Written by Loren Logsdon
Wednesday, 16 October 2013 00:00
Without doubt the most effective put down I have ever experienced in all of my years of college teaching came from a student at the East Moline Correctional Center. It was done so skillfully and with so much sublety that I had to admire it. In fact, it was hilarious. I will cherish it until my last lucid moments because I deserved it, and I set myself up for it. The put down came from Alvin, the student I mentioned in my previous column.
In every class I teach, I always dread handing back the first exam because it changes the atmosphere of the class. Up to that point, the teacher and students are working together in common cause, but the first exam brings in the element of judgment, in other words, grades. I was especially apprehensive about the first exam at the Quad Cities Correctional Center.
Just before break, a term that seemed completely inappropriate at a correctional center, I returned the essay exams so the students could look them over and ask me questions if they had them. I was not at all surprised to see Alvin quickly approach me. He looked at me with sad, mournful eyes and said, “I thought I knew this better than a C.” I had marked his paper a 75, which is a middle C in my grading system. Like so many students do, Alvin had written only very general answers. While his essays were correct, they were lacking in supporting details from the stories or convincing explanation. His essays consisted of broad, general statements.
I thought to myself, “Here is a great teaching opportunity.” So I sat down beside Alvin, and I went over his first answer, showing him how he could have used details from the story to support his interpretation and how he needed to clarify and explain the points he was making. All the time I was taking pains to explain and demonstrate what he needed to do, I would look at him from time to time to see if he was following me and understanding my suggestions.
He listened politely to my remarks. Sometimes he would nod in agreement. When I finished going over carefully all four of his essays, I thought I had really prepared him to do better on the next exam. More than that, I prided myself on making full use of a teaching moment. I even wished that the dean could have witnessed my work with Alvin so that he could see what a fine teacher I was.
I expected to hear Alvin thank me for enabling him to understand how his exam had fallen short of the high grade he wanted. I expected him to be grateful for spending the greater part of the break working with him, but when I finished analyzing his last essay, he looked at me with his mournful eyes, shook his head sadly, and said, “I guess everyone can’t be the Bhagwan.”
To say I was taken aback would be an understatement. But fortunately I understood his allusion. It was the 1980s, and in the state of Oregon at that time there was a commune under the leadership of a wise man from India who called himself “The Bhagwan.” Wealthy, educated people had given over their worldly possessions to him to live in the commune and submit to his spiritual guidance. It was reported in the press that he had 18 Rolls Royces. Further, he had an inner circle of the most beautiful females in the commune who would assist him and tend to his needs. And to put a top on this incredible situation, the Bhagwan could not speak English. Who needs to be able to write an essay exam in a short story course if he could be the Bhagwan? If one is the Bhagwan, one doesn’t even have to speak English in America to be respected and powerful. All one needs is the appearance of wisdom.
I deserved Alvin’s put down because I was so full of myself in working with him. I simply over did it. I can imagine now how he must have felt. I had overwhelmed him by what I thought was good teaching when my efforts seemed a put down to him. In other words, my motives in helping him were not pure, and he sensed that.
But even more than that, when you stop and think about it, Alvin was right: Everyone can’t be the Bhagwan. It takes special skill, charisma, improvisation, and audacity. I have never forgotten Alvin’s words, and from time to time, in a wide variety of situations, I have muttered, “Everyone can’t be the Bhagwan.” I continue to be amazed about how appropriate Alvin’s remark has been, so appropriate that I will conclude this column with these words: “Everyone can’t be the Bhagwan.”
[Professor Logsdon has taught 24 years at Western Illinois University and 27 going on 28 at Eureka College.]
Last Updated on Tuesday, 15 October 2013 13:47