Remember the Love

There is this professor. He doesn’t teach like normal folks. He asks questions, he insinuates, he pulls out the small personal details about your life without you even knowing it and suddenly you have learned something more valuable than the socket states of electrons. He encourages you to bring food to class, but if you do then he will ask you to hand it over and he will share it with the rest of the class, or rip it in half with the skill of a monkey if you bring, say, a banana…

We stroll into class a bit late. But that’s de rigeur. Russel is our escort, and he introduces us. He has assured us people do this all the time. They just come and listen even if they’d had the class last fall, or yesterday, or are just coming in to check it out, like we are. Russel is taking an independant study class with him this semester

“So I told him I’d already bought the book he told me to buy, and he says, ‘What book?’ And I tell him, and he says, ‘Oh yeah, that’s a good book. What about it?’ And I ask him, “Well, what am I supposed to do?” And he just says, ‘Whatever you want, man, I don’t care.'”

Just two days ago I was lucky enough to be invited to a lecture at Laney College by Amir Sabzevary. What had first started out as an odd stop-gap between a beer after work and seeing Sacha Baron Cohen’s newest comedy masterpiece, Brüno, turned out to be something altogether mellifluous and wonderful and unlike any other lecture I had ever borne witness to. Here was a professor, a teacher and not just a lecturer.

The lesson that day was on the Ten Commandments. Before that, a quick review of some religions. But mostly he just asked people to introduce themselves again (more than likely, at least somewhat, for our benefit), and somehow it just got the ball rolling. While he went around the room, he parsed his sentences with bits and pieces of the various religions.

I had a professor, similar to this, in college. His name was Lee Brown. Some people complained that the way he taught it was impossible to take notes to, that it was impossible to organize. And yet he never asked for anything but for you to contribute your thoughts, in the end, so why bother taking anything down but those bits and pieces of wisdom that occur to you while you’re sitting there sucking up air. Lee Brown used to take us out for beers at the local graduate bar, and he invited us over to the small house on a side street, nearly invisible to the street behind its large shrubberies, that looked like something out of the Hobbit; and there he served us hummous and baba gannoush- or it was someone else who brought that, I don’t remember.

Later, I heard from a friend who kept more in touch with him that he’d come out to San Fran and they’d met up there and still at 80 years old he was talking about poon tang- and she was sure, she said, that he was hiring hookers.

“Well good for him,” I’d told her. As far as I know, he’s still teaching, too- and inspiring people. The best educators, though they be challenging to authority and the forces of calm, cool order, develop too much of a following from those who are seeking more out of college than just a factual printout, who are seeking to gain in wisdom as much as in knowlege, and they are tough to remove; they find their place- right where they need to be.

About Amir Sabzevary. A student on his Laney review page had this to say:

Definetely different. No prof anywhere who teaches like him. If you have life ? his class is a must. To remain an unthinking robot his class must be avoided. You will either fall in love with him or hate him but you will not remain indifferent. He will inspire, anger, frustrate you. He will make you laugh, cry and think. Incredible and adorable.

One of the things that stuck with me most was that he said the ideal government, in a way, must be a theocracy. But not like Iran; “a piece of shit”, he called it; but something better- better than capitalism, which fails to nourish the heart as it nourishes the pocket. Better than just cold science that doesn’t believe in a spiritual ethic as much as it believes in legal precedent. Better than just surviving, there is living. Because the Buddha did not say, “Life is suffering”. He said it had the potential to be brilliant. We have just made it suffering by striving for permanence in a world that is anything but…

We skipped out a little early, refreshed and full of love, our girls hands in the palms of our own, the sun going down as we walked across the parking lot, a tatter of newspaper whipping by in the not so chill wind.

>And Brüno? Don’t believe what any of these blow-hard critics have to say, Sacha Baron Cohen is making the funniest comedy there is today in the world. Brüno is über-alles, and as fantastic as Borat. What you might say is there’s just not as many Kazakstani reporters writing for major publications and web outlets.


14 responses to “Remember the Love

  1. quit kiss ass, this dude is biased and FOR THE WEAK Person that grew up with no culture and is greedy Then YEAHHHH amir will bring out that part of you in a good way.. BUT for smart young minded people he is a fake, he tries to make you feel like shit then bring you up then he is looked up as a hero lol you guys make me sick

    • Alex, this comment doesn’t even make sense. I can understand that you disagree with some things he/I have said, or even some of his/my positions, but if you learn anything in college it’s that you should attempt to clearly express your viewpoint instead of painting it across the wall like some sort of drunk graffiti.

      Seriously, you may be a smart guy but you come off like you’re slightly retarded.

      I don’t think the guy’s some kind of prophet either, but I think everyone can agree that people are ENGAGED in his class, and that there is actual discussion of real issues going on, and even if you disagree with his positions the fact that people are PAYING ATTENTION is rare in any educational setting–particularly a community college.

      I think Amir also baits you on purpose, saying things he doesn’t often mean just to get you to take an interest. It’s a bit of a cagey strategy, but I’d rather see that than someone who just recites from a book and collects his paycheck.


      PS – I’m interested to know how you think GREEDY people will benefit from Amir’s teaching strategy? Please tell me more.

  2. Why is everyone talking about this instructor? Have you ever sat in his classes? Isnt he like other instructors? I do agree with you that alex’s comments make little sense. It seems he just doesn’t know how to think or write well.

    • Shakti, yes I did have the opportunity to sit for a few of Amir’s classes and what really stood out for me was his interest in engaging the students on their own level rather than lecturing to them. The tone of this article, I’ll admit, is a bit romantic/naïve, and certainly there is room to like or not like one professor’s style of teaching, but I think the bigger compliment I was trying to pay Amir and his methods is that he seeks to give you the opportunity to learn something: about yourself, about life, about the world we live in. Too often, teachers make do with just following a lesson plan and collecting a paycheck and Amir seems, in my opinion, to go beyond that.

  3. I think Amir is fine in the classroom, but he leaves a lot to be desired outside of it. I think I understand what Alex was getting at. Amir does have a persecution complex-you are either his fan or his foe. There is no middle ground with him, which is really rather sad and immature. I’ve seen some of his fans actually go after people who disagreed with him. It was quite scary to watch and Amir thought nothing of it.

    Also, he really uses his students as emotional outlets which is not what an ethical instructor would do. They are his students not their to be used for his emotional needs. There was one poor girl who followed him around for two years and that was really sad to see. I too use to think Amir was a decent instructor, but I saw too much privately to keep a good opinion of him.

  4. I finally sat in amir’s classes. They are unlike anything Ive experienced before. I am sure there are many students who would agree with that. There is just something about his teaching style that is captivating. I think he is very honest in what he says. I also think they just follow him around because they want to be around him and other people to talk and eat food. He does create a mini oasis of hope for those who have want something more than dollars. Whether he gets some emotional fulfillment out of this, I dont know. But what is wrong with that? Mother teresa and Gandhi were the same. But this is not to say Amir is similar to them. I am only pointing out that this is common.

  5. Yes, so did Jim Jones and David Koresh. A lot of cult leaders created a “mini oasis of hope.” They too compared themselves to Gandi and Mother Teresa. I won’t even mention Hitler as a comparison. I think when a person needs that type of attention, as Amir does, the ego gets very involved.

    There is no true fee dialogue with Amir. You must love him to stay in his good graces. It is ONLY Amir’s way. The great leaders, you mention, allowed for differing opinions and viewpoints. Amir feels threatened by differing views and will play the victim (very manipulative) when his actions and motives are questioned.

    I noticed you did not make a comment about the poor girl who, not enrolled in his classes, followed him around, and he did nothing to end her painful obsession. Someone with some moral compass would have talked to the girl, and the proper authorities to get her help. She had a few outbursts in his class, but Amir did nothing UNTIL he was threatened. He put a lot of people at risk.

    As far as honesty goes, Amir is ANYTHING but honest.

  6. As always, all things can be looked at from different perspectives. Your comments here, Melba, sound bitter. But why not speak other instructors who insult the very fabric of education by boring them to death. Isnt that also unethical? I sat in his classes and it truly was insipiring. An event rarely experienced. I doubt Amir can be a cult leader. Yes he has power and charisma, which of course, can be used to manipulate others, but I must agree with Jabberlope that his classes push people to think on thier own. And, that is the most important thing.

  7. These are some interesting comments, especially the article. The article is right on! Amir’s classes are entertaining and challenging. It seems that it is not his teaching style but his personality that some have difficulties with. When I visited his religion class, he was covering Taoism. There was this older white woman, Mary, I think her name was. She said a lot stupid things and any other instructor would just dismiss her. But Amir just listen respectfully and then continued with his lecture. From what I have observed people just want to be around him because they feel that he genuinely cares. At the same time, on several occasions i have observed him to just tell people to get lost because they say and do stupid things. I think he should be tougher on certain people, but hey veryones different. All-in-all, great guy inside and outside of classroom. What do you think Jabberlope, Shakti, Melba? It doesnt really matter…. Just my two cents!!!

  8. Gee Joseph, or should i say Amir, you write a lot like him. You even make the same grammar mistakes he does like missing the “of” and putting “very” for “everyone.” You know writing is like finger print. I guess we should be flattered you joined the conversation since it was about you.

  9. He will change your life. He is really that good. If we had more professors like him, going to school would be lots more fun and interesting. The best professor I have seen so far. Thank you.

  10. I love that people are still finding this article after all these years. Reminds me of what a great teacher he must be and makes me smile that he’s still working his magic over there in Oakland.

  11. I’m surprised no one is congratulating Amir on his baby with his assistant, Sara. He’s finally going to be a father like he kept talking about in his classes. Maybe it’s the start of his 12 kids.

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