Elephants Teaching Zoology

Not so long ago I read a piece by a sexologist of some stamp, a daughter of the sexual revolution, who'd just traveled around the U.S. lecturing undergraduates, and was plainly put out at how uninterested the younger generation appeared to be in sex. At the end of her lectures she'd open the floor to questions, and hear things like “Are there any health reasons why you can't just be celibate all your life? Do people actually have to have sex?”

From what I hear, teaching literature must be like that. It can't be easy for any person to face inexplicable group indifference to whatever he or she is most passionate about. Samuel R. Delany's early critical writing, in such periodicals as “Foundation,” has the brilliant confidence of a man addressing fandom -- a readership whose enthusiasm can be taken for granted. But in Delany's collection About Writing, one encounters many notes of weary truculence, the consequence of decades of his having to explain the basics professionally to an audience who sullenly question why they should have to know anything in the first place. The best solution, probably, is to reintroduce corporal punishment.

A story – when Harvard considered hiring Vladimir Nabokov to teach literature, Roman Jakobson, then a professor of linguistics there, is supposed to have asked whether the university was also prepared to hire an elephant to teach zoology.

4 thoughts on “Elephants Teaching Zoology”

  1. Dash of Saffron

    Wow. This one's loaded . . . I read an article a few days ago called "Will Chromosome Y Go Bye-Bye?" http://abcnews.go.com/Health/MensHealthNews/Story?id=8104217&page=1

    I wonder if these student's questions are evidence for the argument that someday (far in the future) sex will be obsolete. Anyways, I understand, not your point, just my musings. . .

    Speaking of off point musings: not sure I get the connection between the Harvard story and teaching literature to despondent students.

  2. That looks like one of those articles where the headline is sensationalist, and the rest of the article consists of quotes from experts saying the headline is too sensationalist.

    My point is that, nowadays, all our elephants seem to be obliged to teach zoology.

  3. Teaching the "science requirement" to "nonscience" majors qualifies.
    It's bad enough to teach freshman physics to premeds who pretend to be passionate about anything so as to improve their grades, but teaching astronomy to, well, excuse me, literature students… After class, I was walking back to my office. A couple of students were going in the same direction. This curly haired fat guy turns to me and says, "I really don't care about stars or any of that science stuff. You know how it is, you must feel the same way about literature."
    Yeah, he was a Lit major.
    I couldn't help it. It violated everything in the sacred code of "teacher" but I said, "I love literature. Love it. I love mathematics, too, I just think it's a shame that people like you walk around thinking you have an education but actually know jack shit about the universe you live in, have no ability to think logically when confronted with facts, can't hope to take a rationale approach to a pile of evidence, and miss out completely on mathematical elegance. This is why there are people in America who can't accept global warming – you're willfully ignorant." Then I opened my little green grade book (which I never actually used other than to try to learn my students names) and asked, "By the way, what's your name?"
    He ran like the wind. He also graduated with honors. Makes me want to vomit.

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