more than I, but they at least seem safe in their own skins and value their own opinion, handling it in such a way that the moment is diffused and actually frequently turned around to the student’s advantage. Clever, thoughtful, respectful.
I am learning that it’s OK not to know an answer. I don’t have to invent one to show due deference. It’s OK to feel uncomfortable when the lecturer (or anyone else for that matter) asks a question and everyone sits there in dumb silence. I am not responsible for that, I don’t have to fill the breach. I really don’t have to worry. Fine if I know the answer but if I don’t, well then maybe she didn’t tell me, or maybe she taught me in such a way that I didn’t understand. I am allowed to say that. I don’t automatically assume it’s my fault any more. This may seem an exceptionally trivial discovery to some, but to me it’s of monumental unparalleled significance. As a consequence I have learnt to learn unhindered by my past inhibitions. I am actually quite clever and I know so much more than I ever realised.