Goody goody gumdrops!

It was Dr. Michael Miko­la­jczak, the pro­fes­sor with whom I took three of my eleven cours­es in my under­grad­u­ate major (Eng­lish, if you are just join­ing us), who first inspired me to don a bow tie, for which I will always thank him, as I am sure does the gen­er­al pub­lic. A col­or­ful and dynam­ic instruc­tor, he is also mem­o­rable for his pecu­liar views on final examinations.

Lit­er­a­ture cours­es in a lib­er­al arts insti­tu­tion are not, in my lim­it­ed expe­ri­ence, gen­er­al­ly seen as con­ducive to eval­u­a­tion in writ­ten exam form. These are the sort of things we write essays for, texts spread out on our crowd­ed dorm desks while we fid­dle with the mar­gin and line-spac­ing set­tings and try to avoid spilling either cof­fee or beer on any of he library books. But Dr. M. had his own approach to ped­a­gogy, and he was very fond of the final exam.

On the morn­ing of a final exam, you should leap out of bed and say, “Goody, goody, gumdrops!”

I want you to think of the final exam as an occa­sion of joy,” he would explain to the class, and in each of the three semes­ters I heard this speech, the stu­dents seemed pret­ty uni­form­ly skep­ti­cal on this point. “The final exam gives you an oppor­tu­ni­ty to revis­it all that you have learned this semes­ter. On the morn­ing of a final exam, you should leap out of bed and say, ‘Goody, goody, gum­drops!’ ” The class would pret­ty much just be star­ing at him at this point, won­der­ing what he was on.

I won’t pre­tend I was any fan of those final exams at the time, but I have nev­er for­got­ten Dr. Miko­la­jcza­k’s words. And now, in the ulti­mate days of my grad­u­ate stud­ies, I think I can say I final­ly say that I share and embrace his enthu­si­asm. It is only in these long hours of pan­icked review that I am tru­ly see­ing the extent of what I have (the­o­ret­i­cal­ly) learned these past three years of work toward my Licen­ti­ate in Canon Law. It is almost not too strong to say that it is only in this review that I am learn­ing what before I had only heard, which is not meant as a judg­ment on my pro­fes­sors’ ped­a­gogy but rather as a telling com­ment on my own lack­adaisi­cal learn­ing style.

Let’s dis­pel any illu­sions you may be har­bor­ing about me. I don’t take notes. I don’t make flash cards. I don’t ask ques­tions. I don’t raise my hand dur­ing lec­tures. I don’t get around to read­ing a lot of the ‘rec­om­mend­ed’ texts, or even many of the ‘required’ ones. What do I do, then, to have made it this far in aca­d­e­m­ic pur­suits? Two things: I lis­ten in class, as active­ly as I can man­age, and I care. Most days, that is enough. Which is for­tu­itous, since that is all I can manage.

Now, three days before I must stand before a pan­el of my pro­fes­sors and answer on the spot what­ev­er ques­tions they choose to throw at me, I am doing some of those stu­den­ty things I just said I don’t do. I am por­ing over canons and com­men­taries, labo­ri­ous­ly cre­at­ing a heap of index cards dur­ing the day which my lov­ing wife will use to quiz me in the evenings. I am, in a word, actu­al­ly work­ing at this, which feels for­eign to me (because it is), and also feels down­right thrilling. 

Should I have felt this sort of agency regard­ing my own learn­ing before now? Absolute­ly. I am embar­rassed and ashamed that I have large­ly slouched through my aca­d­e­m­ic degrees, because I could, rather than muster the ener­gy and courage to real­ly try. Who knows what I might have become? At the least, prob­a­bly a bet­ter man. But it is too late to change what is past; what I can do is change the game, even at this late hour, and I am unchar­ac­ter­is­ti­cal­ly con­fi­dent that I might be able, not only to make this work in this crit­i­cal moment, but to make a last­ing change of it that will open new pos­si­bil­i­ties of pro­duc­tive learn­ing and knowl­edge reten­tion for me in the future.