Thursday, March 13, 2008

A "War" Story***

In the comments on another site, a posturing, braggart "troll" described one of its "greatest (alleged) accomplishments" as having made one of its professors cry in "law school." This reminded me of one of my favorite moments as a teacher.

Yea, though the distinguished likes of William James or John Dewey would doubtless quail at the thought, I was once a professor (I know, it's enough to make a butcher blanch, but there it is.) I have taught in English, Journalism and Education programs at three major (top 100) Universities. I had some pretty good moments over those years. But one of the most memorable involved a student whom I judge may well have been the troll, or its doppelganger.

It occurred this way:
During the very first meeting of one class (at LSU, as it happened), while delivering myself of various opening remarks and instructions for the conduct and expectations for the following semester, I asked what I and almost everyone else in the room knew was a rhetorical question. The exception was a young man, large-ish, somewhat older, in his early 20s perhaps, with close-cropped blonde hair, jug-ears, a prognathous jaw and an aggressive attitude: very much the image I have of the "troll" who spurred this fond memory.

The young man, upon hearing the rhetorical question, pretended to understand that I had issued a legitimate interrogatory, thrust his arm into the air, and waved it. I acknowledged him. He began to 'answer' the rhetorical question, which I allowed to proceed for a moment, and then stilled him, politely. I was not at all surprised when, a bit later, in response to another rhetorical question, the young man again engaged in the same behavior, which had the same result. And when my third rhetorical gambit was met with the same aggressive challenge, I had had enough. THis was a crisis.

I let him talk, as I slipped off my customary perch on the front lip of the instructor's desk. I walked with slow deliberation toward his seat. I stood adjacent, on the side where the bar attaching the desk-top to the seat forbade easy egress. I waited. He stopped.

"You do know, young man, don't you," I said, with my best sardonic chuckle, "that were we--you and I, now--members of ANY other mammalian species, I'd have to kill you...or run you off." He was startled, and laughed nervously. "You understand, don't you?" I lowered my brows and nodded for emphasis. He muttered something indecipherable. "Good," I said. And returned to my classroom duties. The young man transferred to another section, and shortly left education altogether.

***A War Story: This refers to an old service joke. Sarge: "You know the diff'rence b'tween a war story and a fairy tale?" Private: "No, Sarge. Tell me." Sarge: "Well, son, a fairy tale starts out 'Onct upon a time...' an' a war story stars off, 'This ain't no shit, boys, I was there...' "

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