Riker: ‘That Guy’ in class isn’t really so bad


Paul Riker, Guest Columnist

“There is no such thing as a stupid question” is a phrase that gets thrown around pretty haphazardly, mostly by teachers and parents. It’s in the same category as “there are no right or wrong answers” and “Paul, you really shouldn’t eat uncooked pasta — that’s weird.” You’ve probably heard them multiple times as a child and will probably continue to hear them.

That being said, the above phrases are, objectively, not true … especially the final one. There are absolutely stupid questions. If you know the answer to a question beforehand, you’ll probably think it’s “stupid.” The person asking the question is wasting your time.

Let me present a more tangible example. In every class — regardless of size, subject, or difficulty of material — there is always “That Guy.” “That Guy” is the guy who monopolizes the class, using it as his own personal tutoring session. “That Guy” feels obligated to make a comment after the professor finishes any and every thought. The comments that “That Guy” makes, furthermore, are never illuminating. His speech will just sort of be mindless fluffy dribble. And, of course, “That Guy” asks a lot of stupid, self-serving questions. If we’re reading “How Soon Hath Time” by John Milton, “That Guy” will raise his hand and ask how “How Soon” relates to the Sylvia Plath collection that he just finished. This doesn’t move discussion along, and it certainly doesn’t help any of us learn … right?

So here’s the thing about large college classes: They breed passivity.  You come in, you sit down, you listen to the professor talk, you take notes (maybe), you leave. And that’s your “learning.”  Even smaller classes sometimes have the same philosophy; there’s a lot of listening, and the actual “discussion” may be very inorganic. There isn’t a lot of chance for interaction between the knowledge seekers and the knowledge giver, so to speak. (And yes, office hours are a thing, but we’re all busy, and sometimes making time to see a professor just isn’t a viable option.)

That’s a problem. In general, the more hands-on one’s learning experience is, the better that person will learn. Take a bike, for example: You can go to a lecture and listen to some old dude talk about bikes for 80 minutes, but that’s not going to teach you to ride a bike. You need to interact with the bike itself; you need to literally put yourself onto the seat of the bike and try to ride it over and over again until you finally perfect it. You learning how to ride a bike, therefore, is a two-way process, between you and the bike.

“That Guy” is the guy trying to actually ride the bike, and we, the people who come into lecture and roll our eyes when “That Guy” begins to talk, are the people intently studying bike physics.

“That Guy” isn’t self-absorbed, he’s just attempting to implement more activity into college learning, because that is the best way to learn. When you speak up after the professor says something, you create a better understanding between yourself and the material. Even if your comments are off-base, you’re still trying. And most importantly, when you ask questions about things you don’t understand, even if they may seem stupid to someone else, it is your way of saying, “Hey, I want and love knowledge, can I please have some more of it?” And that’s a great thing.

At the end of the day, we’re all paying a lot of money for education at a very prestigious university. We have an incredible number of resources right at our fingertips. We should utilize them to their fullest, and that means not being afraid to be “That Guy.”

Paul Riker is a Weinberg junior. He can be reached at [email protected]. If you want to respond publicly to this column, send a Letter to the Editor to [email protected].