A Tale of Two Teachers
I can’t tell you everything about the worst professor I’ve ever had, because there are too many good stories and I don’t want to violate my future book deal. But this government professor, who singlehandedly convinced me to drop my political science minor, was as eccentric as they get. What frustrated me the most about him was his refusal to let anyone add their thoughts to an answer. He frequently took off dozens of points on every test for anything that constituted “analysis.” We’d read bills and Supreme Court cases, and anytime anyone spoke about anything that wasn’t a direct quote, he’d cut them off and yell “I don’t care what you think it means, only what it is!” Any mention of real-world implications that wasn’t directly in the text was frowned upon. And if we quoted a case directly, then added a sentence about why we quoted it, he’d once again write “YOUR ANALYSIS” and mark it wrong. Constitutional law is an industry completely dependent on analysis, so to never be able to say anything was frustrating beyond belief. We just couldn’t win, and we still make fun of this professor on a near-daily basis.
I mention this because last week I was in a script analysis class with an amazing professor, who couldn’t be more different than the one I loathed. We were working on an incredibly difficult project: taking a new play (the amazing Endings by Celine Song) and breaking down its structure into a visual diagram. Which is much harder than it sounds, because the play doesn’t follow anything that resembles a traditional dramatic structure. After almost an hour, my group and I thought we had it finalized. We had drawn a funnel, in which plot elements are poured, and then spit out into a Venn diagram, meant to present the way various elements affect characters living in two different worlds.
Our professor looked it over for what seemed like an eternity, then said “hmm…this is almost right, but I feel like you’re saying what it means, instead of what it is. We’re just analyzing structure, not content.”
My heart sank. Was my favorite teacher going to lock me in the same trap I was in last year?
We tried again, but the answer was the same. “Your visuals are correct, but you’re thinking about this too much. I don’t need the implications of everything, just literally write what happens.”
This seemed too easy to be true, but we did just that. We erased the contents of the diagrams and just filled them with descriptions of Act I and Act II. And even though it felt like we hadn’t done any real work, the teacher loved it.
“This is what the work of a good theatrical literary office looks like,” he said. “When it feels like you’ve stripped away any analysis and distilled a script to what it actually is, you open yourself to a world of creativity.”
And suddenly, everything made sense. He explained that high school English classes (a favorite of mine) program us to extract meaning from everything we read. But there’s actually tremendous value in looking at a text for what it is, without projecting our own ideas onto it.
I found the project and subsequent discussion incredibly stimulating, and after class it hit me. He successfully taught me what my horrible government professor was trying to teach. By encouraging me to think critically and challenge preconceptions, rather than ruling with an iron fist and screaming about his personal preferences, he made me understand the most challenging concept I’ve encountered in college.
It just goes to show that some methods of communication are infinitely superior to others. But it also proves that you should never completely close your mind to an idea, no matter how stupid it sounds, because the right presentation might make it resonate. Your perfect teacher could be right around the corner.