“He’s such a codger.”
As he entered Lecture Hall 47, Jason Ramos squinted at his friend. “Codger? Who talks like that anymore?”
“Sorry, Jason. Shall I put it in simple speak so even you can understand?” The student wearing the school’s red-and-gold varsity jacket for the basketball team bent down to Jason’s level as if speaking to a small child rather than a fellow undergrad. “Dr. Vellion is an old grump who refuses to change with the times.”
“I do comprehend the word’s meaning, Chad. Jeez!” Jason stopped at the professor’s desk and ran a hand through his hair.
“I mean, have you listened to him rail against our reliance on technology? Every other day, it’s ‘Social media is bad’ or ‘Take that phone out of your face and read a book!’ It’s like he’s never seen a piece of tech he hasn’t hated. You know what I mean? C’mon. He’s stuck in the past. You know it. I know it. And we’re wasting our time in this stupid history class. ‘Those who do not learn history are doomed to repeat it.’ Can you come up with a more clichéd quote? If you really don’t want to repeat history, why do you say the same thing every week?”
A briefcase clicked open behind Chad. “Thank you for that frank appraisal of my teaching, Mr. Rodgers. Perhaps you’ll find your dorm room more to your liking.”
Chad turned to face his college professor. Dr. Vellion stood no more than five feet tall in a tweed jacket. The thin white hairs struggling to cover his scalp stood up on end at the slightest of breezes. With arms crossed, the lecturer stared up at his student awaiting a response.
“Y’know, I am a little behind on my gaming.” Chad grinned as Dr. Vellion’s assured smile faltered. “As Henry Ford said, ‘History is bunk.’”
“A frequently misquoted, misapplied saying. Something you would realize if you actually paid attention to history. But if you prefer to waste your life away with your butt planted in front of a monitor, you must make that determination for yourself, Mr. Rodgers.” The history lecturer pulled out a stack of papers from his briefcase. “If you wish to leave my lecture hall, feel free to do so. Realize, however, that your actions here will have consequences later.”
Chad chuckled. “Can you believe this fool? A monitor? Could he be more out of touch? Come on, Jason, let’s go.”
Jason took a step to follow his friend, but he stopped to glance back at his professor. He gulped as he watched Dr. Vellion slam his stack of lecture notes against the top of his desk to straighten them. His eyes darted from Chad’s retreat to the remaining students occupying their desks.
“Mr. Ramos, either take your seat or clear out. Either way, the spot in front of the blackboard is mine to command.”
His mind flashing to the academic scholarship that made his education possible, Jason made for the third row, plopped down his backpack, and withdrew a red notebook. With a pencil at the ready, he opened the notebook to a blank page. To either side of the young man, most of Dr. Vellion’s other students made similar preparations. A few in the back of the lecture hall, however, spent the duration of the professor’s explanation of the Battle at Gettysburg with MUSE wires plugged into their ears. From the professor’s perspective, technology had advanced too far. People’s willingness to implant devices into their bodies made him shiver, but this new generation thought little of the consequences to progress. Their heads bobbed to the beat of music only they could hear.
“War. What is it good for? If you asked President Lincoln, I’m sure he would respond, ‘Absolutely something!’ Right?” No one made a sound after the reference aside from a hesitant coughing fit. Dr. Vellion tried to ignore those few who appeared to him to have the attention span of a passionfruit, but their apathy irked him. He cleaned his glasses with a clean cloth before repositioning the specs with shaking hands.
As he wrapped up the session for the day, Dr. Vellion reminded his students to check their syllabi for upcoming due dates. The horde of notetakers and MUSE enthusiasts vacated the room, racing to be anywhere else. Last to leave, Jason slung his pack over his shoulders and walked toward the door.
Jason stopped dead in his tracks and gulped. “Yes, Dr. Vellion. Do you need something?”
The professor leaned against the front of his desk, keeping himself aright with hands gripping the edge. “Why did you choose to stay today?”
“I heard everything Mr. Rodgers said to you. Calling me a codger. Saying I refuse to change with the times. You didn’t correct him or agree with him. That leaves me with two options. One, you stayed today because you disagree with your friend but are too cowardly to confront him. Two, you stayed because you agree with your friend but are too cowardly to confront me. Which do you think is correct?”
Jason jerked his head, confounded at the accusation. He adjusted the strap to his backpack. “I – I don’t think I’m a coward.”
“Do you know how Webster Dictionary defines ‘coward’?” Dr. Vellion did not allow his penetrating focus on his student to shift. “One who shows disgraceful timidity or fear.”
“But I didn’t—”
“You permitted your friend to speak about a person whom you believed was not there to defend himself. By not standing up to Mr. Rodgers, you were consenting to his opinion. If you truly agree that I am nothing more than an eccentric, you are too fearful to say so to my face. If you disagree, then you are too fearful of losing a slanderer’s good opinion of you. What would you call that if not cowardice?”
Jason’s mouth worked, but his voice box did not cooperate. Half-started squawks and mumbles were all he could manage. He did not agree, but he felt powerless to articulate a proper response.
“My point is not to shame you, Mr. Ramos. Otherwise, I would have done so with everyone else still here. I simply want you to think about how you interact with others. It all comes down to history.”
“History?” Jason’s eyes narrowed. “What does any of this have to do with history?”
“There was a time when a man came into power. He claimed that several groups of people were the cause of everyone’s troubles. People knew this was not true, but they did not speak up because they were too fearful. They didn’t want to be next. So they went along with the lie. Some of them even started to believe the lie and harassed anyone who called it a lie. Do you see where I’m going with this?”
Shoulders slumping, Jason nodded.
“So which is it? Which kind of coward were you?”
Knowing any further denials would be fruitless, Jason cleared his throat. “The kind who didn’t want to lose a friend.”
“That’s what I thought.” Dr. Vellion packed his briefcase, clipping the latches back into place. “I’ll see you next Monday, then, Mr. Ramos.”
Jason stood still, watching his professor walk out of the room with head held high. “Wait. Dr. Vellion, why did you stop me?”
The history lecturer paused and turned back. “Isn’t it obvious?”
“I teach history so that your generation doesn’t make the same mistakes that mine made. You were a coward today. But you don’t have to be one tomorrow.”