Snippets of Plattsburgh Professors
A Look Back at a Few of My Favorite Moments in Class
Dr. Carol Leonard
I was always fascinated by Russia. So when I finally had a chance to take an elective in my sophomore year, Russian History until 1863 was a no brainer. Dr. Leonard was a young professor who was passionate about her discipline. She also had a very special place in her heart for Catherine the Great but not in a good way. I still remember the ire she brought over the deadly coup Catherine engineered to unseat her husband Peter. Nonetheless, this was no easy course, and the reading material followed suit. In fact, one afternoon she couldn’t resist levying a criticism on us. “I have a real problem with the class,” she implored. “Too many of you are listening to my lectures and reading the text and just accepting it. I need students to disagree and question.”
Oh my, and with my head down on the desk, my attention was peaked. And then she continued : “Except for this guy here.”
Wow, I thought, who is this remarkable student. My head shot up, and Dr. Leonard was pointing to me. What a moment. But that wasn’t the best of it, because I didn’t fit in among the air of intellectualism that much of the class carried. Gasping for breath, the professor just elevated my off the cuff interpretation of history, and these sorry Muscovites were forced to scramble. No problem, I was happy to lend a hand to further their development.
I was always good in Math. On the other hand, not much of it ever seemed practical. I soldiered on nonetheless, and in college, I was well aware that engineering and physics students applied Calculus and Differential Equations to their disciplines. But math for the sake of itself made no sense to me. Here was my take : Math majors study the field to become teachers, and then teach math to students who mostly hate math. So you could only imagine how useless linear algebra seemed to me. All semester long, we put numbers in matrixes and solved. Yeah, don’t ask, because I have no idea what I’m talking about either.
So given the student above, you’d think that I was the first to pipe up in hopes of making sense of all this busy work. I was not. The question did finally come, though, and Dr Namkoong quickly settled the matter. “It’s typically used in code breaking,” he said.
But the professor also acquiesced on the sheer silliness of our endeavors and threw in a little contemporary political commentary to pile on the point. “So obviously Linear Algebra can be very useful in wartime - especially if the mighty United States ever goes to war with…Honduras.”
Now that’s subversive, and who says math teachers are only good with numbers.
The history electives were piling up by 1987, and since the US was wagging another feckless fight against communism in Central America, Latin American study was in order. See, that’s what you do Americans. The world is awry, and you go learn about it. Sorry, tuning in for TV sound bites does not suffice for getting the necessary background on the issues of the day. Open a book, think and ask questions, but unfortunately, a class full of history majors didn’t get this either. Of course, Dr. Voss did his part, and his compelling delivery should have made the questions second nature. The professor even took quite an interesting approach to make sure the inquiries flowed. Voss would complete his lesson 15 minutes prior to the end of class, and told us to fire away. Here’s the rub, though. If no one had a question, we sat in silence. Now, that was deafening, and the awkwardness made its point
But he didn’t count on someone like me to upset his best laid plans. Question after question, he had to cap my inquisitiveness and then futilely waited for others to interject. So we would sit there, and I was amazed by the teacher's fortitude to endure the uncomfortable quiet.
The history majors eventually got with the program. But is it any wonder that America’s general lack of knowledge has this country falling apart at the seems. I won’t wait for an answer.
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