Today was my day off, and rather than spend it alone with my cats doing dishes and laundry I decided to hit the road and traverse the spanning wheat fields to visit my alma mater and my close friend Kimmee who is currently studying there. She has only one class on Mondays, Entomology (the study of bugs), which she let me attend with her.

While listening to the lecture on the grasshopper digestive system, I took in the room that I’d had classes in a whopping five years ago, including the only class that I ever fell asleep during. As the professor clicked through his PowerPoint presentation, unnecessarily emphasizing his bullets with a laser pointer, I felt academically naked not taking notes. Every time he posed a question to the class, I felt myself wanting to answer, to participate, though the topic of grasshopper digestive tracks was totally new to me (did you know that their foregut is lined with exoskeleton? I thought exoskeleton was only on the outside!)

But most students don’t share that sentiment. Just as it was when I was there studying, questions posed to the class received only timid responses, usually after a long uncomfortable silence that teachers must build up a superhuman tolerance to. This is the case even when the answer is painfully obvious and everyone should be jumping out of their seats, hands stretched toward the ceiling Hermione Granger style. What is it that makes people so nervous to answer? Are they worried it may be a trick question? Or that it’s purely rhetorical? Or is it experiences like the following that make people wish they hadn’t spoken, and therefore clam up for the rest of eternity?

After explaining that the tiny hairs on insects are connected to their nervous system, the professor asked the class a simple what if question: what happens if you swat a fly? Silence from the class. It gets squashed, I think to myself, internally praising my fly swatting ability.

“It’ll fly away,” says a small voice toward the back.

“Well,” the professor says as he moves up the aisle. “Imagine the fly is this button, and I were to bring my hand down really fast, like this, what would happen?”

Silence. Then another small voice, “It would fly away.”

“Really, really fast,” the professor clarifies.

Now several voices in chorus “It would fly away.” Groan.

“Okay, okay,” the professor says, and though he’s standing behind me I imagine him waving his hands in exasperation. “Let’s reverse this. Let’s say the fly is this button and I bring my hand closer slowly like this, pushing the air toward the fly, what would happen?”

“It would fly away.”

“Right! Now, if I went like that really fast, so fast the fly wouldn’t have time to react, what would happen?” Without giving the class a chance to answer this time, he says “It’d get smashed, right?”

Silence.

The professor quickly moved on, back to grasshoppers.

While flies can be difficult to successfully swat at times, and I don’t know why the professor counterintuitively illustrated a fly getting smashed right after describing their super sensory skills, I hope for the students’ sake that that question doesn’t make it on the final.

The experience of being back on campus, back in a classroom setting, inspired me to question many things (which is the goal of higher education, no?). For instance, “how many televisions does a student lounge really need?” And “why did they remodel the CUB to look like an airport terminal?” And “why does an Asian Studies major have to spend time and money learning about bugs anyway?”

Do you know? (Hint: the answer is not “it would fly away.”)

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