When you think of college it is more than likely that you have an image of vast, grassy campuses, intellectually engaged students and professors that lecture with passion.
What many of us don’t expect is to find ourselves in a course that defies explanation. Lucky man that I am, I have found myself in three of these odd courses.
Most of us know what badminton is. You know, you have a racket that is smaller and more lightweight than a tennis racket. And you hit a shuttlecock, or birdie, over a short net.
I thought that Badminton 101 was going to be the perfect solution to my Physical Education credit requirements. It seemed like a tame enough sport and I couldn’t see how I wouldn’t get an A, as long as I tried hard.
My illusions were shattered when the professor walked in. He was tall, well muscled with a hook nose, and he was a fascist. I kid you not. He immediately began lecturing us that if we were there for an easy class, to think again.
Throughout that semester, this professor had us running miles, doing these insane running from one line to another drills, and having our Body Mass Index taken.
We probably played ten minutes of badminton each class session. And I got murdered each time by this little Asian girl who had clearly played the game before.
Nevertheless, I tried hard and got better. I even beat her once. Then I beat another guy. Then we had our final. We had to run a mile in less than ten minutes, then we had to play in a class-wide badminton tournament. I got eliminated in the second round of that tournament.
So I ended up with a B. When I went in to talk to Dr. Fascist, he told me that only the good players got an A. I pointed out that the good players were already good before the class. He said, “Might is right,” in those exact words.
Was this a badminton class? No, it was an education in cruel running drills and how Dr. Fascist justified his belief system. But at least we got to hit a birdie sometimes.
This class was listed as “Taxonomy of Plants” in the class catalogue. I am an avid gardener, so I enrolled.
First let’s describe the professor. He would pick up chalk, start at the left end of the chalkboard, and then make his way across the board, talking and writing furiously, until class was over. He looked at us maybe once or twice per class session.
What is more, this man was a fungo-phile. He loved fungus. He couldn’t get enough of it. He wanted us to love it too. So instead of being a simple course in plant taxonomy, it was a course in how fungi propagated, spread and how many thousands of species of fungus there are.
When it was time for the first exam, some of us asked how much of the material we were responsible for learning in order to do well. He looked at us blankly, perhaps realizing only then that we were not fungi, and said, “All of it. The test is quite detailed.” And he wasn’t kidding. That was the worst test I have ever taken.
Half of the class failed the test, and we didn’t fail it for lack of trying. We failed it because we hadn’t put enough detail in our illustrations and explanations of fungus cell walls.
This had to have been the most poorly named class ever. And as botany classes go, it was a strange one, what with a teacher who never faced the students and could draw a perfect circle as he described cells.
What is more, as soon as we realized what this class held in store, about two thirds of the students withdrew. Smart students. Some of us were too stubborn and stayed. It was an odd, small class that semester.
Okay, this class was actually fun. In fact, it was the best writing class I ever had. The objective was to experience the wilderness and nature around us and in us and then write about it. We camped for several days at a time. We went on a ropes course. Some of us leapt out of a plane with parachutes.
Then we wrote about our feelings and such. This is a strange-looking combination, but the truth is that it was also an innovative approach to helping students get a look inside and outside themselves. We also learned great strategies for writing personal essays.