25 January 2017

Ruminations, continued.


That was how things grew worse for me.  For the class in general, the year continued on a general downward trend. There was his more and more overt assertions about how the only way to write was to write like James Joyce.   He even brought in one of Joyce's short stories- Araby- to read to us.  It was about an annoying kid who ultimately realizes he was an annoying kid.  The professor read it to us in a voice that was half airy mysticism, letting us know this was Deep, Serious Art, and half Kindergarten teacher, reminding us that we were mere children. He paused as he read the final words to us.  "I'll let that just sink in for a moment," he said with enormous satisfaction, as though he had just bestowed upon us a priceless gift. We spent that moment looking at each other in disbelief.

 Rock bottom for the course occurred around February.  We came to one class as usual, and one student read out their work.  The teacher pronounced it to be bad.  One other student, however, disagreed. 

"This works for me," he said.  "I think this shows real promise." 

"How can you say that?"  replied the professor.  "It is bad." 

They went back and forth several times, each backing up their points by pulling out what they believed worked, and what they didn't believe worked.  Neither backed down. 

"We may have to just disagree," said the student.  "I still think this works." 

The professor exploded.  "I've just about had it with you people," he yelled.  "When I was a student I didn't know much, but I like to think that I've learned some things in the last twenty years, and I am tired of undergrad students thinking they know better than me!" 

That moment was the final death knell of the class.  Whether he was right or wrong in what he said, he was wrong to say it.  The class depended on the free and open exchange of ideas and opinions. He killed it for once and for all with that outburst.  He was announcing that the only opinion that mattered was his own, and he would not tolerate dissent.  And he was petty and small minded enough to mark us down if we continued to hold our own opinions.  For the remaining months of the class, no one argued with him again, no one contradicted him again, no one disagreed with him again, and no one learned anything.  We told him what he wanted to hear, and none of us believed a word of it. 

About ten of fifteen years after I took that course, I ran into a young woman who had just taken the same course with him the year prior.  He still read Araby, and even announced that he would let it's magnificence sink in.  He even launched a tirade around February about how he had twenty- now more than thirty- years experience and how dare they disagree with him?

You see, in the end, he was in fact wrong in what he had said.  He really was not a man with twenty years experience, because he refused to learn from others.  Whatever he had learned by the time he was handed his degree was all he would ever know.  He was a man with one year's experience, twenty- and later thirty- times over.

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