Wednesday, December 08, 2004


Hugo Schwyzer poses a fascinating question:
The mystery to which I refer is this: one of my Western Civ classes, for example, is filled with students who seem tired, uninterested and virtually lifeless. The other is filled with students who laugh at my poor jokes, ask constant questions, and seem to relish being around each other. Both classes are in similar time slots, they get the same lecture, they read the same book, they take similar exams. I leave one class feeling exhausted, and the other walking on air. To a less extreme degree, the same is true with my two Women's History classes.

Classroom chemistry has little to do with student performance. At times, my most enjoyable classes were filled with C students while my quietest and most exasperatingly passive classes were filled with those who did unusually good written work.

The chemistry also seems unrelated to my own effort level. Indeed, sometimes I think I try harder with my "dead" classes, hoping against hope to inspire something beyond blank stares. With the more animated classes, I can relax and enjoy myself more thoroughly, and indeed relax quite a bit.

It also seems unrelated to the weather, the season of the year, the time of day, or whether I am wearing jeans or khakis.

Anyone have any theories about classroom chemistry?
Yes, anyone? This doesn't seem like the sort of thing that you could quantify and measure (although given the propensity of some economists, I wouldn't be surprised if someone had done so). And I've noticed the same phenomenon outside the classroom. Some groups of people (all too rarely, in my experience) just seem to "click," and everyone is excited to converse with each other, prod each other intellectually, etc. But most groups of people (including at Harvard) don't have the same energy when it comes to discussing the world of ideas. Perhaps it is just an instinctive shyness that -- occasionally, and sometimes for mysterious reasons -- is overcome when everyone realizes that no one else in the group is going to roll their eyes or become bored when if someone openly expresses a passionate interest in some intellectual question.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

The next level of research might be to do a Myers Briggs Type Index analysis of several "dull" and "responsive" classes, and of the teacher. For instance, I am an ENTP, and the NT element makes all the difference in whether someone(s) I deal with are on the same wave length, humorous, give me the benefit of the doubt, "get it," etc., etc. Give it a try. It's easy at a number of places on the Web.


8:42 AM  

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