My Uncle Danny was the first obviously clever adult I knew. Which doesn’t imply that the others were stupid, not at all. But while they all got on with the way life was in the 1950s and 60s Danny was always restless. A dreaming sort of human wanting something else from his life that he couldn’t quite define, but was always looking for. I loved him like a shining light every time he came into our house, and learned so much from the model of his longing. So I wasn’t a bit surprised when he was one of the first people to enrol at the Open University when it got started in 1971.
Harold Wilson always got the credit for that from good socialist Danny, as he set about what became six years of steady work to get his Engineering Degree. Staying up late to watch OU lectures on TV he couldn’t tape yet, video recorders not having been invented. And going on summer schools to occasionally meet his tutors and distant colleagues.
Which all sounds more than a little like now doesn’t it? And not just for those of us at universities we haven’t seen for the best part of a year, but for all of us in all kinds of education. We’re all at the Open University now. On courses that work like correspondence courses, with tutors, teachers and supervisors we meet on Zoom. And as dependent on ourselves to get our learning and research done as ever my Uncle Danny was back in the 1970s.
So I’m glad to have the model and memory of him now. When my own bleaker lockdown days make me mourn the loss of the university experience I’d been expecting, I think of Danny and how grateful he was for the mere existence of the OU. Because we’re all there now and I’m mostly ok with it, thanks. The being responsible for my own work and progress, and with only occasional help. Like it was for Danny.
And thinking about afterwards? The university afterwards? Will it be different? Would I go in there very much? Or carry on working the way I’m used to now? Well I can’t think, for now. What’s the point? For all I know, this having gone on for so long, it could well be that me and the rest of us at university through these lockdown days will spend the rest of our time here in a version of the OU. So I’m getting on with it. What else can we do?
Because we’re all with Danny at the Open University now. Very glad Harold Wilson, Jenny Lee and all those other 1960s and 70s socialists invented this way of working and learning.
More university writing here at “Fieldnotes”