On Wednesday my political philosophy professor had a baby—his second, a 9 lb little boy. It was no surprise to me that he wasn’t able to make it to our Thursday afternoon class.
That didn’t matter, though. There is a student in my class conducting an independent study this semester with our professor on Nietzsche. Anticipating his absence due to parenthood, my professor reached out to this student and encouraged him to do his best to get a class discussion going. We are reading Nietzsche this week.
When I arrived to class, a quick scan of the room confirmed for me that our professor had indeed taken the day off. I considered leaving for a moment. What could a motley assortment of political science majors possibly have to say about the mysterious Nietzsche? He’s an enigma in himself… I suspect many students came to class particularly excited to hear our professor clarify things.
But no. The independent study student kicked things off with a few provocative remarks, and we were on our way. No one moved. Not a body stirred. There was a brief moment of awkward silence pierced by the conjecture of a brave soul. And then a response—a challenge, an inquiry. A back and forth ensued.
A few students tried to raise their hands. Our student-leader humbly noted, “There’s no way I’m going to start calling on people… Let’s just have a discussion.”
And we did. A few students left, recognizing the unstructured class period as an opportunity to hit the gym early, get a head start on some work, or catch up on some lost sleep. I get it; Nietzsche isn’t for everyone. Twenty minutes went by. Thirty. Our class was cut in half at this point, but it didn’t matter. We were deep inside Nietzsche’s labyrinthine pages, arguing about morality, overmen, government, Marx, Mill, even Plato. Fifty minutes of discussion without a professor.
I went to a high school where, if a professor didn’t show, we ran to the Senior Commons room to play Super Smash Bros. after yielding a five-minute grace period, max. But here at Middlebury, an eagerness and willingness to learn trumped a desire to be anywhere else.
That’s what we’re here for, after all.