Bill Todd -- Jones: A Novel of the Early Cold War
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 Chapter 17

Teaching Logic

The advanced logic class had some dozen students, most of whom were teaching assistants in the beginning logic class. It wasn't really advanced logic from Jones' point of view, but the content was sufficiently interesting to keep him from falling asleep in the middle of his own lectures.

Sam was the only student with a real talent for logic, and he was there in the front row, all set to soak up everything Jones could throw out. Milton was next to him, looking a little defensive. He would probably manage all right, at least with some extra tutoring from Sam and Jones. Jones would just have to find a way of grading the other students that would get them B's. The rest of the department wouldn't care, and Jones wanted to have the graduate students on his side in any controversies that might arise.

There were also two auditors in the class. Sarah Swift came to "make sure he didn't compromise the love-making abilities of Sam and Milton by making them too symbolic and abstract." Tensy was the other auditor, and she had said, rather more prosaically,

"I'm not going to subject myself to your tests, Jones, but I do want to find out what the modern world is all about."

Judging by their responses in class, both auditors were doing quite well. As Sarah said,

"We're intelligent women, and we'll do fine as long as no one's harrassing us."

By harrassment, she meant the giving of tests and homework. Indeed, judging by the first batches of homework, the rest of the class wasn't responding well to harrassment. Jones went back and repeated a few things, and then hoped for the best.

Since most of the class members were engaged in teaching their own classes, there tended to be open-ended discussions of teaching methods and problems in the Pink Room after Jones had finished. He usually joined these discussions, and, on one occasion, Sarah and Tensy convinced the others that it would be a good thing for Jones to drop in on their classes occasionally to observe. Not all the assistants were thrilled at the idea, but Sarah suggested that they surely didn't do anything that they wanted to hide.

Jones was, in fact, to observe Brock Morison's class a few days later. It was a couple of hours after his own class, and Tensy asked him if she could come too. He replied,

"Yes. The assistants have decided to observe each other, and you have honorary status by this time."

As they maneuvered their way to the back row, Tensy said,

"This is a large room, and it's filling up."

"There are about eighty students in these sections."

"That's awfully big for a graduate student to handle."

"The faculty members don't like to teach logic, so they have the graduate students do it. Since there's a lot of demand due to the college requirement for math or logic, that works out to big classes."

"Your faculty people are really irresponsible, aren't they?"

"I suppose so. The navy also gives the lowest ranked people the worst jobs."

"That I can believe, but ....."

Before she could say more, Morison entered at the front of the room. Of medium height and slim, he moved quickly, and probably nervously, to the desk. Tensy whispered,

"Despite the English name, he looks like a dark Scandinavian, someone out of Ibsen."

"He's a rather quirky character, bright but hard to predict."

"He's actually rather handsome."

The room was now packed, and three students were sitting on chairs near the blackboard, directly facing the teacher from his right side. Morison jerked his head spastically toward them and said,

"Don't sit there, you people. You'll make me nervous, and then I'll have an aneurism. All the blood will spurt out of my head, and I'll die. I'm too young to die."

Jones heard a gasp from Tensy, but the class didn't particularly react. One of the three students pointed out to Morison that there weren't any other seats. He replied,

"All right, then, but my blood will be on your hands."

One assumed that Brock was joking, but it seemed that he might possibly not be. He then started the class by writing a formula of symbolic logic on the blackboard. He had more left parentheses than right ones, and several hands went up. With his back to the class, he continued to write, compounding his mistake with another badly formed formula. One of the students with a raised hand whistled loudly and derisively. Morison finally turned and called on him. The student asked sardonically in a rather sophisticated voice,

"Wouldn't it be better to have the parentheses match up?"

Morison gave him a look of contempt, pointed at him accusingly with his forefinger, and replied,

"If you ask a question like that, you need to see a psychiatrist."

That got a response, and, as Morison turned again to the board, there were catcalls. Soon the whole class was in turmoil. Some people were yelling at Morison, and he, continuing to write more nonsense on the board, called back spiritedly over his shoulder. However, the students turned increasingly to argue with one another in efforts to make some sense out of what was on the board. The total volume of conversation crowded into the room made it hard to hear, and so people raised their voices still further. Finally, Morison screamed,

"Everybody shut up. I've got the gospel truth right here."

He was holding up the logic text in the manner of a sacred book, and prepared to read from it. Uncomfortable with symbols, he had evidently found a prose passage which he took to justify whatever he was trying to do symbolically. He read a sentence in a deep voice full of reverence, finishing triumphantly with,

"So there! Put that in your patooties."

A student immediately responded,

"You read it wrong. You left out the word 'not'."

The class exploded once again, and Tensy said to Jones,

"I can't stand any more of this. Let's get out."

No one seemed to notice their departure by the rear door. Once outside the room, Tensy burst out,

"That was horrible! A travesty. He ought to be fired immediately!"

Jones, amused, replied,

"You know, last semester, the same test was given to all the sections. Mine did the worst. Do you know whose was the best by far?"

"Oh no! I know what you're going to say, and I don't believe it. There must have been some mistake."

"No, no mistake. Morison's students scored the best. It wasn't even close."

"Then he must've been different."

"Can you imagine his being very different?"

"No, probably not."

"It's easy to understand, really. He gets total class participation. It's obvious that everything he says is wrong, so the students try to work things out for themselves. They have disagreements, but they eventually arrive at the right answers."

"And you don't make mistakes, so your class does worse. But that shouldn't be. You're actually a pretty good teacher, Jones."

"I can explain the material, but the stuff I was teaching in the beginning class wasn't very interesting. So they got bored and went to sleep."

"Well, no one's sleeping in Brock's class. No one could. But you can hear the uproar out here, even with the doors closed. The whole college must wonder what's going on."

"All the other teachers seem to have closed their doors."

"I think I see what's wrong. You have the assistants teaching what you're teaching, supposedly covering the same ground more slowly. Brock obviously doesn't understand, but he might have done better with the more elementary material he was teaching in the fall."

"Almost anyone could understand that."

"Okay. So the students could teach themselves in the fall, but that might not work now."

"We can only hope. But some of the assistants are okay. Sam, for example."

"I know a woman who took Sam's course. She said he mumbles into the board, and she could hardly hear anything he said."

"He speaks out clearly in my class."

"You have a nice little class of a dozen people, some of them enthusiasts. To confront eighty potentially disruptive kids is an entirely different thing."

"Yes. I know. This was all meant to upgrade the beginning course, and make it more respectable. It may be backfiring."

"Are you going to be blamed for it?"

"Not really. A whole faculty meeting was devoted to this, and I wasn't the one who suggested making the beginning course reflect the advanced one."

"So you could go back and report that the experiment isn't working because it demands too much of both the assistants and their students?"

"I guess so. It'll be a hell of a mess if we try to change it back in the middle of the term. The students would have to get a different text for one thing."

"It's still better in the long run. We're only a couple of weeks into the semester."

"Having a such a public changeover and admission of failure at this time will also give the Speech Department a tremendous advantage."

"Maybe they deserve it. Didn't you say that the original version of the course was worthless?"

"Sure. We discussed arguments such as,

Nothing is a dinosaur.

Nothing is up my sleeve.

Therefore, a dinosaur is up my sleeve."

"That's ridiculous."

"The art of teaching traditional logic consists in convincing people that they might be tempted to use such arguments in discussions with their friends. You then rush in, point out the fallacy, and save them."

"Brock might be able to do that. He has real dramatic flair."

"Is that better than what we just heard?"

"Either way, the students would be better off taking Speech. It may not be intellectually respectable, but they have kids practice giving speeches to the class. It tends to cure stage fright. It might also convert someone like Sam into a decent teacher."

"Someone in my department said that it's comparable to curing hiccoughs. Useful, but not enlightening."

"Academics are so awfully good at ridiculing people who don't share the same pretensions."

"Well, really, I don't particularly want hordes of people taking beginning logic. My job doesn't depend on it, and it looks as if it might be an ongoing pain in the ass."

"At this point, it would take a heroic effort to rescue the course. I wouldn't make it if I were you. Just report on the situation to cover yourself, and then the blame will be spread around."

"Meanwhile, I just got another paper accepted. When I take a copy down to Dean Loomis, I can tell him about our beginning logic problems."

"Good move. He'll hear about Morison before long, so you can get in there first. You'll also be doing a partial end run around your department. Will Loomis care whether Speech is allowed to compete with logic?"

"Probably not. Loomis will already know that my course, and my activities generally, don't depend on the requirement in any way."

"If you get the timing right, your department won't be able to accuse you of going to the dean without telling them."

"They may still think that I'm sabotaging their position."

"You're really just refusing to try to hide the disaster that is that course from the dean."

Jones laughed,

"Schoolboys call that tattling."

"I tattled all the time in school. I wasn't loved, but look where I am now!"

"Are you going to give Reggie an account of Morison's class?"

"He'll be delighted. I'll just jot down some of the high points so that I can give him a full account."

It was a regular department meeting that struggled through student petitions, changes for the graduate student requirements, and the awarding of the McKibben Medal for Christian Manliness. This last occasioned a few snickers, but most of those present were serious even about that.

It seemed that the majority felt that the handful of students who took the non-logic courses could be transformed into pure and proficient scholars if the department just got the rules and regulations exactly right. This assumption was rather comical to one who, like Jones, had some idea of the actual capabilities and attitudes of those students. He did say,

"Whatever we require of them, some don't have much to give."

This brought an amused smile from Roger Ennis, but the others carried on with perfect aplomb.

They finally got around to a discussion of the beginning logic class, and everyone looked to Jones. He reported,

"I don't think that our experiment is working. Not all the logic assistants learn everything I teach. Hardly any learn the material well enough to teach it a day or week later."

One of the older men, Brent Bulstrode, replied

"Of course that won't work! I never thought it would. You should have consulted us, Stan."

Jones, delighted that Hawthorne was being blamed, remained silent. Hawthorne replied,

"That was the meeting you missed, Brent. We had to do something to make our course different from the competing Speech course. They even claim to teach logic, along with giving little speeches to each other."

"Do they really?"

Jones answered,

"They seem to spend about a third of their time teaching what we were teaching in the fall."

"Could we claim to be doing it better?"

"Not given the people we have teaching our sections. They use regular faculty."

Ennis then summed up,

"If we go back to old-fashioned informal logic, Speech can claim that their existing course is better and ought to be let in under the requirement. If we try to be modern, we'll just have a disaster on our hands."

Jones replied,

"It could be argued that we already do."

Hawthorne said,

"Speaking of that, I heard an uproar as I passed a classroom the other day. It seemed to come from a logic section."

"Yes. Morison's. I was sitting in as an observer."

Ennis laughed and said to Jones,

"Having said that much, you'll have to satisfy our curiosity."

Jones gave a brief and somewhat humorous account of the proceedings, ending,

"Still and all, it wasn't as bad as a class where everyone just goes to sleep."

Bulstrode replied,

"That may be, but we won't have even a piece of the requirement if such things get out. I must also say, Stan, that Jones just doesn't have the experience to supervise teaching assistants, in fact his own fellow graduate students of a month ago. I don't think you should have put him in that position."

"Probably not. But no one else has ever been willing to supervise logic. Will you?"

There was a moment of silence, broken by Hawthorne himself,

"The damnable thing is that Speech draws so many students, just as French and Spanish do. Learning a language isn't an intellectual achievement, it's just a preamble to learning something of the history, literature, and philosophy of a culture. In the same way, learning to address an audience without wetting your pants is just a preamble to saying something worthwhile. Why do our students always mistake the means for the end?"

Jones surprised himself by replying,

"Because it makes them seem more sophisticated."

"Appearance over reality. Thank you, Jones."

Shortly thereafter, Jones met Tensy at her car and reported on the meeting. She said,

"It sounds as if they're fully informed."


"They must also realize that Morison's antics will be widely known by this time."

"I guess they won't be surprised to find out that the dean knows."

"Does he?"

"Probably, but I haven't said anything about it to him."

"You'd better do it soon."

"You know Dean Loomis, don't you?"

"I've met him several times at parties they give for wealthy donors like Reggie. He seemed a jovial old boy."

"He is."

"You might manage to get the message across to him without being seen as double-crossing your own department."

"Yes. There's no point in double-crossing unnecessarily. I think my bunch are already resigned to letting Speech in on the requirement, and won't blame me."

"That'll be a blow to the philosophy department. Anyone in their right mind would take Speech instead of Brock Morison."

Jones smiled and replied,

"Are you sure Brock isn't more fun?"

Ignoring him, Tensy said,

"I once took a Speech course and found it quite helpful. I have to address groups now and then, and I don't worry about it."

Jones hadn't yet gotten offprints of his latest paper, but he had carbon copies. He was just beginning to appreciate the art of handing out such things. It shouldn't be done triumphantly, nor yet shame-facedly. A certain diffidence, and even false modesty, was the usual thing. But that was hardly required with Dean Loomis. After sitting in the rolling chair that was, as usual, propelled briskly toward him, Jones said,

"We're having some trouble with the beginning logic course."

"So I've heard. You're getting a chance to learn about the real world very quickly, Jones."

"It's awfully hard to teach anything meaningful to so many students at once."

"Most departments have this problem. The science departments, in their intro courses, can rely on the pre-meds. They'll make Herculean efforts. As for the rest, they let them just slip by, often with D's."

"I don't think we get many pre-meds."

"Hardly any. They know that they'll need math for their science courses."

"What do the other non-science departments do?"

"Give fairly easy courses which, in the best cases, are livened up by a certain amount of discreet showmanship on the part of the professors. There's an element of entertainment in what we do."

"We have one assistant who provides quite a lot of entertainment."

"Mr. Morison?"


"I've already had complaints about him. He just hasn't learned to provide controlled entertainment. But he's Stan Hawthorne's problem, not yours. Don't volunteer to take over Morison's class."

"No. Of course, they're all worried about letting Speech in on the math-logic requirement."

"As they should be! You know, Wilson got the faculty to teach about half the logic sections. And he put some iron into the assistants in his low-keyed way. He could be the old company commander when he had to be."

"I'm the only faculty member now teaching a beginning logic section."

"When Wilson retired, the rest of the department decided to go on vacation. They turned their only money-making course over to a mostly mediocre bunch of graduate students. The rest of the college faculty thinks it's scandalous, and Speech saw its opportunity."

"It sounds as if they'll succeed."

"Certainly. The meeting's in six weeks, and it's too late for philosophy to do anything. Just relax and let it happen."

"I'd better not look too relaxed. The others certainly aren't."

"They may well lose some positions, but they've brought it on themselves."

Bill Todd -- Jones: A Novel of the Early Cold War
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