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Three Short Pedagogical Pieces by Sidney Fein

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Three Short Pedagogical Pieces by Sidney Fein

I. Teaching Logic, or Barnabus' Ploy

At the last minute Professor Hugo van der Weg decided to return to Holland. Perhaps he was homesick, missed pitched roofs and legalized narcotics, meatballs and rice table. No one told me. Maybe no one knew.

Though I was deprived of the pleasure of meeting Professor v. d. w., his decamping was consequential for me. As Distinguished Visiting Professor (my pompous rating) I was obliged to teach only two courses per semester. My department chairman for the year was a decent fellow named William Pitt, like the prime ministers. He was one of those people who have the knack of turning high anxiety into a variety of charm and he telephoned at the end of August to beg me charmingly to take on another class, with no preparation and for no money, one of v. d. w.'s orphans.

"It's logic," he declared, as if he had said something that amounted to an argument.

"Pardon me?"

"The course. It's 210, Logic. Please? Pretty please?" He then proceeded breathlessly, as though convincing me were a matter of speaking a runon sentence as rapidly as possible. "Look, I wouldn't dare to ask but it's a requirement for a lot of our students, though you shouldn't have more than twentyfive all together, so it wouldn't be fair just to cancel it and there's nobody else who can take it on—well, except for Harold Whitson but he's already agreed to do The Flying Dutchman's Rationalism seminar for me so I can't possibly ask him."

"No, that wouldn't be fair."

I could almost hear him throwing his gaze heavenwards. "What can I do?"

Deans have it fairly easy; they can rely on simple bullying. But I think one of the criteria by which department chairmen are selected must be their ability to get people to sigh and say okay. So I sighed and said okay. But—logic?

The class really was a requirement, as Pitt said, though in a respect he didn't mention. The Philosophy department, perhaps Pitt himself, had maneuvered things so that PH210, Logic, could be taken to fulfill the undergraduate math requirement. While this clever bit of academic politicking insured a healthy enrollment, lots of FTEs in the lingo of the trade, and looked good on the accounting sheet of the wisdomlovers, it also guaranteed classes filled with the reluctant, resentful, and resigned.
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