Wednesday, January 07, 2009


“Supposing,” I say to some university students whose opinion I value, “supposing you were an occasional professor teaching a hope class, a fairly small class in a fairly large classroom. And supposing you wanted the students to feel comfortable, and to get to know each other quite soon, and to talk to each other rather than always to you. Now supposing that this classroom is full of old-fashioned student desks, not tables and chairs. Would you move the desks into a semi-circle? “
“No,” say the students.
This is not the answer I had hoped to hear. I ask them: Are you sure?” They’re sure. They’ve got me on a technicality. They remind me that I said comfortable, after all.
It is the first day of class now, and I arrive early, about the time a nervous professor ought to arrive. Time enough, I think, to rearrange the furniture if I decide to do it, even though I have already decided not to do it, because I shouldn’t have asked for advice if I wasn’t willing to hear it. Yet this is a very large classroom, and I really don’t want students sitting in the corners at the back of a room in rows.
Like I said, I arrive early. Still, I have not arrived early enough. Two people are already in the room, and yes, they are registered in my class, and yes, they are sitting just where the most pessimistic among us would expect to find them, at the back of a classroom organized in rows.
"It’s a fairly small class,” I say. ”We’ll be talking quite a lot to each other. How do you think we ought to arrange the furniture?”
"In a semicircle,” says one, and then, as I take a step to pull a desk aside, “Can we help you move the desks?”
And that’s how the desks got to be in a semi-circle. Some things turn out better than expected.

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