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Be Here Now

“I was out on Wednesday. Did we do anything in class?”

Oy. If you ask your teachers this question, make sure you watch their ears carefully: this is your chance to see actual smoke come out of a human head.

Why is this not cool to ask an instructor? For one thing, it implies that there are days when nothing much happens in class, as if on Wednesday everyone sat around painting their toes and sexting. From a professor’s point of view, every class is one in which something important happens. Whether every single class is in fact chock full of educational value is beside the point. To ask “Did we do anything?” or “Did I miss anything?” of the professor is to ask the one person who is most likely to resent and dismiss the question. How is the professor supposed to respond?—

“Did I Miss Anything?”
by Tom Wayman
Nothing. When we realized you weren’t here
we sat with our hands folded on our desks
in silence, for the full two hours…

Another problem with this question is that it puts the burden on your instructor to catch you up to the rest of the class. I’ll tell you honestly what my reaction is to this when it happens. I think (though I try to say something more diplomatic): Man, I did my job. Do yours. Also, since this request is often made just as class is about to begin, when the teacher is gearing up to teach, the annoyance factor only multiplies.

You’ll often hear or read that you, the student, are “responsible for finding out from a classmate what you missed in class.” Why? Because class happened and you missed it. Really, asking the instructor what you missed is like standing and asking the bus you missed to come back to pick you up instead of running after it.

In his poem Wayman is also conveying something important about the power of your presence in the classroom. When you are there, you are contributing, however apparently or subtly, to the overall energy and direction of the class. A friend tells a story of taking a philosophy course in college. She had been out sick on Monday, and on Wednesday was back in the classroom again, listening to the discussion. She raised her hand and made a comment, and then suddenly had a strangely unsettling thought: on Monday, while she was at home, the class was there in that very room, having a discussion much like the one currently happening, only she wasn’t there to hear it, ask questions or make comments. Life had gone on without her in the class, but she wasn’t there to take part in it. She hadn’t contributed on Monday, and she’d never know what it was like to have experienced it. If she had been there, the class might have taken a different tack. Her presence might have affected the entire course. She vowed to herself then to attend every single class if possible.

Be Here Now is the title of a famous book by Ram Dass, and it’s also excellent advice when you’re a student in a class. You are a vital part of the whole!

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