The pioneering oral historian Studs Terkel counted it as one of his smartest tricks for making his interview subjects comfortable: He would exaggerate his natural mechanical ineptitude and fumble with his tape recorder. The interviewee would leap to help—and gain an instant sense of competence, partnership and equality with the famous man.
I’ve guest-taught a number of college classes lately—on Zoom and in person—and noted that the instructors were unwittingly pulling a Terkel—to the same good effect, I think.
Struggling to get their computers to correspond with the big screen, and having to ask students for help getting a video to play: This plays out frequently in college classrooms, these days.
So that by the time the teacher actually begins teaching the material, it has been established, literally and symbolically, that the students bring a lot to the table, too.
It’s a stark and welcome generational contrast from Professor Charles W. Kingsfield, Jr., pacing before a blackboard on the first day of Harvard Law School telling the students, “You teach yourselves the law. But I train your mind. You come in here with a skull full of mush—and you leave thinking like a lawyer.”
I’ve guest-taught college courses for years.
Lately I’ve noticed that the relationship between the students and the teachers is warmer, more personal and more mutually adoring than I can remember. And the fact that I’ve come to expect those types of classroom relationships doesn’t make them any less touching to me.
Meanwhile, are universities poorer for not having the professorial giants, the masters of the universe, who awed their students with their detached, imperious demeanor—the academic version of drill sergeants?
Well, I’ve got some theories on that, and I bet you do too.
First, though: Do you know how to take a screen shot, on a Mac?