It was last Friday. I was sitting with some first-year students from my classes in the Union, sipping a cup of coffee, sucking on a tootsie pop, and small talking about the rigors of adjustment during their first few weeks on campus. Somehow we got around to the seminal questions of why they were in college and why I am a teacher and teach the way I do.
“Aren’t we here to get a job?” one student asked.
“Partly, but there’s life besides a job,” I replied.
“We’re here to get information and facts,” another student added.
“Maybe, but that’s what libraries are for,” I parried.
This duel went on for a bit. After a time, one of the students issued me a challenge in mock frustration. “So, if you had to get to the point–no rambling, boring bull shit–and had to tell us in one sentence what you think this whole place, every course, every major, every prof–everyone–should be about and how it should help us in everything we do,” she posed, “what would you say?”
“Where’d you come up with that one?” I asked. “You a reincarnation of a Chinese Emperor?”
They looked at me. I told them about the Emperor who commanded his advisers, upon pain of death, to come up with a single sentence that would explain all things and apply to all situations. I told them that I needed a lot of time to think about it.
“We’ll be considerate,” one of the other students commanded. “Your assignment is due Wednesday! We’ll meet you back here.” No death sentence, but if you can’t do it and don’t have an answer, you have to keep us supplied with tootsie pops for the rest of the Quarter.
Today is Wednesday, and this is what I will tell them. Actually, I’ve got two variations of the same answer:
1. Don’t copy, “what”; ask, “Why?”
2. “This place boils down to acquiring the ability, desire, confidence, and courage to question the answers, not mouth them.”
Think I’ve satisfied their assignment? I hope so. I don’t want to keep buying them tootsie pops. That’s could be expensive.
Make it a good day.