Sunday, February 08, 2009

Life's Greatest Lesson?

I don't admire or respect a college professor who gave unearned A's to all male students in his classes during the late 1960's so their draft deferments would remain valid. The professor was against the Vietnam War.  I wonder how females in the classes felt about the men getting undeserved A's?  I wonder how those men feel today when they reflect upon their inflated grade point average?

I just finished reading Tuesdays with Morrie by Mitch Albom.  The book is about Morrie Schwartz, a professor of Sociology at Brandeis University in Waltham, MA, who retired in 1994. This very popular professor had a large following of admiring students. 

After retirement, Professor Schwartz became afflicted with ALS (Lou Gehrig's disease).  Mr. Albom (a former student) visited "Morrie" in his home fourteen times during the course of the terminal disease.  The visits were always on the Tuesday which related to meeting days with the teacher in college sixteen years earlier.  

The point of the book was how the teacher taught to the very end of life. Morrie described losing control of all body functions and becoming totally dependent on others as his neurological system was destroyed beginning in the feet and slowly advancing up the body to the neck.

Morrie and Mitch Albom reflected on life and all its meanings as the two visited.  The professor taught at BU in the sixties when the campus was:

 "...a hotbed for cultural revolution. Drugs, sex, race, Vietnam protests.  Abbie Hoffman attended Brandeis. So did Jerry Rubin and Angela Davis.  Morrie had many of the radical students in his classes. That was partly because, instead of teaching, the sociology faculty got involved.  It was fiercely antiwar, for example.  When the professors learned that students who did not maintain a certain grade point average could lose their deferments and be drafted, they decided not to give any grades.  When the administration said, "if you don't give these students grades, they will all fail,"  Morrie had a solution: "Let's give them all A's."  And they did."  (page 111)

Professor Schwartz was an agnostic throughout his life, but after the diagnosis of ALS, be began to rethink that position and eventually decided that life is "Too harmonious, grand, and overwhelming a universe to believe it's all an accident." (page 196)

It is sad that it took him a lifetime to reach his conclusion.

Have a good week!


At 2/09/2009 11:05 AM, Blogger Helena Harper said...

It is sad that it took Professor Schwartz a lifetime to reach this conclusion, but at least in the end he did and that was, perhaps, the whole point of his life.

Having been a teacher myself for 20years, I love the way he turned the system on itself by giving students who would otherwise have been drafted all As. I find a lot of what goes on in the current educational system farcical (something I've talked about amongst other things in my book "It's a Teacher's Life...!") and this is a good example of it.

Thank you for this post.

Helena Harper

At 2/16/2009 2:44 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...


In my youth I was fortunate enough to be encouraged in athletics by a man who gave his summers to the kids around Kernersville, NC. He became my friend in my youth and then my high school coach as I aged.The advice and experiences he shared with us was priceless. He had some of the qualities Professor Swartz didplayed in the book. Last summer "Breakfast with Morrie" was performed in Waynesville, NC, my wife and I took "Coach" and his lovely wife to experience the play. His wife had read the book also. The ride back down the mountain was quite an experience listening to the similarities between his life of giving and what we had experienced with "Morrie"...

Ray Chandler


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