Shut Up Already

by Kevan Higgins | 10/13/98 5:00am

Today's topic might be somewhat controversial, but I think it needs to be said. Everybody Shut The Hell Up!

I am at this school for many reasons. To steal from Don King, I came here to exercise, socialize, fraternize, analyze, antagonize, compromise, liberalize, generalize, debate, conversate, interrogate, stay up late, initiate, mitigate, find a mate (not have to masturbate), congregate, exfoliate, maybe work for a conglomerate, tool, play pool, eat gruel, never give samples of stool and generally have fun.

However, I also came here to learn, as did all of us ostensibly. Learning is good. It will help many Dartmouth students to earn gobs and gobs of money. Others will use their knowledge and wisdom for the good of society. Still others will become househusbands and wives and live off their parents' wealth. Kudos to all of you. Regardless of my intentions for applying what I learn, I genuinely do enjoy school and classes, at least when the professors are engaging, and the topic is such that a good prof can make it interesting to the class.

But, when I'm in class, trying to follow the course of a lecture or discussion, and somebody bursts out with what is unanimously agreed by everyone else in the room to be an inane and completely inappropriate comment, I tend to get a little flustered. I may be way out on my own here, but I've interacted with many of you out there, and I seem to get the same feel from most of you.

We've all heard that there is no such thing as a stupid question. Or at least we should have all heard it by now. But, in an intro psych course, some might regard the question, "How do you think Freud would explain Bill Clinton's affair with Monica Lewinsky? Does Monica remind him of his mother, and does Kenneth Starr remind him of his abusive step-dad?" as nothing more than a thinly veiled attempt by a student to pretend he or she knows what's going on and brown-nose at the same time.

Nonetheless, if I cannot persuade you that there are in fact stupid questions, then can we at least agree that there are stupid comments. In a lecture class of 150, when the prof stops to take questions, it is not the time to launch into a story, most often one which self-aggrandizes in a holier-than-thou tone as if to say, "Shame on you, you'll never know what I know, because you're not me." It never fails that when an issue comes up for debate, somebody in a large class will simply have to tell about the time they saved five orphans from a burning building or actually were present at the Nuremburg trials or had a relative who was Nietzche's right hand man.

I don't want to wax holier-than-thou myself, but I recall the biblical story of the Jew in the temple who prayed out loud and let everyone know what wonderful works he was doing, yet Jesus said he would not be saved because he was not humble in his works. If I were more of a religious scholar, I would actually be able to cite that passage, but instead I give you what is probably a complete bastardization of the actual product.

Now, I don't mean to say that you are all going to be condemned to eternal fire, but please, let's try to make our comments a little more constructive and less introverted.

The general motto amongst people I've discussed this with is, "Raise your hand when you actually have something to say!" In a discussion, don't stubbornly defend the losing side of an argument that you yourself know is already lost just so the professor will recognize you as a standout. That's academic prostitution. Don't try to make the person who spoke before you look bad when you get a chance to speak; it only makes you look like a snob, which you may in fact be, but you don't have to look like one. In a lecture, don't feel you have to comment on every point in the outline. If the professor asks a rhetorical or obvious question, such as "Now, how many of you out there like food?," don't shout out "Me, me, me, me!" If the professor asks a real question you know the answer to, answer it. If you have any useful insight into a discussion, speak up, but don't be a jerk or a kiss-ass.

I'm not a prof, so I can't speak for what they would think, although I'm sure that some of them take comments as a welcome break from being the sole voice in the giant lecture hall. It must be intimidating to teach a nine on a Thursday morning to a bunch of hung-over, bitter kids and get no feedback whatsoever. Those ones will probably be really pissed that I wrote this. Please don't take it out on me, I'm just the quiet guy in the corner who tries to say stuff that makes sense.