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    When I was a student at the University of Michigan, I took a class in Political Science. A famous expert lectured to hundreds of students from a podium far, far away. The classroom teacher was one of his graduate students named Mr. Ogle, who was a bit cock-eyed. Mr. Ogle led the classroom discussions and administered and graded our exams.
    Our mid-semester exam consisted of one, very long, essay question, and we were allowed two hours to answer it.

    A few days later, Mr. Ogle called me into his office, kind of looked at me, and said, “This is the best answer I have ever read, but unfortunately, it has nothing to do with the question.” I replied, “I didn’t understand your question, so I wrote everything I know about the subject.” He kind-of didn’t look at me anymore, but gave me a B+. Consequently, I received a B+ from a guy who wrote a convoluted, questionable question.

    In Philosophy class, the graduate student also gave me a B+ on an essay I had written. When I met with him to protest the grade, and explain the essay, I realized that, from his blank look, he really didn’t understand what I had written, so I let it go. However, years later, I submitted the essay to a professional, philosophical journal and it was published. I assume he wasn’t the editor.

    In the first case, the question was hazy, and in the second case, the instructor was hazy. But in both cases, I was prepared! Frank Zappa said, “The mind is like a parachute—it doesn’t work if it isn’t open.” For me, it’s all about seeing and observing and hearing and listening.

    So, when I recently attended a three-man panel discussion, I was looking forward to learning something new about the subject at hand from three experts. Unfortunately, I quickly discovered that only one person was prepared, the second person was off-subject and the third was somewhere off in La La Land. In a good debate, it is preferable to be able to debate on either side of an issue, but first you have to be on subject.

    Each man was asked to give a short introduction, One speaker spoke on point, in a few minutes. The second speaker was off subject, and rambled a bit. The third gave a long soliloquy about nothing. I felt like shouting, “Are you listening to what you are saying? Because no one else is!”

    The debate proceeded, and it was obvious that two of the panelists were unprepared, and thought they could wing it. One man told heart-warming stories that had nothing to do with anything, and  the man who loved his own voice kept disagreeing with the ONE man who was prepared..However he didn’t exactly understand with what he was disagreeing. He was also a paper flipper. He flipped his papers when the other two panelists were talking. He listened only waiting for his, “My Turn!” moment.

    Did I get anything out of this presentation.  You bet I did!  The off subject story teller, did tell a memorable tale about two little boys who were in an art museum. They wandered into the gallery of modern art and stood staring at an abstract painting. One of the little boys finally said to the other little boy, “Let’s get out of here before they think we broke it.”

    When the session finally ended, a confused audience exhaled in unison, gave a smattering of polite applause, and raced for the exit.  I did not fill out the evaluation form.

    Esther Blumenfeld

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