Just in from Siberia
Sometimes it's the small things you like about teaching. I started a night course last Monday evening at the local Guard base. Went through all the first night routine: course goals, grading standards, policies, pet peeves, due dates. The room they assigned me is cavernous. It must be twenty-five feet wide by sixty-feet deep. You could hard whip a Frisbee to the back row.
Okay, so the first night a guy walks in and makes a beeline for the seat farthest from me. No surprise. That's what some students do. The dimensions of the room, of course, make his action seem a bit pointed, but I don't say anything.
Then, Wednesday night, we start discussing The Apology. I distribute four broad questions on the dialog and have the students do twenty-five minutes of in-class writing. Afterwards, they break into four groups to discuss what they have written. I make sure that the guy out on the Siberian rim of the classroom has to relocate to a group that's placed right down front.
I let the groups talk it out for fifteen minutes before sticking my nose into their discussions. I just stand around listening as they work through the material. Then I go to group two (where my Siberian is). I listen for a while and then ask them if people like Socrates are useful to society or just a royal pain in the neck Right away, Mr. Siberia says, "I think they are useful. They keep us from going off the moral deep end with their troublesome questions."
"Okay," I say, "but would you want to live in a society in which everyone acted like Socrates?"
"Hmmm," he says. "I don't know. If people questioned everything, nothing would get done."
"Maybe," I say. "But let's frame the question another way. Would you want to live in a society in which everybody thought deeply about the moral implications of their choices?"
Now he is leaning forward. He's into this discussion all of a sudden. He takes a long time to formulate his new idea: "Well... maybe we just need a few people like Socrates, but not everybody."
"So it's okay for some people to be sheople?" I ask.
Mr. Siberia is now really thinking. He doesn't say anything He's not sure what to make of this discussion. In three questions he's changed his mind three times. I sense a thaw.