The last paper is read, commented upon, and graded, the grades have been electronically entered, I have turned in my keys -- all that remains is to attend the end-of-semester party this evening and then, so far as UNC Chapel Hill is concerned, I no longer exist. It was, at least for me, an exhilarating experience, one that I found quite rewarding.
I read the [anonymous] student evaluations [one does not get to see them until the grades are submitted], and a repeated complaint was that I lectured too much and did not have enough class discussion. This put me in mind of one of my favorite stories about the great medievalist Harry Austryn Wolfson, with whom I was privileged to study as an undergraduate.
Wolfson was a bachelor, and every day, he lunched at the Harvard Faculty Club, sitting at the long table reserved for members of the faculty who did not have luncheon companions. One day, apparently, the conversation around the table turned to a teaching technique that had intrigued some of those present -- class discussion. Wolfson, ever open to new ideas, decided to try it. The next day, when he came into the Spinoza course that I was taking [this was the Spring of 1953] he announced that there would be a class discussion. The graduate students were very excited, and a buzz went around the room. Wolfson proposed as the topic for discussion the question, "Was Spinoza an atheist?" I did not venture an opinion, but the graduate students jumped right in and a quite lively back and forth ensued. We all thought things were going swimmingly, but Wolfson grew visibly more distressed as time went on. Finally, he stepped in and abruptly ended the experiment. A discussion about the question "Was Spinoza an atheist?", for Wolfson, required a citation of seventeenth century Dutch opinion on the matter. When he discovered that none of us had a clue about seventeenth century Dutch opinion on that or any other subject, he concluded that we did not know enough to have a discussion, and went back to lecturing.
I shall leave it to my readers to point the moral of this tale.