We are all guilty of it. Historians will rarely defend the British colonisers when writing on an African history module. Politics students have equated the term ‘neoliberal’ to swear words and other unpleasant members of the English language. Whilst many of you may believe that it is absolutely right that we do not defend the actions of Churchill, or that George Osborne and David Cameron were not ‘OK guys’, every student at university will be kidding themselves if they do not admit to feeling a pressure to write in a manner that veers away from their own personal opinion, and towards the worldview of their lecturer or seminar tutor. As a centrist, I sometimes am afraid to say in my political economy essays and seminars that austerity wasn’t all that bad. The fact that when I criticise centralised, collectivist economies, this is seen as a ‘ballsy’ thing to do by my friends shows how we are reaching fever pitch in academia.
Apart from to understand another viewpoint to your own, there is absolutely no excuse for writing what you think your lecturer thinks. And anyone reading this article I seriously urge you to write essays with your own opinion and encourage others to do the same.
Writing is absolutely essential to your thought process. The whole process of writing, as well as the purpose of university, is to rigorously challenge your own ideas. At a university you should be intellectually shredded up, and put back together again, with old ideas cast aside and replaced by better ones. Not writing freely means not thinking freely, and if you do not end up writing what you actually think, your own personal views will be swept away and your whole life will end up being consigned to flittering from one view to another, pandering to the masses. Staying true to your own voice will serve you very well in your life, far more than the difference between a 2.1 and a first.
This may make for tough news, but the stakes at university are so very low. The difference of 5% which determines what robes you wear at graduation is nothing compared to a whole life where you are going to have to risk telling people what they don’t want to hear. Do you honestly think that people who are successful in business, politics and all walks of life haven’t upset or offended others? Telling people what they don’t want to hear is part of what makes people great leaders. To risk speaking freely you have to risk being offensive and too often now our generation has lost the courage to step outside of the group think narrative and say things that aren’t the status quo, that may ruffle a few feathers. But that’s OK. Yes, some of what you say may ultimately be wrong, but at least by saying it you may find out why. There is a reason that the most successful entrepreneurs are risk takers, and in academia risk taking should be seen as the same admirable quality.
Secondly, have some respect for your lecturers. Although many sit from their ivory towers with a smug sneer at people that are actually actively involved in the real world, they will recognise good work when they see it. A Trot with good economic analysis (although some may see this as contradictory) will be graded highly by a neoclassical economics department. If it transpires that lecturers are not doing this, then there will need to be a huge structural change to academia but I do not see this as the issue.
‘I write to think, because I do not know what I think until I read what I say.’ Flannery O’Connor’s words should resonate strongly with anyone who wishes to contribute their ideas to the public realm. If you have powerful, persuasive rhetoric, the world is yours for the taking. But you can only take the world if you have a strong sense of who you are and what you think. And if you are still too scared to say your real views in a seminar or write what you passionately feel in an essay, well get applying for a masters because you definitely aren’t ready for the real world.