Essay Page 28

Imagine, for a moment, that you were an 18-year-old studying mathematics at Trinity College in the 1960s. You just might have had Bertrand Russell for a supervision on Logic. If you could write an essay for him, have him tear it to pieces, but still stand up for your arguments, what else could you not do? Who could ever intimidate you? Of course, you would get the benefit of his views on the world as well, and that would also have been worth it. (And if you were really lucky, you might be able to have a sherry with him later!)

One of the fundamental ideas behind education at Cambridge is that you arrive with "basic tools," and it is the job of the University to extend what you can do with them. There is no concept - as there would seem to be in America - that the University must behave in loco parentis

(and yet the term derives from English Common Law with specific reference to universities). You are treated as an adult. Nobody takes temptations away: if you cannot learn to deal with them then, when will you?

There is a great emphasis on dealing with what you do not know. In my Chinese exams - and it must be remembered that, unlike European languages, Chinese is taught from scratch so they know exactly what they have taught you, they know how many characters you know - they make certain that the texts of the exams contain 15 to 20 per cent of characters you have never seen. They want to know how well you can guess the meanings from the context. This gives a rather different interpretation to the expression "an educated guess." Other subjects are similar. The one thing that is nonexistent is the single point of correctness: you do not attend classes of one person who then sends in a grade.