Thursday, December 4, 2008

The Best Laid Plans

I had a dream that I was back in college. It was the first day of the semester, and I had just arrived in class for an early morning lecture. Including me, there were only six students attending that session. After a few minutes of mingling, the professor arrived, or so we thought. As it turned out, the elderly gentleman was not our professor, but, rather, he had come to explain that the course had been canceled, on account of the fact that the actual professor had lost his will and gone on spontaneous sabbatical, leaving no time to devise a contingency plan. The fellow then noted that he had other business to attend to. Before he left, he asked that we kindly inform the next, much larger set of students, which was scheduled to arrive in an hour in the same room.

Shocked and disheartened, we pondered what to do. Were we going to leave just a hastily-scribbled note, before moving on separately with our days, semesters, lives? Suddenly, an outrageous idea swept across the room, seemingly originating from no one individual, but taking shape rather in the manner of an insane ouija board. Together, we decided that we would not tell the next class about this disappointing turn of events. Instead, we would take the place of the missing professor and teach the class ourselves. Yes, that's right. We were going to pretend to be instructors to our fellow students. We then spent the hour studying up on our materials to prepare for the coming group.

What followed was a disorganized yet highly gratifying experience, as six phony professors, only an hour more educated than those they were teaching, stumbled through a scattered discourse, taking turns to relieve one another as needed, and regularly asking the students what they thought. At the hour's end, students walked off looking as though they had enjoyed it, while we came away convinced that the real professor could not have done any better. Our resolve strengthened by the scheme's apparent success, we were eager to keep it going. We even decided to set aside the other courses we had enrolled in, in order to direct our full attention toward teaching.

What short-sighted madness led us down this ill-conceived path? Perhaps we didn't want to disappoint the unsuspecting students, who, like us, simply wanted to learn. Perhaps we were still determined not to be disappointed ourselves, and we realized that the best way to learn was to teach. Or maybe we were intoxicated by the power and influence. Well, the real answer, obviously, is that it was a dream, and logic had gone to bed. But, even in a dream, a plot this full of pitfalls could not possibly last.

What if a student wanted to consult us at our nonexistent offices? What if some young go-getter decided to study ahead of where we ourselves had read? What would happen once they inevitably learned that they were receiving no credit for their work? For that matter, what were we going to do about our own futures?

My memory of the dream's remainder is hazy. I know that I had personal misgivings about the scheme once my co-conspirators began to discuss how to grade the students' work. Around that same time, the faculty became aware that something strange was going on. Sometime later I found myself staking out territory in some swampland. Perhaps it had become a different dream by then.

No comments: