Sunday, May 07, 2006

An Unexpected Pop Quiz

"Henricus de Alemannia Lecturing his Students" (1350s)
From Liber ethicorum des Henricus de Alemannia
(Borrowed from "Medieval University," Wikipedia)

As some of you have probably noted from my occasional anecdote, I'm a Baylor University "alumnus," which makes me a "male graduate or former student of ... [that] university," according to The Free Dictionary, which helpfully adds:

Usage Note: Alumnus and alumna both come from Latin and preserve Latin plurals. Alumnus is a masculine noun whose plural is alumni, and alumna is a feminine noun whose plural is alumnae. Coeducational institutions usually use alumni for graduates of both sexes. But those who object to masculine forms in such cases may prefer the phrase alumni and alumnae or the form alumnae/i, which is the choice of many women's colleges that have begun to admit men.
Got that? Good, because you might have iterate it for me on an unexpected pop quiz, which might sound like a redundant use of "unexpected" but isn't even though the "pop" in "pop quiz" suggests "a quiz given without prior warning" and thus precisely the unexpected.

Against the opinion that I've uttered a redundancy, let me offer an anecdote.

When I studied at Baylor, I took as many history courses as would fit into my schedule, and one of the excellent instructors there was Mr. Reid. He had a deep, booming voice that enunciated every diphthong, he taught ancient history, and he already looked ancient himself at the time, his head utterly devoid of hair, though he must not have been so old since he's only 84 now.

He is, however, old enough to have dated the actress Ingrid Bergman:
"Ahh, Ingrid," he sighs, staring off into a nostalgic memory. Yes, he did take Bergman on a date once. He was at a reception in Washington, D.C., in the 1970s when his cousin, the virtuoso pianist Van Cliburn, introduced them. Bergman said she was tired of the party, and Professor Reid offered to take her to her hotel. On the way there, she informed him she was not tired, only bored, and she asked if he would like to talk a while. They sat at the bar of the Watergate Hotel and visited over drinks until four in the morning. (Todd Ferguson, "A Tribute To Professor Robert L. Reid: Master Teacher," Baylor Magazine Online, Summer 2004, Volume 3, Number 1)
Lucky guy, you're thinking, but what does this anecdote have to do with the non-redundancy of "unexpected pop quiz"?

Nothing. This was an excursus, a delaying device used for rounding out your image of Mr. Reid and heightening your anticipation of the anecdote. Stop interrupting and listen.

One of the stories circulating about Mr. Reid concerned pop quizzes:
On the first day of his freshman survey course for ancient and medieval history, a student asked, "Professor Reid, will you ever give us a pop quiz in this class?"

Reid leaned back in his chair, laughed one of his deep, booming laughs, rubbed his shiny bald pate, and replied, "The day that you get a pop quiz in this class is that day that I come through that window in a clown suit!"

The classroom was on the second floor, so all of the students relaxed, secure in their knowledge that they need fear no pop quiz.

Until one morning, as they were waiting for Mr. Reid to arrive, when the top rungs of a ladder suddenly appeared at the window, and within moments, in climbed Mr. Reid, wearing a clown suit and carrying a sheaf of papers.

"Guess what!" he boomed to the stunned students. "Pop quiz!"
Now, I maintain that this was an unexpected pop quiz. But never again unexpected, for with that anecdote floating around, students could expect the occasional pop quiz.

Reid didn't disappoint those expectations.

The story, outrageous though it was, sounded plausible to anyone who knew the outrageous Mr. Reid.

Nevertheless, the story is both exaggerated and falsely attributed, as I have recently learned from my recent copy of Baylor Line, a magazine put out by the Baylor Alumni Association ... uh, I mean ... the Baylor Alumnae/i Association. Anyway, a certain Harry Marsh (Class of '49) tells of his favorite professor:
Guy B. Harrison, my favorite professor, was impeccably groomed, dramatized history in his lectures, and always stayed a step ahead of his students. In the late 1940s, he taught on the second floor of Pat Neff Hall. On the first day of class, he was asked if he ever gave pop quizzes. He told us he was more likely to come into class through the second story window than to give us a pop quiz.

The next day, as the tardy bell rang, he stepped from the second floor balcony through the window and gave us a pop quiz. (Baylor Line, Winter 2006, page 8b)
I'd never heard of Professor Harrison, but a story about him from the early 1950s had grown in the telling and been transferred to a different professor altogether by the 1970s. Reid, however, is still around to set the story straight, as Baylor Magazine learned in asking him about the pop-quiz story:
Other legends about him, though, are not true. The pop quiz anecdote is factual, but it's not about him. "Heavens no!" Professor Reid laughs, "That was Professor Guy B. Harrison of the history department back when he was in room 202 of Old Main Hall." Like any good historian, he knows the legends and he knows the facts.
Well, I'm glad to have learned the truth about this anecdote even if this truth is more prosaic that the legend. I'm tempted to suggest, however, that the anecdote, even if not strictly accurate, better captures the outrageous Professor Reid than the actual event.

But I wouldn't be a very good historian if I were to suggest such a thing, so I'll resist the temptation.

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6 Comments:

At 10:32 AM, Blogger Saur♥Kraut said...

I LOVE Reed and the Clown Suit story. Sounds like something *I* would do if I was a prof. ;o)

 
At 11:11 AM, Blogger steph said...

A good historian knows the facts and the legends and how to weave the two into a good story. That final denial is reminiscent of the original denial that there would be a pop quiz - unless the denier was to come through the window as a clown. I bet he's lying - it WAS him! I'm no historian but I can smell a liar! At worst, your suggestion which you wouldn't make is right.

 
At 4:31 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Saur, it does make for a great story.

Steph, I'd like for the story to be about Reid, but we have Harry Marsh stating that he was present when Professor Harrison came through the window with a pop quiz in hand. So ... I guess that we have to bow to the evidence.

Jeffery Hodges

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At 5:46 PM, Blogger steph said...

One male witness? In any case Harry's evidence was given in the Winter of 2006 whereas Reid's tribute was printed in the Summer of 2004. The rather muddled and mature Harry had probably read it. And Reid, forever a trickster, was tricking!

 
At 10:49 AM, Blogger Gawain said...

And to think that I was actually waiting for the quiz question! Its non appearance, too, you might say, was unexpected!

 
At 1:07 PM, Blogger Horace Jeffery Hodges said...

Hey, the day that I pose a pop quiz on this blog is the day that I show up wearing Groucho Glasses.

Jeffery Hodges

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