As I prepare to give my first exam today, I'm reminded of a rather odd encounter I had with a student about five years back.

One of my speech students asked me for help on his persuasive speech; I said sure (it IS my job, after all) and we met in my classroom for some consultation. His speech was about attending school here, but the first draft had confused me, and I'd given it a fairly low grade. As I told him, he seemed to be contradicting himself by saying, on the one hand, that attending this school was necessary for success, but on the other hand, that there was nothing to be gained from being at this school.

He explained that there was nothing to be gained from being here.

I asked what he meant, then, by saying that students who want to be successful should come here.

He said that you don't learn anything here that will help you be successful, but being here will help you be successful.

I did the Socratic thing with him for a while longer and ascertained that his basic argument was that the experience of being here teaches you valuable skills that will help you be a success. Of course, he still insisted that the actual skills you learn here--geometry, say, or Latin, or public speaking--are useless.

So there I was, standing at the blackboard with a chart of his speech drawn behind me, chalk in hand, realizing that this kid had asked me to teach him how to persuade people that the things I teach him aren't worth learning.

To this day, I can't quite decide if that conversation was ironic, postmodern, or just stupid.

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This page contains a single entry by Peter Cashwell published on November 16, 2007 7:29 AM.

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