I spent a semester as a paid note-taker for two of my classes. In one of them, as the only student who brought a laptop to class for notes, I was quickly identified by the slackers as their savior, and thanked profusely.
I don’t think the professor knew.
Debates arose on campus: these note-takers are encouraging students to not need to come to class.
Meanwhile, in my zoology class, the Professor Gaffin presented eye-catching powerpoint presentations with sound and movement. He played songs by “They Might Be Giants” and related bands that sang about the concepts we were studying. He swore one day he’d bring his scorpion research to class.
One day he showed up with a shoebox, reminded us he had said he’d bring scorpions, then set it at the edge of the stage. All through class we waited on the edges of our seats; hardly anyone could keep their eyes off the scorpion box. Finally, he picked it up, then tripped, spewing the contents everywhere! Not scorpions, but a variety of traveling seeds that settled to the ground in their highly evolutionized ways. While Gaffin demonstrated the helicopter seed for us, he pointed out, I never said TODAY I’d bring my scorpions.
When finally he did, we got to see various types of scorpions, glowing under black light, the smallest ones displayed on the overhead projector. The Emperor scorpion he carried around the room in the palm of his hand, jabbing it occasionally to rile it up so it would pose in attack-mode for us.
To this day, nearly a decade later, I still remember Emperor scorpions, that they’re mostly docile, that smaller ones are poisonous and more aggressive. I haven’t seen a scorpion since, so this knowledge hasn’t been recently refreshed, but I could tell you a little bit about them. Can I tell you about the classes I took notes for? Nope.
I still could tell you, also, about how Menes united Upper and Lower Egypt, just as me knees unite me upper and me lower legs. I learned that in junior high. In a class where we lined up head to foot in the darkened classroom while the teacher read accounts from slave ships crossing to the New World.
If the point of passing on knowledge is so that students can retain it even without constantly refreshing themselves, then a professor should teach, really teach, and reach out to grab the students’ imaginations and try never to let go. If the point of teaching is to look smart, then a professor can go ahead and just lecno, wait: the professors whose knowledge I most respected and admired were the ones who had so great a grasp on it that they could play with it, the ones who loved it so much they clearly wanted me to love it, too.
If reading online notes for a class is as effective as showing up, then what is the point of showing up? The question here is whether the class is for learning or for ego-stroking. If going to college is to learn things and to get an education, and the information is learned, then what right has the professor to complain that it was done without him? The only reason he has to be offended is through a fear that he may be unnecessary. Rather than forcing students to pretend he is in fact necessary, he ought to find ways to make himself so.
There’s not a chance I would have missed that zoology class. Even if I could have gotten everything I possibly needed to know for the test just by reading the book, I still would have shown up. I took the class because it was a general ed requirement, not because I had an interest in zoology. But I loved the class and remember it still, and now can at least hold my own a little on topics like GABA and endoplasmic reticulum, because of Professor Gaffin.
Too often, knowledge is viewed as an honor that one should have to earn through hard and painful work. According to this Puritan work ethic, if anything comes easy it’s not worthwhile. But learning, and a love of learning shouldn’t be something a precious few earn the hard way. Knowledge should be joyful, curiosity should be playful, and learning shouldn’t be something you graduate and escape from, but rather a lifelong goal.
This is something children are born with, which so many children lose along the way, and which professors have in their power to give back to us.