Turning the uni essay on its head

I’ve done it. You’ve probably done it. Spend weeks and weeks with great intentions to start an essay, and in the end just smash it out over a couple of sleep-deprived days, dangerously close to the deadline.

The result? Hopefully you’re like me and you end up getting a decent grade anyway. Good enough for an upper first? So what was I doing with all my time and money if I could have done this in a fraction of a semester!

I realise this isn’t the story for some courses that are continually assessed, such as a history degree in Oxford where freshers will write sixteen 3000 word essays in the first eight weeks. Just for fun though, let’s imagine that we START with the essay.

“Welcome to university. Okay you miserable maggots, 4000 words on the internet marketing strategy of an organisation of your choice. Here’s a few sources. You have three days.”

What a rush! There must be people whose work involves a lot of scenarios like this – wouldn’t it make sense if the university experience tried to recreate it? After that, a provisional mark on the essay and into teaching, before the student has to rewrite it for a final submission. More work for the examiner yes, but the outcomes might be way higher.

How about collaborative essays? My masters course has given us a few goes at group presentations which has obvious relevance to the business world, but only one standalone written group assignment. Working together to structure written work is a challenge in itself that I feel is a bit underrated.

I’ve also seen what happens when people are thrown into a group without getting to know each other. Not pretty if you’ve not anticipated its possibility. This happens in the real world too!

I’m not saying we need to throw away traditional essay writing, just mix up the context a bit. What else would you throw into the mix?

Guns, gold, and Jesus

This is a sloppy caricature of a good friend’s belief in what is holding the USA together, with attacks on all three hastening the state’s demise. In Britain we’re already further down the road to becoming a failed state. Forgive me FW, it’s a good springboard to talking about trust.

Guns

FW hates Piers Morgan. In feeling such he is a member of a very large club, but his recent ire was raised by Piers Morgan attacking a gun rights advocate who felt it necessary to keep an AK47 at home. “If he doesn’t like the Second Amendment, why does he stay in the USA?”

Well I think he’s exercising his First Amendment right FW, but you brought up an interesting idea. Do people really need to have the same grade of weapons as their military to protect themselves from the government? I think this was the context of the Piers Morgan interview, correct me if I’m wrong. Keep some assault rifles handy in case DC decides to turn the troops on you. I’ve yet to research when the last time the USA had a command to shoot civilians in peacetime, but for now it’s not important. The important thing is that the gun advocate and FW seem to have no trust in the men and women of the US armed forces not to take up arms on command and start killing civilians. Seriously? The whole army? It’s not a monolithic structure, it’s over a million and a half active personnel, and they all have families, friends, neighbours, churches even! Just a pause for thought.

Gold

FW is a strong proponent of currency backed by a metal reserve i.e. gold or silver, rather than a fiat currency. The problem according to FW is that confidence in a fiat currency is necessarily tied to the subjective confidence of the global market in a state. FW gives an estimate of sixty years from the issuance of a fiat currency to its collapse through loss of backing – loss of trust. A notable exception to the apparent rule is the Iraqi Swiss dinar, which was still used in Kurdish regions even after it was disendorsed by the Iraqi government in 1990. As the supply of Swiss dinars stayed the same or decreased while the new Saddam dinar’s supply increased, it appreciated against the latter. A stable money supply which kept the Kurdish regions safe from the rampant inflation that beset the rest of the country, based on nothing more than mutual trust in paper money. No gold? No problem!

This one example notwithstanding, I can see a much more compelling argument from FW here. We need to rethink how we back our currencies. Returning to a gold standard would increase the price of gold 25-50 times, or else bring about a massive global wave of deflation (I think), and ignores the potential for all sorts of decentralised currencies that our highly connected world allows. I’m not just talking about Bitcoin – take a look at this little report on the future of money by Envisioning, a research organisation based in Brazil.

Jesus

FW is a Christian, and decries the secularisation of the USA and other formerly Christian countries. In his opinion, it’s a loss of belief in moral absolutes that is the catalyst for social decay.

This is a massive topic that I can do no justice to here. What I will say is that regardless of one’s religious beliefs, churches were central social hubs in every British community, which for the most part have been replaced with… nothing. Mind you, the decline of the pub in the UK is also a symptom of a huge shift in the way we live. So there’s two social hubs we’ve lost! I posit that it’s a change in the world of work along with the rise of consumerism after World War Two that has been the real atomising force in our culture. And when you don’t know you neighbours because now you sit at home watching Ant and Dec instead of going out and meeting in groups, how can you trust your neighbours? And when you can’t trust your neighbours, how can you have a healthy society? Consider also that the Nordic countries all score very high on quality of life markers while having some of the lowest reported religiosity in the western world. It may be that FW is making a causation from a correlation, or is making a reduction fallacy, but I can’t say that for certain.

It’s not all doom and gloom though. It just means we need to rethink how we acquire and display our trustworthiness. Here’s Rachel Botsman at TED Global on trust as the currency of the new economy.