And thus begins my fourth year of University. As my education life nears its end, I feel a strong sense of disappointment. Is this all there is to learning? This rigid, aristocratic, fast food approach to teaching? Read, write, cram, exam, and repeat? It’s all so dull! In the last dozen years, I’ve not experienced nothing dramatic like The Third Wave, or the Stanford Prison Experiment. I’ve been to no classes which took me to new intellectual height like the class from The Philosophers, nor was there any teacher who changed my life-like that of Freedom Writers Diary. In comparison, my reality is all rather uninspiring. What happened to inspiring creativity and encouraging thinking outside the square? What happened to assignment that didn’t just push the students to physical exhaustion, but also out of their comfort zone to experience in something amazing? Well, today I saw a hint of what I’ve always wanted, and I was terrified by what was to come.
The course in question is an English paper called Introduction to Creative Writing. As soon as the first lecture begins, we were told to translate a Swahili poem in 5 minutes. Pardon? I thought this is and English paper. Apparently not, apparently it is taught in Swahili. The lecturer even began by making sure no one in the class knew any Swahili. Sound of disbelief echoed through out the chemistry lecture theatre, as all the apprentice language alchemists tries to digest what the professor has dished out. The idea, it seems, was to give up control, let the words be seen as pure symbols, so to set the writer free of his cognitive filters and allow spontaneous association to work with unhindered creativity, hence resulting in something raw and simple which pours out of the human psych. What shocked me more than the task itself was that when asked to read out what they wrote, a lot of the people in the class managed several stanzas of flowing poetry. Looking down at my page, I see a blank sheet staring back at me. Does that mean I’m just a control freak who doesn’t know how to let go? Or just incredibly unimaginative? A bit of both I suppose?
The course organisation was also strangely unconventional. The course has one, one hour lecture, and one two hour workshop every week. Unlike other workshops/labs/tutorials, where you simply go and listen or do the things that needs to be done, by the end of this semester, the entire workshop is suppose to devise a piece of text that “intersects language and performance”, by which, the workshop will manifest the bonding and learning that has happened in the last 6 months. That is worth 10%. I thought I signed up for a writing paper? Did I mention we are having the head of Drama over as guest lecturer sometimes too? This is also the first lecturer I have met who is against the University’s Statement on Plagiarism. Her argument is that, in writing, we are all essentially copying each other’s words. It’s the way you mix those words together that makes any writing unique. And if any student so choose to copy another essay as a whole, well… then they have just wasted their money on the paper all together.
At the end of the lecture we were told our ongoing, optional, homework. For a start, as to be expected from any English course, we were told to read like mad men. There are no textbooks or recommended readings, but we were simply told to read anything we can get our hands on. As we read, we were told to keep a Writing Journal which should be our constant companion wherever we go for the next 13 weeks. In it, we are suppose to jot down quotes from books, graffiti under a bridge, overheard conversations on bus, cultural news, ideas for short stories, diagrams for plots, appealing colours, textiles, movements, and even dreams and synchronous moments. Basically observe and record every detail that might be used in a piece of writing. Lastly, we were given a strange challenge due next week; Write a one-line poem today, a two-line poem tomorrow, a three-line poem the day after and so forth, until we have an eight-line poem to present next week. At the end of the lecture, when one of the students asked “how long should a line be?” The lecturer simply chuckled, stared and grinned like a maniac, “hee … hee …. hee …. how long should a line be…. hee …”. At that point, I said to myself “She. Is. Mad.”
In my history of schooling, I have had many lecturers and teachers. I have been taught by people who are humorous, I have been taught by people who are passionate about their fields, and I most certainly have been taught by people who tries to pull off some supposedly profound activity with their students, or use some cleverly designed cliché analogies they read about online. But if this keeps up, this course could prove to be the first class that’s actually slightly mad and scary. I am completely freaked out by the unconventionality of this course. I really don’t know how I will deal with this kind of uncertainty. Yet at the same time, I am also thrilled. The prospect of creative freedom, the un-quantifiable opportunity, and the concept of the unknown somehow manages to get adrenaline pumping in my blood. This semester could be very interesting.