Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Little mysteries

I took the day off today. I was sent home early by my students in the last class yesterday and didn't want to risk it happening again today. They noticed that I was shivering while they were removing layers of clothing in the stifling classroom, and they worried about me. They told me that I should be in bed, and they were right.

I got home, called to cancel today's classes, and slept for 14 hours. When I woke up again I went back to wallowing in the misery that comes with blocked sinuses, a headache, noisal discharge, an elevated temperature, a hacking cough, and the almost continuous blaring of sound trucks. To this I added a little worrying about the missed classes I will have to make up on a Saturday sometime soon, which will mean a six-day week and extra tiredness and which at least half the students won't attend anyway. I also managed a little mulling over things that puzzle me. Here is one of these little mysteries.

Every week at the same time on Thursday morning I walk past a couple of lecture halls at one of my universities. In one lecture hall, a professor is lecturing and the room is full of students. The students in the front couple of rows are taking notes, and the students in the middle and back are talking on their cell phones, sleeping, or chatting. The professor addresses his lecture to the students in the front rows, naturally enough.

But it is the second lecture hall I pass that puzzles me. Through the first door I walk past, which is at the front of the hall, I can see the professor lecturing and writing on the board. When I walk past the second door, at the back of the hall, I see two or three students sprawled over their desks in the back row, sleeping soundly. Sometimes they are snoring. The rest of the lecture hall is always empty. The two or three students are always asleep. Every week.

This used to make me laugh. Now it makes me puzzled and anxious, because I realize how far I am from understanding the culture of Japanese higher education and what it's all about.

What does that second professor think he is actually doing on Thursday mornings? Why does he continue to speak and write on the board? What is going through his mind as he stands there and earnestly lectures the air, illustrating relevant points on the board? What is he doing it for?

The students puzzle me, too. What do they think they are achieving? When they get up on Thursday mornings to go to their lecture, what goes through their heads? Why do they bother? What do they think it's all about? Why are they there?

I don't get it.

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Gordon said...

Firstly, I hope you feel better soon!

As for that other professor, sounds like he's lost the desire and the joy. It's just a place he has to go and things he has to do now. Sad.

Jeff said...

Going through the motions?

Anonymous said...

Sorry to hear you are feeling so bad. I hope you get better quickly. I hate summer colds.

That second professor puzzles me as well. I would not have the energy to lecture if no one was listening.

Carrie (queenoframbles)