Wednesday, February 14, 2007

A postscript to Darwin Day

One of those teachable moments

On Tuesday morning, I strolled into my business math class and found my students in their usual state of disarray. Also as usual, I gave them a couple of minutes to notice that their instructor had arrived and shuffled my papers while waiting for them to settle down. Eventually it got quiet enough for me to venture an opening remark, which tends to get their attention. This time I quipped, “I imagine all of you are still excited over yesterday's observance of Darwin Day.”

Most of the class showed blank faces. They had had no idea that the previous day had been the anniversary of Darwin's birth. One boy, however, was quick to respond:

“We should dig up his body and beat him up!”

My eyebrows went up. “Really? And why would you say such a thing?”

“Well, because of all the trouble he caused.”

I regarded him steadily. “Trouble? Is being a great thinker making trouble?”

My student's reaction appeared to be a spontaneous and thoughtless outburst. Not entirely a fool (indeed, he seems to be a good student in most respects), he quickly realized that he and his teacher were not on the same wavelength. He scrambled to recover.

“I could use his brain. If I dug up his brain I could use it in class.”

I shrugged. “I would recommend that you try to use a living brain instead. It might help you more.”

The exchange was done and we moved to the exciting topic of quadratic functions and their applications.

In the time since that incident, I've wondered what provoked him to react so suddenly and so strongly. He's a classroom quipster anyway, so I'm used to his tendency to try to insert jokes into our sessions, but this time he misfired and found his instructor less inclined to indulge him. Darwin isn't on my syllabus, of course, but I might discreetly interrogate him if he should drop in during my office hours. I suspect, of course, that he must be a creationist. He's not alone. But he also thought it would be all right to aim a barb at Darwin after his teacher made a light reference to the great man's anniversary.

He must not have known that I am part of the great international conspiracy of unchurched evolutionists. (How scary for him, now that he's beginning to suspect.)

1 comment:

TheBrummell said...

He's a classroom quipster... I suspect, of course, that he must be a creationist.

...we moved to the exciting topic of quadratic functions and their applications.

(order of quotes rearranged for illustrative purposes only)

You're probably right in your assesment. It occurs to me, however, that he might simply be a hard-core classroom joker, and merely recognized the comedy potential residing in any 'controversial' topic. Darwin's name shows up often enough in the same breath as the word "controversial" that perhaps he sought to exploit this situation to delay the onset of the joy of quadratic functions (thrilling though those may be). He failed to garner a laugh, but nobody can succeed every time.