So, I am sitting down for the final exam in an upper division course. This was the last of 5 courses on the history of philosophy that I took as an undergraduate; its graded assignments consisted of two essay exams and a research project. My project has already been turned in. All I had to do was manage a few decent essays on this particular phase of intellectual history, and then I could go home and sleep.
I remember the scene rather well actually.
We are sitting around a conference table in a room adjoining the professor’s office, about half a dozen of us, furiously scribbling at our blue-books when the instructor walks into his office. He later emerges with a green apple and a single research paper in one of those plastic binders that teachers hate. (Seriously, I didn’t understand this until I started grading myself. Those are nothing but a pain in the ass.) Anyway, the professor frees the essay from its plastic binder with a slight sneer and takes a bite of the apple.
It is the beginning of a long and dramatic performance.
As I and the others were trying to wax brilliant on this and that subject, I think each of us gradually became aware of a couple things about the professor’s activities at the authoritative end of the table. The first thing I noticed was how thoroughly the professor was eating that apple. The man was truly voracious! I want to say that he ate the core, but that may be 20 years of memory rounding the corners of my original experience. What I can definitely say is that he came damned close to it. Drove me nuts, watching that; I wanted to tell him to stop and give the poor thing a break. It had long since done its duty by normal standards and what was left deserved a good Christian burial in the garbage can. He didn’t even look like he was enjoying the apple goodness all that much. It was just there, and that was apparently an unforgivable crime. I don’t think I have ever felt sorry for a piece of fruit before, but that poor apple had my sympathies.
And the paper?
Well let’s just say the professor couldn’t have put more red ink on that paper if he had opened up the pen and poured it out all over the he pages. I honestly think the prof. was putting down as much material as we were. He did this with grand gestures. You could see him drawing broad circles around some offending bit of text before proceeding with a straight line toward the margins where he then proceeded to write essays of his own, all no doubt about the utter stupidity of the poor paper’s author. That sneer got worse and worse. He shook he head as he wounded the pages of that poor term paper, and I could almost make out some of the cursing under his breath. Contempt oozed off of the prof. and slowly filled the room with a strange and rotten feeling as we struggled to produce our own candidates for the red ink of death.
I forced myself to concentrate on my own essay as I took in the drama happening just off to my left, and I wondered what poor Freshman from his intro class would soon be crying in his red cup full of already-watery beer. What the poor victim had done to earn his feedback-beating, I couldn’t imagine, but I told myself I would be fine. Just keep writing!
Finally, the instructor put down the paper, shook his head, stood up and gave a heavy sigh before walking back into his office and then out into the hall. One of my classmates put down his pen, and sat there a moment, obviously stressed. The guy looked around the room a bit. And we all looked back at him.
“Well, I gotta look.”
After learning he had just received a D- on his research paper, the graduating law-school candidate struggled a bit with his blue-book and eventually turned in his unfinished exam.