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Academic Sheep Teachers - NME Student Guide, September 1993

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Title: Academic Sheep Teachers
Publication: NME Student Guide
Date: September 1993
Writer: Ted Kesler
Photos: Kevin Cummins

NMEStudent93 (1).jpg NMEStudent93 (2).jpg

Richey James, guitarist with the Manic Street Preachers, believes the education system is far too liberal. "It isn't radical enough," he says. "It assumes that most students are decent sorts of people and they're not."

And Richey should know. He spent three years at Swansea University between 1986 and 1989 ("showing my age a bit") studying history -he left with a 2:1 - and avoiding his fellow students. Richey felt he had very little in common with his peers - he wanted to study for a start.

"I thought it would be full of people who wanted to sit around and talk about books and it wasn't like that at all. It was full of people who wanted to sit around and do as little as possible other than have as much fun as they could. But I never equated university with fun. I thought it was about reading and learning but, for most people, it was about getting laid. Big f—ing deal! "I went, there to study, to learn. I went there to avoid work, to avoid manual labour, whereas most other students went there to enjoy themselves for three years and I found that really offensive. For me it was about reading and that's what I did.

"When I went to university I was a virgin. I'd never drunk a drop of alcohol. And that's how it was when I left, too, except I'd had a few drinks."

It wasn't purely that Richey was so tied up in the work ethic that he couldn't enjoy himself, but that his idea of a good time differed fairly comprehensively from his fellow students. "I used to get woken up constantly by pissed-up students coming home thinking it would be really funny to rampage up and down the corridors knocking on everybody's door, deciding to have a party in the kitchen at one in the morning. Pathetic! It reminded me of my first year of comprehensive, all these little idiots whose idea of a good time involved sitting around reciting Young Ones sketches to each other.

"I hadn't had that since I was 13. When I went to tertiary college you just used to go to your lessons and then you went home, so you could avoid anyone who annoyed you. But at university I was stuck in a whole tower block with them!"

Richey was also disappointed that people went to university purely because it was expected of them by their parents, because they saw it as the first rung on the job ladder. He wasn't looking to the future when he applied to Swansea, he was looking for a way to find out more about history.

"It wasn't about what I'd be able to do with my history degree in the future. I was just Interested in the subject and that seemed to be enough. I've never seen education as a means to a job. All these students who sat around saying, 'I worked really hard today, I read loads'. That's not what I'd classify as work. It was going to a nice library and reading books all day. That was a pleasure and a privilege.

"Those people who saw it as a career move were the same ones who complained about how hard it was to be a student. I wasn't well off and I got a grant, but it wasn't tough at all because I had nothing to spend it on. The people who complained about the money were the ones who wanted to use their grants to go inter-railing and all these social activities that held no interest for me in the first year. In the second and third years I'd buy a bottle of wine and sit around and drink it and that would be the full extent of my expenses. Maybe I'd buy a CD as well. I didn't do anything else. I still don't, really." Didn't you ever want to be just a little silly, a little decadent? "No, not really. Education should be about just learning. All the other stuff - the socialising and drinking and stuff that people say are important parts of university because it teaches you social skills - is f—ing nonsense because you learn that at infant school or comprehensive. Or at least you're meant to. I think if I'd been able to have a flat of my own, my memory would've been very different because I've never been very good with very many different people, I've always surrounded myself with just a very few people. To hole myself up in a tower block with hundreds of people I had nothing in common with was a really bad experience."

If the ills within the British education system are clear to Richey, the cures are even more blindingly obvious.

"More students should be kicked off courses. That's what I'd introduce straight away, that if you missed more than two lessons a week you're drawn up in front of a committee and if you continue to not do your work you're kicked off your course. What is wrong with that? Surely that is justifiable, otherwise you've just admitted that college is just three years of getting pissed and having a laugh. If you don't want to be there to learn, then drop out. What's the big deal? I despised those people who sat in the bar going, 'Oooh, I was really rebellious today, I didn't go to one lesson!' When you think of the people who'd dearly love to go to university, and then these idiots turn it into a joke. It's obscene really."

But there are always going to be people who take advantage of the system. Most schools are reasonably strict but people still break the rules. Would Many from Blaggers ITA have let his fats do the talking when frustrated with verbal debate (as he's alleged to have done recently after a heated discussion with a journalist) if he'd been to university, for example?

"Yeah. The thing about Marry Blagger doesn't really come down to education because he's quite well read on a number of things. It’s just brain dead machismo, just trying to prove I'm harder than you. I don't know what to say so I'll just smack you in the mouth. I've been in loads of situations where I've wanted to smack people and I've never done it because morally I know it's wrong. I find it deeply offensive.

"Anyway, I saw more fighting at university than I did at comprehensive. Public schoolboys drinking loads of lager and having a big fight, all these stupid fights between the rowing club and rugby squad. There was a lot of, 'Let's all drink loads of lager, stand on tables and drop our trousers'. It’s frightening, because these people end up with the best jobs.

"The education authorities shouldn't feel bad about being a bit more authoritarian. They shouldn't worry about introducing more discipline. It's pretty f—ing free at university. You can do what you like, wear what you like. All you're obliged to do is go to around ten lectures a week. It isn't such a huge burden on your time, is it? You can go and work in a brilliant library or you can go and work at home. You can do whatever you want to do as long as you do your work. And if you don't, then f—off"

And with that, every parent and teacher sighs with relief. At last, a responsible, sensible. educated pop star: a rebel who wants you to go to all your lessons. That's right, Richey '4 Real' James from the Manic Street Preachers! Ha ha ha ha ha!