Highs and Lows

Teaching is an interesting profession. Some days are really boring. After so many years, I’ve pretty much memorized my lectures, so much so that I’ve even got all my dumb jokes memorized. All I need to do is glance at my syllabus to see what day it is, and I can ramble on for over fifty minutes on auto-pilot. I’ll be lecturing over classic argument structure or comma splices, or something to do with writing, but in my head I’m actually thinking about Mass Effect or hamburgers or old Richard Pryor bits.

But other days can be quite interesting. Those are the days that make teaching fun. Exhausting, but fun.

Take yesterday, for example.

Yesterday we were reading the beginning chapter of Carl Sagan’s book The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark. It’s the book Sagan finished right before he died, and it’s all about skepticism and the dangers of anti-intellectualism and pseudoscience. Today I had two extreme reactions to the reading.

In my classes, I have students keep a reading journal. For each reading we have, I ask them to write a journal entry over the reading as a way to develop their thoughts. I really don’t care what they write, just as long as they write about the reading. It’s simply a completion grade, and I don’t really even read them.

Today a young man brought me his journal, and I almost began crying as I was reading it. He had written nearly two pages, and the gist of his entry was that he came from a highly religious, fundamentalist family and, he felt ashamed and embarrassed that he no longer believed the religion of his upbringing. He spent the entire entry writing about how much it meant to him to discover that there were other people out there, brilliant people no less, that had the same problems with religion as he did. He kept writing how glad he was to have been in the class and how much better he felt about his life.

It was extremely moving, and I felt privileged that he had felt comfortable enough in my class to share that with me. I’m serious when I say I had to consciously keep myself from tearing up.

That was in the morning.

In the afternoon, I managed to completely enrage about ten people, all in different classes, almost to the point of violence. If we had been in a bar, I would have been in a fist-fight. As I wrote earlier, we were reading Sagan’s book about skepticism, and during the discussion we addressed pseudoscience. I asked the students what they thought about the Thomas Gray quote “Where ignorance is bliss, ’tis folly to be wise,” in regards to things like homeopathy and acupuncture.

I had no idea so many people were taken in with nonsense-bullshit like homeopathy and acupuncture. Good lord. I spent the majority of three classes–I’ll repeat that: THREE CLASSES–trying to understand how these students could buy into something that’s been proven time and again to be utter flim-flam.

One student said, “My parents spend about $300 dollars a month on homeopathic medicine. Are you calling them stupid?”

Calm down–I didn’t say “yes.” I didn’t tell him that I thought his parents were dumber than dirt. I thought it. But I didn’t say it.

Yesterday was fun, but the emotional wave and trough of the day was exhausting, and after work I felt like I had ran a marathon. Hopefully on Wednesday I can turn the auto-pilot back on.

Categories: Teaching | Comments

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  1. Stefan Mead says:

    Ohh, this brings back the good ol’ days.

  2. Christine Caver says:

    Most people who don’t teach all day long have no idea how exhausting it is. “Ivory Tower” HA! I also have been almost hit, and certainly felt assaulted. The great times are great, but interestingly, take their own toll on the psyche as gratitude flows outward.

  3. Anniina says:

    Actually, while I don’t go for homeopathic medicine, there’s scientific proof that acupuncture works for certain things, such as infertility — it has been shown to have a significant impact on improving fertility percentages during IVF treatments by as much as 12 percent. I don’t want anyone sticking needles in me, but that doesn’t mean it’s hokey.

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