Editorial: Defence Against the Dark Arts

Words: Ellen Desmond

This month’s print issue of Motley is full of varying opinions on different aspects of education. We’ve got graduates mourning their college days and final years desperately trying to save the semester.

In a broader discussion of learning on page 42, Eoin McSweeney discusses how, for him, education was key to understanding the struggles faced by Trans* people. Taking learning outside the classroom, Leah Driscoll chats to Tomislav Perko who packed up and travelled the world (page 22). Back in Ireland, Emily Horgan highlights the inadequacies of sex education in schools (page 46).

Personally, I’m now facing the end of my undergraduate degree. This has got me thinking about the role education has played in my life. Looking back, it’s obvious that books and art were the reasons things turned out one way and not the other when I was a teenager. I had a lot going on and plenty of reason to act out, but reading, drawing and painting became my own little rebellion; I quickly learned to appreciate the arts as meaningful and worthwhile.

Somehow, I also quickly fell into the Career Guidance trap of thinking that humanities and fine art aren’t viable third level routes. (They were my “hobbies.”) So I tucked away my favourite copy of Mrs Dalloway, put away my paintbrushes, and ended up studying Applied Psychology in UCC.

Naturally, at the end of my first year, the English Department found me begging them to save me from myself. Like those people in Rom Coms who throw rocks at their exes’ windows, I stood outside the ORB in the rain with a bunch of roses. I shouted lines from poems by Edgar Allen Poe at them until they got embarrassed. Eventually, they had to leave me in.

English students, as I would soon discover, get a whole lot of slack for having a lack of direction in life. I find this strange because studying English has been the only time I’ve ever felt like I know where I’m at. I will never understand why anyone would blindly study something they aren’t passionate about in order to learn how to do it as a job that they will resent forever.

I frequently hear it claimed that instead of “wasting time” Arts students should study something that will advance or help the world. To me, this argument is invalid. Yes, there are plenty of medical or care professions, or otherwise, that we do absolutely need. However, I find it hard to take when people say that studying the humanities is pointless in comparison, because the arts mean everything and are all kinds of support to me.

As a result, I’ve found it frustrating to watch my classmates being plunged into an atmosphere of lingering doom this term. There’s a serious harvest of dissatisfaction among them as we face into our final exams. It’s not their fault. It’s because there’s a set-up in place that keeps shooting them down and confusing them. (Conversion course in Management and Marketing, anyone?)

Recently, in the midst of what felt like a one woman fight to hold up the chin of the College of Arts, I got an email from a student called Laura McGrath. In an opinion piece on page 40, Laura reminds us of the real purpose of education, which is simply to educate.

And she’s right. What’s so terribly awful about opening our minds? Artists, writers and thinkers change the world. They drive us forward by making us see, question and feel things in ways we never knew we could.

So, just let me live, love and say it well in good sentences. How sad and empty life would be if we didn’t have such an inexhaustible source of magic to turn to.