Posts Tagged ‘Teaching’

The Eugene Report

Posted in General on June 25th, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 2 Comments

As I was walking to my car yesterday afternoon, a bird rather rudely deposited on my suit.  If I had been wearing blue, I might not have noticed.  But the purple spots on the tan fabric drew my attention.  That turned out to be the highpoint of my day.  The bird might even have been warning me.  I really should heed omens.

Sullied but unbowed, I drove to the college.  I expected a diminished class.  My college has overlapping terms, and an accounting class has just begun, claim-jumping my schedule.  I imagine Thomas Aquinas had the same problem, the alchemy class meeting at the same time.  Several of my students had defected, at least in terms of attendence.  They now would be taking my class online.  

However, I found myself conducting a soliloquy.  A student–you may recall him as the Anti-Christ of punctuation–did drop by to announce that he and several students would be attending yet another class.  So, making a quick tally I could expect–at most–a total of three.  They eventually sauntered in.  They will be identified by the following descriptions:  the young Rabbi, the smug Prince and the sloth.  (Guess which one turns in his assignments a week late.)

Even with this meager audience, the show must go on.  I was hoping to discuss “Death of Salesman.”  The prince objected; he doesn’t like plays and wondered why the class assigned them.  I told him that the play was considered one of the masterpieces of American theater; I asked my trio if anyone had ever seen the play?  The prince announced that he had tried–on YouTube; he was horrified that the film was in black and white.  How good could it be?  I was told that Quentin Tarantino would have done a better job.  Well, I did agree that there would have been more deaths;  Willy Loman would have killed at least 200 ninjas before they got him.

I tried to navigate the class back to the play.  I spoke of the disillusionment of the American Dream.  That was an invitation for the Rabbi and the prince to attack Barack Obama.  (The sloth may add his criticism by next week.)  Yes, in 1949 Arthur Miller was prophesizing the Benghazi attack.  Then Hillary Clinton got incriminated in the discussion.  I had to ask, “So in ‘Death of a Salesman’ it was Hillary who killed him?”  Somehow we wandered into film reviews of westerns.  No, I can’t explain it.  However, if nothing else, my students learned about “The Magnificent Seven” and how it was adapted from “The Seven Samurai.” I may be vindictive enough to have that on the test.

There now were only five minutes left to the class, and one of my defectors returned.  Someone in the college administration had finally noticed the conflicting schedule, and the other class would be changed to another time.  My roster would be back to a brimming two-thirds!
I asked my prodigal student what was the topic of the other course.  He told me, “the history of Jerusalem.”  Damn, I admitted that I wanted to audit it.  Then I asked the class, “Would you even notice if I were missing?”

The Prime of Eugene B’rodie

Posted in General on June 9th, 2013 by Eugene Finerman – 4 Comments

I have a new outlet for my pedantic nature and a new chapter in my ongoing satire.  Imagine me on the faculty of an Orthodox Jewish college.  Well, I already had the beard–although I grew mine out of lethargy rather than piety.  And if in the next generation, a number of Orthodox Rabbis are prone to quote Victorian wits as well as the Talmud, I think you can trace the source of the heresy.

Yes, I am teaching rhetoric to seven young men who spend most of the day reading from right to left.  They are immersed in Jewish studies from 9 to 4, and then these exhausted fellows are turned over to me and the secular curriculum.  I am proud–perhaps amazed–that none has fallen asleep in my class.

 Of course, I do command a certain awe.  One of the students had “googled” me and found my claim to fame.  So the first class began with the students asking about Jeopardy. A student exclaimed, “You were once on Jeopardy?”   You can imagine the haughty tone in my reply, “It was more than once.”   In every crowd, someone feels obliged to trying stumping me with a question.  “Name ‘the Five Good Emperors.”’  I hope that I looked condescending as I reeled off “Nerva, Trajan, Hadrian, Antoninus Pius and Marcus Aurelius.”  You may be relieved that I answered every question correctly.  (Thank the Orthodox Jewish God that these kids weren’t into sports; otherwise, they would see why I lost the Tournament of Champions.)  After about fifteen minutes of Stump the Know-It-All, however, I suspected that the students were simply trying to avoid the joys of Rhetoric.

So, it was time to resume the syllabus. Following the department syllabus, our first day’s reading was two short stories.  The authors made an interesting tandem:  Elie Wiesel and Alan Sherman.  Imagine the essay topic on those readings:  Compare Auschwitz and the Catskills. 

In a later class, the assigned reading was the E.A. Robinson poem “Richard Cory.”

So on we worked, and waited for the light,
And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
Went home and put a bullet through his head.

The students were enthralled but perhaps not for the right reason.  The motive of Corey’s suicide was less intriguing than his method.  One asked why Corey chose to shoot himself.  I explained, “That was the gentleman’s ‘way-out.'”  A student disputed that, “I thought they used a knife” and he simulated disembowelment.  I correct him, “That is how the Japanese do it.  In the West, it is the pistol.”  Another student asked about hanging.  I told him that was considered low-brow.   Drawing and quartering was mentioned; I explained the entire process of strangulation, vivisection and rending apart.  Given all those steps, it made an impractical method of suicide.

I can’t vouch for my students being educated but they certainly are being entertained.  “Richard Corey”  was not intended to be a manual for suicide, but I am dealing with the adolescent mind and its distracting turns.  I told the students, “If I were a train, I would be easily derailed.  However, since you are my passengers you would all be dead.”