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.