Please, Professor, wake up and teach me something

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The Independent Online
IT'S A beautifully sunny day. Pink elephants are sitting on the patio drinking vodka. You sit down at their table and casually discuss the ecostructure of Christmas puddings. The elephants suddenly mutate into Aunt Broadbottom. She's not very happy. You've thrown up in grandad's denture glass. Everything goes blurred.

You jump up as a sudden shudder rushes through your confused body. You open your eyes and look around anxiously at the scores of laughing eyes, all aimed in your direction. You fell asleep in a lecture. Damn.

All students have lectures. Whether or not we go to them is a different matter. A medic told me he felt guilty missing one lecture in all the years he'd been at university (he wasn't the most popular guy I've met). At the other extreme there are those who feel guilty going to one a term, in case they miss a particularly stimulating knitting documentary on one of those oh so interesting daytime television programmes.

In the middle is the majority of students who go to most lectures, sometimes filled with enthusiasm, sometimes despair, and too frequently the remains of last night's alcoholic acts. The problem is the students of the Nineties have a very low attention span and when this is coupled with a dull lecturer on a dull topic, the result is not difficult to predict. Boredom.

Not every lecturer is boring. Unfortunately, the majority are. Some lecturers couldn't even entertain a doubt. They stand and sway, dribbling out garbage and generalisations in monosyllabic monotones, reading extracts from their books - 'price pounds 9.95 from the university bookshop'.

You sit there trying to hypnotise the clock, or brighten up those modularised notes with pretty pictures, and hence don't remember a single sentence from the previous hour except 'you can go now'. It is an experience that can lead to delusion and deep regret at having got out of bed, just to be bored.

Then there are the kind of lectures where you're not quite sure whether you're bored or the lecturer is bored and it's rubbing off on you. I had a lecturer run out in tears once, for no apparent reason. And just as she was beginning to get interesting, too. Did she bore herself to tears? Lecturers can be cunning people. They're clever. They know you're not. And they know the only way you're going to become clever is by listening to them. So why should they make it easy?

Long-haired or short-bearded, smelly or clean, students may be just that now, but in a few years they can become ambitious rivals. Thus some lecturers spend a lifetime boring the students in a bitter and twisted anticipation of revenge, to ensure no one can ever understand them and become what they are. Superiority to the grave.

Then there's the lecture you can tell your grandchild about. This is a unique and very rare lecture, one that transcends boredom and becomes shocking, not only because it is shocking, but because people expected to be bored. I experienced one during my law course, when I had a lecture on the terminology of masturbation.

And finally there's the classic of them all: you turn up for a seminar on Contract Law and sit down in the wrong room, sheepishly walking out when the lecturer starts talking about the advanced sexual positions of woodlice.

So why do we continue to go to lectures, when we know we're in for an hour of yawning, when we know the boredom virus has a 99 per cent chance of breeding rapidly among the listening crowd?

As Woody Allen once said: 'This man goes to his psychiatrist and says to the doctor, 'My brother's mad, he thinks he's a chicken.' The doctor replies, 'Well, why don't you turn him in?' And the man says, 'I would, but we need the eggs.' '

Far too often the chicken/lecturer conveys no enthusiasm. And we all know why. It seems like madness to turn up, but we need the eggs, at least society tells us we do.

Please, all you chickens out there, try to add a little sparkle to those lectures. Try to make them enjoyable and memorable, even if it is just once in a blue moon. We promise not to pinch your jobs, not to become cleverer than you, not to contradict your entire life's work in one short essay. Without the eggs we can never pass the wisdom on to future generations. Although when we're old, like the lecturing chickens now, we probably won't want to.