An Education

As those of you who follow me elsewhere may know, I’m in the midst of preparing for a week-long training course on project management methodology. Yes, it is exactly as dull as it sounds, only more so. By the end of next week I will hopefully have passed an exam to get me a professional qualification. The only reason I am doing any of this is because it has become a departmental requirement, and therefore the company is paying. On a professional level I see the need for the methodology, in fact for anything at all that might bring a bit of structure and accountability into our current development environment. It’s necessary, and I’m all in favour of companies supporting their staff’s ongoing professional development.

But I have two problems. One is that, because it’s only a professional qualification,  on a personal level I absolutely don’t care. There’s nothing in it for me. I realise that I ought to care: not only does my current employer now require this qualification, but it’s actually reasonably well known in the project management world and (rumour has it) is therefore A Good Thing To Have On One’s CV. I might earn more because of it. I don’t care about that, either. I’ve never been career or money focused, I just like to do something new when I get bored. So far there’s been a fortunate congruence between that and steps that now begin to look something like a career path, but it’s not an inevitable upwards climb.

Nevertheless, doing my best impression of a good girl (but with rebellion in my heart), I settled down to study the Workbook and Manual that were distributed for pre-course preparation. And here I ran into my second problem (we’ll take the fact that it’s as boring as fuck as a given). The way I learned to study, a way that served me reasonably well throughout my arts degree and MA, is in no way appropriate to learning this methodology.

Way back in A-level history classes, my teacher was quite particular about the way in which he required us to take notes on what we were reading. You took your A4 pad, folded the page in half vertically, made notes from the text on one half (in your own words), and then your own thoughts on what you were reading on the other half. I like this method. It works for me. It allows engagement and response to the text to be captured in the same place as the notes on the salient points drawn from the text. I suspect that an adherence to this system has shaped my research habits ever since: in through the eyes, out through the pen. To this day, I cannot read and engage without a pen in hand.

When is a text not a text? When it’s a project methodology manual. It is redundant to make notes, because the whole thing already exists in bite-sized paras, bullet points lists and diagrams. It is, in fact, a total waste of paper to have printed it at all when it should clearly reside online and in an iPhone app. The manual is written in jargon that must be understood and reproduced exactly; sample exam questions operate only in precisely the same terms as the manual (to the point of some ‘complete the sentence’ style questions), so if anything it’s probably worse to reword it in your own terms. And finally, there’s no requirement to record one’s own thoughts on engaging with the text because there is nothing to engage with. The methodology has done the thinking; the reader is simply required to remember and follow the instructions. The food has been pre-chewed and semi-digested for me, and all I need do now is tip back my head and accept the resulting pap.

All of which sits uneasily with me. It might be a form of learning, but it’s nothing to do with education.

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6 thoughts on “An Education

  1. Annie

    Your way of working is exactly like my own and if it’s any consolation somewhere in her journals Virginia Woolf says that she doesn’t know how to read without a pencil in her hands. In her case, because she read to review and she reviewed to earn enough for them to live on while The Hogarth Press got off the ground. What you say about the requirements of the exam however, reminded me of some overseas students we had at one time who came from a culture where the prescribed way of passing an assignment was simply to copy out passages of accepted wisdom and accepted propaganda from prescribed texts. When we yelled “plagiarism” they had no idea what we were talking about.

  2. litlove

    Eww how ghastly! And we wonder why British companies are in such dire straits. I really worry that the more we turn education into a business, the more likely we are to have this kind of disastrous attitude to learning imported into the classroom. I really, really hope there are some nice-looking men on the course with you. I can’t think of any other way to salvage the week…

  3. musingsfromthesofa Post author

    Annie – That is the only thing I could claim to have in common with Virginia Woolf, then! Your overseas students must have been baffled when put to the task of thinking for themselves. I have the opposite problem (another slight issue with the Manual), that I inherently disrust authority.

    Litlove – Well, firstly, I am vastly relieved that this sort of thing has not made its way to the classroom. Secondly, I’m attending the course with colleagues, so I can’t possibly comment on the possibility of eye candy… But I thank you for the wish!

  4. Emily Barton

    I wish someone had taught me that technique for studying that you learned. It sounds like it would be very effective. And when I used to peruse math and science textbooks (which I haven’t done in a few years), I was appalled by how much they were trying to imitate online resources. I hope to God kids won’t soon be stuck with nothing but textbooks (even history books) that resemble the one you’ve been using.

  5. musingsfromthesofa Post author

    Emily – It was very effective, and still is. Surely that can’t be the way textbooks are going? I vote for AJP Taylor!

  6. Nicola

    I love this post. Business jargon and manuals I loathe almost as much as Powerpoint. Sounds like you had an excellent history teacher – what a good way to engage with a text.

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