Deep moments in required classes
Mary Beth Ellis
Changes in Latitudes, Changes in Atitudes
I have struck up an e-mail friendship with a college freshman, to whom I often allocate certain pearls of wisdom that only a Real World-embattled graduate is capable of dispensing, such as how to magically transform a five-page paper into a seven-page one by changing the font. She is grateful for my assistance and shows it by whining a great deal about her required courses. I take this as an offense and a challenge. Nobody out-whines me where cores are concerned:
Class: Biology. Took Place: Every frickin' day of the week. Usefulness Rating: Would sooner drink formaldehyde than have to smell it again.
This course consisted largely of a man who wore the same four sweaters on a regularly rotating basis and talked at length about how cells divide. At one point he showed a film which graphically depicted mating rituals of the American honeybee.The fact that this was immensely disgusting was all anyone remembered on the midterm. A fetal pig was also dissected. No one enjoyed this except for the man in the sweater.
Class: Spanish. Took Place: Entirely too often. Usefulness Rating: Negative one million trillion gazillion stars.
Spanish spoken by a learned or native tongue is lovely. Spanish spoken by hungover eighteen-year-olds at nine in the morning is not. An intense hatred of this course was easily engendered by its evil and deceptive nature.
The first week or so was dedicated to introducing oneself and constructing such marginally useful sentences as "The desk is on the floor!" Then suddenly, out of some deep, specially prepared hole of hell, came subject pronouns, the present tense of all verbs ending in -ar, singular forms of adjectives, the use and conjugation of the verb ir and one 125 vocabulary words, none of which even obliquely referred to the procurement of liquor. The explanations for correct usage and directions for homework exercises were written entirely in Spanish. And that concluded Chapter One.
Raining especial torment upon Spanish 101 was Language Lab. This was an undodgable requirement for all foreign language courses, in which students signed in for their prescribed one hour a week with a proctor, then hunched in carrels with a language tape, a Trudy the Time-Life Operator headset and a "listening skills" workbook. In theory, the student listened carefully to questions posed by the tape, then entered painstakingly constructed, accent-perfect responses in the spaces provided.
This theory applied for perhaps a grand total of four seconds of the required 27 hours of my Language Lab time. Within a week I discovered the Listening Skills answers conveniently placed in the back of the book, the amazing physical resemblance between the textbook tape and, say, a personal mix tape containing Garth Brooks and Toad the Wet Sprocket and the fact that student proctor did not in fact give a damn so as long as everyone was checked in, wearing headphones and holding some sort of writing instrument. I am pleased that Spanish 101 managed to inject joy and meaning into the life of at least one human being.
Class: The History of Western Civilization. Took place: Way the hell in the past. Usefulness Rating: Too many guillotines to tell.
The textbook for this course contained an entire section entitled "The Use of the Hand Plow," and that's all you need to know about that. Otherwise, the most pivotal event of Western Civilization took place at noon on Wed., October 4, 1995, which was the starting time for a lecture on Charlemagne — and the designated hour at which the verdict in the O.J. Simpson trial was to be announced. A mammoth battle raged between the professor, who wished to lecture, and the students, who, fully cognizant of the verdict's impact upon the nation's judicial system and American society in general, wished to get out of hearing the lecture. A truce was reached when two "reporter" students were permitted to listen to the verdict on a radio in the professor's nearby office while actual learning took place for the rest of the class. (It should be noted that everybody hated this arrangement except for the two reporter students.)
At 12:15 p.m., just as Charlemagne was conquering Saxony, a great "OOOOOOHHHHHHHH!" was heard from the professor's office, immediately followed by the stomping appearance of the reporting students, who screeched, "not guilty!" before flopping angrily into their respective seats. The professor was mildly stunned and the reporting students were near tears, but the lecture continued anyway.
I will say one thing for the cores: They kept me busy between weekends.
Mary Beth Ellis is a '99 Saint Mary's graduate. She is currently an MFA candidate at Bennington College. Her column runs every other Tuesday.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not neccessarily those of The Observer.
All Viewpoint Stories for Tuesday, March 7, 2000