Dirty jokes stimulate attention in class

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September 11, 2009

2:27 AM

Despite our collective image as motivated, diligent students, it goes without saying that sometimes, under certain, limited circumstances, we don’t give classes our undivided attention. Even during class, the combined distractions of Facebook, AOL Instant Messenger and the doodles in the margins of your spiral-bound notebook are often enough to completely overcome our more scholarly motivations. But, with the possible exception of Introduction to Psychology, these distractions never constitute a majority of class time; they’re merely a brief respite from the grueling process of actually applying oneself. It’s a short reprieve, but a necessary one.

Yet, professors, I’ve come to find, tend to disagree with this reasoning. They’ve prepared an hour-long discussion on the ways Greek mythology reflects the cultural norms of ancient Athenian society, and they’re excited about it, gosh-darnit, so put away your Facepage.

Normally, when professors are concerned, they merely outlaw computers from the classroom entirely. But those who allow them to remain still employ a sort of scare tactic to prevent aimless web surfing. “If you’re on Facebook, I can tell,” they say in their first-day speeches. “I can see the reflection in your glasses.” Nevermind that more than half the class doesn’t even wear glasses, and such a feat would require a degree of supernatural vision greater than that of Superman. But they’ll still know. Just like when your mother told you she’d know if you stole a cookie from the jar before dinnertime, they all have the very clear conviction that they can peer straight into your soul and discern any impure impulses, like a revivalist preacher to his flock.

I was determined not to be fooled by their threats of omnipotence. Sure, I chose not to bring my computer to class — I did, in fact, wear glasses — but that certainly wouldn’t stop my mind from wandering on occasion. Instead of doodling — not exactly a skill of mine as the only thing I seem able to draw is a series of particularly creepy-looking eyeballs — I’d try and turn their lectures into a series of that’s-what-she-said jokes. Of course, I wouldn’t tell these to anyone, unless the professor was unfortunate enough to use the phrase, “And why is it so big?” in which case the kid next to me was definitely hearing about it. But, for the most part, it was more for my own amusement. At least it kept me listening, less for content than for a turn of phrase that could be misconstrued as innuendo, but listening all the same. Suddenly, I found myself excited to attend a macroeconomics lecture on injecting liquidity, and that’s certainly a first.

I thought I’d hit the jackpot when my professor announced in international law that today’s lecture would focus on the distinctions between hard and soft law. Normally, I would have drifted into a semi-comatose state at the mere thought of the subject, but now I sat up with rapt attention. The opportunities were endless. A bit too endless, in fact. I mean, a person doesn’t use the phrase, “you can’t just go from zero to hard” without some indication of its ulterior implications. And as I sat there, double entendres flying left and right, I realized these were phrases I never wanted to hear a professor utter, at least not in the context I had imposed. Once I’d started, though, there was no stopping it; my brain had officially flipped the switch to dirty. But then, around the time she posed the question, “Where, on the spectrum from completely hard to completely soft, can we find the right tool?” I figured out her scheme. She knew. Somehow, she had pieced together my little game — with her inhuman powers of detection — and had decided she’d make me regret it. And this was my punishment, having to hear my professor use the phrase, “sometimes soft is just easier to deal with.”

By the end of the class, I was entirely repentant. I was converted, dedicated to a life of diligence and academic piety. At least as long as I never had to hear the phrase, “So, how do we make it hard?” ever again.
Kevin Mooney is the Flat Hat confusion corner columnist. If you see him zoning out in class, just give him a poke and remind him to stay on top of things, she can’t go on for the full hour.

__Kevin Mooney is The Flat Hat Confusion Corner columnist. If you see him zoning out in class, just give him a poke and remind him to stay on top of things, she can’t go on for the full hour.__

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