I’m sure you’ve all experienced what I’m about to describe, especially those of you in the liberal arts. I was sitting in class the other day (I won’t say which one, Huron is a small world), surreptitiously inhaling my peanut butter sandwich at the back of the room. There was an open discussion happening that had, in the last ten minutes, wandered away from whatever we were actually supposed to be talking about, and I had taken the opportunity to replenish my faltering blood sugar level. It seemed vastly more important than the discussion, and my hypothesis was validated when Irving* said something that caused me to choke on the last bit of my sandwich.
Just what exactly Irving* said is of little importance; suffice it to say that if it had been a gap-toothed gas attendant from my small town saying it, I still would have given him a double-take. As I said, I’m sure you’ve all had an Irving in your class at some point; someone who proudly flaunts their ignorance and questionable hold on reality as if they were some sort of badge of honour. Someone who has no qualms voicing their opinions to the whole class, regardless of their applicability or validity. Someone who stubbornly refuses to consider that maybe there might be another way of looking at things. Someone who causes you to choke on your sandwich and run out of the room, giving you at least a brief respite from their sermon.
This is not an attack on open discussions in class, and I certainly don’t think that everyone needs to see things the way I do. I love a good debate and I enjoy trading blows with people who have different political or philosophical views than me. I usually come away feeling like I know a little bit more than I did before, and knowing that while I may have made an impression on them, they also made an impression on me.
However, this equal exchange is contingent on three very important things: that everyone involved is informed, open-minded, and conducts themselves in a way that separates us from the rest of the animal kingdom. This is not as self-evident as one might think, even in a university classroom. Everybody remembers the old adage, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” That served us all well in elementary school- why not replace “nice” with “intelligent”, and put it on a massive banner in every classroom? There would be a hell of a lot less participation, I can tell you that. But there would also be less instances of asphyxiation-by-sandwich and less hidden, simmering rage.
For this reason, I heave a large internal sigh every time a professor brightly announces that we’re going to discuss something we spent approximately 40 minutes learning about. Or worse, something that he/she would simply like to hear our opinions on. I often find myself remaining silent, deep in thought (I wouldn’t trust these people to do my grocery shopping, never mind run the country.) If I wanted to hear self-righteous political theorizing with little to no basis in reality, I would simply turn on CNN and save myself over $6000 a year in tuition (as well the cost of contacts for an ever-increasing prescription, which I suspect is tied to the colossal amount of small print I’m forced to skim weekly). But I went to university instead, hoping for something more elegant than small town coffee shop conversations.
I guess book-learnin’ don’t make you smart, though.
Written by: Angela Easby