A paradox here—as you may have noticed. And one troubling for me, is that, as I have said, the ethic’s teacher was contentious. He wasn’t the only one. I remember especially a professor who taught in the biology course that had to be taken by all biology majors. The course covered a lot of ground and was team-taught.
Usually, the course kicked off with a foray into the microbial kingdom. I enjoyed learning about the complex array of microbes. The course concluded with a section on botany taught by a man who ran the local botanical gardens. He had a Ph.D. and was well qualified to teach the course. But I had to wonder, since they had to bring in somebody from the outside, that botany had fallen into such low regard that the Biology Department didn’t have a single botanist in it. . Every time, the local botanist taught the course I waited for him to say the word “naked,” because he was from Texas and he pronounced naked as “nekked.”
One time to my amazement when he said nekked for naked nobody laughed or even snickered. I brought up the “nekked” word in my writing course and found out that nobody had laughed because they didn’t know nekked meant naked and thought he was referring to a particular kind of seed called the “nekked” seed from the “nekked” bush or tree.
Late one afternoon I went to a meeting in the faculty club about how to teach the large lecture. I didn’t teach the large lecture but having sat through a good number of them I was interested to hear what people had to say. The turn out was not great; it started with a multi-media pep talk and then people broke into groups. I happened to be in a group with one of the professors who taught part of the biological course.
I wasn’t surprised to see him there. But I was saddened to see how troubled he was by the large lecture, by the low turn out, by the exam results, and he really wanted to know what he might do better. He taught the middle part of the course about the cell, and while the other male biology teachers dressed in t-shirts, with cuts offs and sneakers as if Indiana Jones-like they were just coming from or going to the field, he had worn a suit jacket and tie. His lectures were some of the clearest and most complex. This guy knew the cell inside and out and when it came to microtubules he was a whiz. You could feel it in the guy’s voice—he had a passion for those microtubules and I think he felt bad that he couldn’t seem to convey that passion to his students.
The ethic’s guy wrote his dissertation, and when he was done with that, he asked me if I would write a letter of recommendation for him about his abilities as a teacher. I was happy to do so and it was glowing because he was contentious, responsible, committed and smart. But, as I said, for me doing this was paradoxical because I couldn’t say that he or the biology professor were educating students one iota. I could write a positive recommendation, I guess, because relative to the system and structure of things, the ethic’s teacher did a good job. So did the biology professor. He cared; he was committed, responsible and smart too.
But there was no way on God’s green earth that these people could begin to educate a single student given the “philosophy” of the system in which they operated. I at least refuse to see memorization, repetition and regurgitation, however caringly or committedly facilitated, as anything other than a torturous and deadening initiation rite.