A Show of Hands

We numbered no more than fifteen participants—including me, the instructor-for the sophomore history seminar, and over the course of the semester, we came to know one another rather well. Almost too well. Our distinct personalities all gradually emerged, yet one stood out. I’ll call him Matthew.

Matthew was a brilliant student. He immersed himself in his academic discipline so completely that the relative indifference of his fellow classmates to historiographical nuance stunned him. At times, he would remind them of their inattention, unfortunately in tones that reflected his impatience. Naturally, his classmates didn’t warm to these complaints, but I sensed they handled them with equanimity and relative good humor. Until the final weeks. That’s when each student was scheduled to present his or her extended study to the class in a formal, PowerPoint lecture, to be followed by ten minutes of questions and discussion.

The presentations spread over the final three weeks of class, and Matthew gave his report early on. He then turned his full attention to his classmates’ work. Following each talk, he would raise a series of questions that had the effect of challenging at some basic level what had just been said. I sensed growing trepidation in the students’ eyes after each completed his or her formal presentation and opened the floor to questions. Matthew’s arm would immediately shoot up and the...

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About the Author

Timothy Kelly teaches history at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pennsylvania.