Keep it curious, Betjemann
Unconventional lectures from OSU English professor inspire students to pursue curiosities, think independently
Published: Thursday, May 1, 2008
Updated: Tuesday, July 24, 2012 21:07
"I'm curious to inquire." To some, this is merely a quote from one of Peter Betjemann's lectures; to others, it's a bold statement by which Betjemann lives his life.
He is a Princeton alumnus, a former bicycling coach and a professor of English at OSU, so it's easy to see why his lectures aren't the typical 50-minute note-taking frenzies: Betjemann prompts the curiosity, and his students direct the lecture.
And sometimes Betjemann's students don't leave class after the routine 50 minutes, but for another reason.
"At one point we were studying a novel by [Nathaniel] Hawthorne, which was a lot about witchcraft and strange things," said Meaghan Josh, a senior in history.
"He lectured overtime, because halfway through, the clock stopped working so class got out late. Apparently, though, exactly one and a half hours later, the clock restarted - at the correct time. It was creepy. He even sent out an e-mail about it to the class!"
Betjemann makes a point to have students find their own conclusions in his lectures. He finds ambiguity in literature, considering the contradictory nature of novels and writing as a way to discover personal opinions and meanings.
"If we pick the right five words and they are able to find a point and a deeper meaning, that's the beauty of literature," Betjemann said.
Students find it easy to speak up in his class because there are no wrong answers - they are able to contribute to a discussion that doesn't necessarily have a single direction or one meaning.
Betjemann's dedication and intensity may have come from his past. After graduating with his bachelor's degree from Vassar College, he attended Princeton for his graduate work. But before this, he taught Latin at a girls' school in Massachusetts, an experience which he describes as "hilarious."
In his nine years in New Jersey, Betjemann developed many different talents. In 1991, Betjemann was one of 12 bicyclists on the Junior National Team, the year before Lance Armstrong became a member. Later, he was named coach of the Princeton cycling team. After focusing so intensely on the sport for several years, including a tour in France, he turned his passion to English.
"I really think bicycling taught me one of my values: to know when to release all your energies and to know when to recover - to be balanced and intense," he said.
Right now, some of Betjemann's intensity is being directed into a book, titled "Talking Shop: Craft Consumption in American Literature." The book combines English with another one of Betjemann's interests: a perspective of early 20th century woodworking consumerism.
Although Betjemann has spent much of his adult life studying literature, he has still been able to narrow down his favorite books, which are unique choices considering the period of literature that his classes are based upon.
The two books are "Song for the Blue Ocean" by Carl Sofina and "Professor's House" by Willa Cather. Written in two very different time periods, they portray exactly the reasons why Betjemann loves literature: multiple sides of an issue that leave the reader to draw his own conclusions.
In Betjemann's lectures - although "lecture" doesn't quite describe the way his prompts direct the discussion - it's hard to miss the roar of thoughts, ideas and opinions flowing through the minds of his attentive students.
And even when Betjemann's 50 minutes are up, the students continue their roar as they file out the door.
Anneke Tucker, staff writer