You Don’t Have to be Crazy But it Helps

Several hundred years ago, when I was at university, I had a teacher take out a gun and shoot a student who was waving a sword at him. This teacher has had a lot of influence on me and the way I teach.

He also helped me solve a mystery.

The class was an introductory history class called “The Rise of Europe” and took place in shockingly dungeon like rooms in the old Dennison Hall at Kansas State University. (No windows, partly underground, men with swords.)

At first the class was taught by a TA who learned public speaking from the “Read Text In Monotone Lifeless Drone-Like Manner With No Expression At All” school of speech. (It exists.)

Then, on about the third class, I noticed there was a new, rather rickety looking, podium in place of the old podium. There was a also a mustachioed man in a cowboy hat who introduced himself as Professor Robert Linder and explained that everything we’d heard about him being tough was a lie. This lie upset him so much he started shouting and knocked the new podium over and it broke into several pieces.

At this point, a young man ran into the room and pointed a sword at Professor Linder and demanded that he tell the truth. Linder took out a small revolver and shot the young man. A couple TAs quickly cleaned up the mess and disposed of the body.

We immediately realized our professor was probably crazy.

That turned out to be his gift, though, and made his advanced classes the hardest to get into in the university. (With one exception.) At various times during the year he would give out Gummi bears if we answered questions. He also once stripped his shirt off and invited students of the same ethnicity to join him in a ritual bath. (Something to do with Swedes and/or Vikings, I don’t remember.)

He’s the only teacher I ever had who made us sit in alphabetical order and took roll in a large lecture class. He also would pick chairs on the front row and repeatedly take the same line to the person in that chair. A woman in the front row to the right of the podium would always hear about a historical person’s “piercing blue eyes” as Linder leaned in and stared at her. (One time the woman was absent and he mentioned that if she’d been there he’d have mentioned the blue eyes.)  A man in a seat to the left of the podium would get shaken by the shoulders (for various reasons).

After finishing his class, I managed to land a spot in his History of Christianity course. During that class he solved a mystery.

At various times, during classes in Eisenhower Hall, we’d hear someone yell “SHUT UP!” somewhere down the hallway. We never knew who this was.

The mystery was solved in History of Christianity when Professor Linder explained how St. Francis of Assisi had dealt with noisy birds in the church belfry. Linder said Francis had walked closer to them (as he himself walked to the door) “He looked up at them” (sold with a dramatic hand gesture) “and said” (Linder leaned out the classroom door into the hallway) “SHUT UP!” (Yelled at the top of his lungs.)

Mystery solved.

I’ve adopted the alphabetical seating and the habit of taking specific lines to a student in the front row. I also brought a sword to class once.

Nowadays, though, that would probably get me sent to jail.

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