My new office is in the heart of Seaver College on the Pepperdine University campus, and after close to a decade in a law school setting it is interesting to be around undergraduate students on a daily basis. This has led me down memory lane.
I earned my undergraduate degree a full quarter century ago at the University of Arkansas at Fayetteville. My specific bachelor’s degree was in secondary education, but I took more history classes than any other subject, and my favorite was an upper-division course titled “History of the American Indian” with Dr. Elliott West. I never carried on a personal conversation with Dr. West but have often declared him as my favorite professor of all time. As proof, I recall showing up to class one day to discover a sign on the door informing us that class had been canceled — and feeling disappointment. Even then I realized that any professor who was good enough to cause a college student to be disappointed when class was canceled was something special.
Dr. West was a brilliant scholar who knew his stuff, but he was also an engaging and entertaining lecturer who kept us on the edge of our seats eager to hear what he had to say. One of his unique approaches was to flat out lie. That’s right, lie. Dr. West would intersperse his lectures with outlandish statements that sometimes took us a second to realize were outlandish statements, which had the beautiful effect of keeping our slippery attention.
He told us that he had formerly used that technique with freshmen but abandoned it after one occasion when he was explaining how President Lincoln used to wander around Washington wearing a negligee when a freshman finally raised his hand at the back of the room. Relieved, Dr. West called on the student who then asked, “How do you spell negligee?”
Given today’s never-ending avalanche of information via social media and news outlets more interested in viewers than objectivity, it makes my brain hurt to wonder how many lies we believe each day without batting an eye.
Critical thinking is an endangered species. I may not have time to verify everything I hear in this Information Age, but I can sure commit to not believing everything. I learned that in college.