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Madness October 19, 2006

Posted by Tim in Observations.

My classes are terribly boring. I know, you know. But you don’t. Take my average Wednesday, for instance. Seriously, I’ll trade you my average Wednesday for anything.

The day starts probably later than yours, with my phone waking me up a little after eight. My phone wakes me up because two weeks ago we had a power outage and I still haven’t reset my alarm clock – and given the weather tonight, such an effort now would be in vain anyway. I lay in bed for a while longer, then take a shower, maybe grab a bagel, and head to my first class.

My first class is the class hour of my kinesiology. Easy, you say. Wrong, I retort. The typical class time we go through around nine pages of slides, and this after I’ve condensed the information to probably four or five slides a page. We’re given the slides before hand, but because there are convenient bits of information left blank and three absences equals a drop in letter grade, I go to class. The instructor plods on through mundane nonsense that the State is convinced you need to know – abusing alcohol is dangerous, as is eating McDonald’s or failing to exercise three times a week. The information is useless and yet I scribble in the missing information because who knows how ridiculous the test will be.

Then the class ends and I bike back to my house, where I usually end up watching TV and eating a real breakfast, like cereal or store-brand Eggos. Then I go to my midday classes – Russian and the Russian Novel.

These must be interesting, or at least helpful, or at least tolerable, you say. Wrong, I retort, and wonder whether you see where I am going with all of this. This is what the Russian class looks like – we open our books, and those who bother open our notes. The professor then goes down the line of students, having each one answer the next question in sequence, and so for every exercise in the chapter. There is no teaching component, except for the fine-tuning criticism of a student’s grammar. I do not say this to be mean, but in all honesty the teacher’s edition of my text book would be just as helpful of a coach. The class is small enough and in another language enough that I have to pay attention, but when I can I get away with it by illustrating the present chapter’s vocabulary.

The next class is worse. The professor – the same professor – stands in front of now perhaps twenty or thirty students and lectures about modern Russian novels. The novels can be good (we started with my favorite book, One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich), or terrible, like the one we just finished where the entire plot revolved around whether to move in to the mother-in-law’s apartment. The class could still be great, but the professor makes it her practice to either rant about her personal experiences in Soviet Russia (“…and they didn’t even have pineapple!”) or to read directly from yellowed, type-written, stuffy biographies and literary critiques. This lively exchange is supplemented by asking students “Did you like it?” (and then interrupting their responses) and viewing Russian movies that are on the verge of complete disintegration.

I’m not kidding, I had an attack of laughter today when we started watching this Socialist Realist joke of a movie that I had seen for another class. Everyone was asking if I was okay, and I couldn’t breathe because everything – the class, the movie itself, the bear walking up to the half-dead hero before he stabs it – was so ridiculous.

Then I come back home, maybe to be productive, maybe to bamf around nuclear power plants.

And finally, I head to my last class, a sociology class that for its content should be fascinating. But for every professor out there who can turn the plain awful into amazing (my dad’s hands-down favorite prof was from his dirt class – yes, dirt), there are two professors waiting to crush every bit of liveliness out of interesting topics and turn them into dry pieces of hyperorganized information. So I agonize through this senior level class as the professor tells us exactly what will be on our next multiple-choice test rather than engage us, rather than challenge us, rather than ask tough questions and refuse to answer them with the next slide.

Oh, and professors need a dress code that includes that men cannot where paper-thin pastel dress shirts without at least an undershirt. The palid half-hues of the lecture should not match those of the professor, ever.

Why do I say all this? Not because I’m particularly angry; as a student you learn quickly to live with boring classes. But all of these players – the self-important, ill-prepared professor, the soul-sucking professor, the pleasant instructor who nevertheless lectures on nothing at breakneck speeds, my friend who actually takes notes, my friend who laughs and does not care along with me, and my squeamish yawning discontented self still digesting those store-brand Eggos – come across ultimately to me as nothing short of farsical.

So many people are caught up in rationalizing actions. Bush and Rice and all the media talking heads are trying to rationalize North Korea’s latest nuclear moves. The friend online is trying to rationalize why their significant other ended the relationship. I try to rationalize how a professor could be this way, or why I can’t sit still a minute longer without a little minute-sized piece of me dying on the inside.

Religions and faiths and philosophies try to systematize human behavior. The Fall, or ignorance, or what have you explain evil while grace or indoctrination cover them with good. Modern economics rests on the notion of rational-choice behavior, as do the political sciences. The world takes itself so seriously that it in itself is farsical.

Here is the truest statement about mankind I have ever read outside the Bible, from Mark Twain:

“When we remember that we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained.”

It’s a mad, mad, mad, mad, mad, mad world. Even the boring parts.



1. meg - October 19, 2006

good post. im tired of things being put in boxes, whether cramped, stifling condemnatory boxes or little, neatly organized systematic boxes. its still a box! i’m glad you live your life outside of them, for the most part. and im glad i get to be your friend.

also, i definately laughed out loud at the description of rich’s class. too perfect. i could actually hear her saying the bit about the pineapple. emphasis on “they DIDn’t EVEN have PINEapple!” you know, when you think about it, she tends to speak in meter when she’s all riled up.

2. The Trouble with Academia « Silentium - October 24, 2006

[…] I discussed this a little bit in my post Madness, but the idea has been gnawing at me a little more recently.  So here goes. […]

3. badrabbit - November 20, 2006

I’m sorry. No, I mean it. I know what it is like to sit in a class imagining torture because it would be more interesting…

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