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50 minutes and a class crush

Observer Viewpoint | Wednesday, April 11, 2007

It’s been said that in college, you’ll learn more outside of the classroom than in it.

Huh? What? Even if you aren’t interested in photosynthesis or in writing a thesis, the truth is, there’s no better laboratory for studying human nature than in your own Debartolo classroom.

There’s the boy who plops down in the desk beside the door on the first day of class. You quickly realize that he chose that particular seat so as to secure an easy out to see his girlfriend after the 50 minutes are finished. And he executes his post-class plan perfectly – before the last student crosses the plane of the doorway, his fingers are already interlocked with his girlfriend’s at the bottom of the Debartolo stairwell.

There’s also the girl who always brings her computer to class, even though the average student is entirely capable of jotting down all of the notes by hand. The professor supposes that her constant keyboard pecking is copious note-taking, but you know what it really is – Instant Messenger repartee.

Then there’s your class crush. As your professor announces the pre-assigned teams for your upcoming project, you fidget with your earrings while whispering under your breath, “Be in my group. Be in my group. Be in my group.” You figure that this is the only avenue through which you can progress beyond staring at the back of his head. But no such luck – that road’s blocked. He’s in Group 1, and you’re in Group 2.

Then there’s the staged class debate between the Federalists and the Anti-Federalists. In class, you argue with just enough zeal to earn an A for the assignment. Yet when you spot a Constitutional decrier at Fever that night, you kick up your argumentative fervor a few notches, re-adopting your Alexander Hamilton persona and arguing for the end of the Articles of Confederation as if you yourself were present at the 1787 convention. But what about when your professor tries to renew the debate in class on Tuesday? Silence.

Everyone’s too busy staring at the clock. And with approximately three minutes left in class, a chain reaction commences – you’ll cap your pen, prompting the person next to you to fish through her purse for her keys, prompting the person next to her to slam his textbook. And all the while, the professor becomes increasingly uncomfortable as he attempts to nail home the last few themes of Invisible Man.

But regardless of whether or not you learned the themes of Invisible Man, class provides the optimal opportunity to learn about one particular (wo)man – yourself. Where does your mind wander when you no longer want to hear about the requirements for membership in the EU? Are you wondering if it’d be smart to pay for membership to the English Honors Society? Or are you thinking about your class crush again – would it be too weird if you Facebook friended her?

Your class is full of potential Facebook friends. There’s the girl who seems to have a Starbucks cup permanently melded to her hand. And the boy who raises his hand every time the professor’s voice inflections hint that he might be on the verge of asking a question. And what about the girl whose cell phone rings (to the tune of “Sweet Escape,” of course) during every class? And the boy who only shows up for the tests?

Throughout 15 weeks of class, you might not utter a word to any of them – until the post-Final Exam bond, of course. After you all endure two hours of blue-book writing, you’ll be like best friends who waged war in Vietnam together. “What’d you think of the test?” you’ll ask, as you stagger past the desk where the girlfriend-loving boy once sat. Maybe you’ll even speak your first words to your own class crush.

You still think class doesn’t matter? Then tell me why – when in the spring of your senior year, a friend introduces you to someone he thinks you’ve never met – you will undoubtedly remember that she sat across the aisle from you in your Introduction to Philosophy discussion section that met on Fridays during the fall semester of freshman year.

You can learn a lot in a 50 minute class.

Liz Coffey is a senior American Studies major and Journalism, Ethics and Democracy minor. Her column appears every other Thursday. She can be reached at ecoffey@nd.edu

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.