Saturday, August 31, 2013

Rant: The Antithesis of John Keating - Where is Robin Williams when you need him?

I forgot how incredibly impatient, frustrated, annoyed, irritated and restless I can get during classes, courses, lectures, etc. It's been like this since as far back as I can remember. I get vexed when someone tries to tell me something I already know. And I get vexed when someone tries to explain something to me that I already understand. Enlighten me, don't just reiterate.

Logically, this state of vexation gets exacerbated when your lecturer or professor is a smug, arrogant old man (deserving of the name Icarus or Narkissos); who for some reason thinks his class only consists of feebleminded, unintelligent ignoramuses, who will eat up every word he says without questioning any of it. A man who claims to be a man of science, even though he will make bold and erroneous statements such as:

- "Stress can give you ulcers." False. There is no clear evidence to suggest that stress causes ulcers in the stomach. It's usually caused by an infection with a type of bacteria called Helicobacter pylori. And when I confronted him with this during the break (as to not put him on the spot in front of the class - in a very mild manner, mind you), he looked at me with an exasperated look on his face, and said: "NO, it's caused by stress. Yes, H. Pylori is a part of the cause, but stress is what causes the reaction. It's a combination of the two."

I was sure he was mistaken, so I went back to my seat and decided to look it up on several medical sites - and I was right. After the lecture was finished, I told him I had looked it up, and that no medical site confirmed this; on the contrary, they said there was no clear evidence to support this theory. In fact, it was mostly dismissed as a myth.

He then looked a little unsure, and clearly irritated and uncomfortable, he begrudgingly said that yes, it was just a theory - and a controversial theory at that. And it was something he himself believed, because of the ”empirical research” he had seen. And then I said, how strange then that it wasn't mentioned on any of the medical sites, such as Mayo Clinic’s site (a highly respected group of clinics). And why then, when this is just a theory of his, would he then state this as an absolute fact? Then he gave me a smug, unfriendly and insincere smile, and mumbled a nonsensical rationalization, which was close to inaudible. Great response, professor. Nice save.

- "Stress is not dangerous." False. Stress doesn't necessarily have to be dangerous, but it definitely can be. I.e. it's "circumstantial". In fact, stress can cause deterioration in everything from your gums to your heart; and, if left unchecked, can make you more susceptible to illnesses, ranging from the common cold to cancer (high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes, etc.).

- "The change in colour of butterflies after the Industrial Revolution (London) is a classic example of evolution in action." Partly false. They weren't butterflies, they were moths; although they are both grouped together in the order Lepidoptera.

- "40% of all people have H. pylori in their stomach. You probably have it, I'm sure of it." False. If 40% of all people have it, then I probably don't have it as 60% of all people are not infected.

- "Genes do not decide behaviour nor intelligence." Partly false. It has long been believed, on the basis of studies of identical and fraternal twins, that intelligence is a heritable trait. Relatively new research affirms that conclusion. Ultimately, intelligence is a combination of both nature and nurture. So is behaviour.

- "I know with 100% accuracy where you're NOT gonna sit." False. You do not know with 100% accuracy where we're not gonna sit.

Bottom line is: Don't serve me bullshit, and expect me to eat it - or at the very least, don’t expect me to get a whiff of what you’re serving me, and not mention that it smells like bullshit. Or in another words, don't serve me piss, and tell me it's apple juice. Whichever you prefer.

Call it puristic, but when one tiny little error can make all the difference between an A and a B, and you have an auditorium full of na├»ve students scribbling down every word you say; then I would find it reasonable to expect your lecturer to be responsible enough to actually make sure that he knows what he's talking about.  Or at least eat some humble pie, and admit when he's wrong when his students call him out on it. A lecturer should encourage, and not discourage, critical thinking - university taught me that.

Not every young student is a feebleminded, unintelligent ignoramus. There will be times, where the lecturer is the one who needs to study harder and be better prepared. Because sometimes, it's the lecturer who needs to be schooled - not the student.