Geography instructor John Boyer — perhaps better known by his alter ego, the “Plaid Avenger” — indicated in a tweet today that he might discontinue his 3,000-student “mega” world regions class. In an interview with the Collegiate Times, Boyer qualified that remark, saying, “the positives far outweigh the negatives” of the class, which he regards as something of a live experiment.
For students, the second statement should be encouraging. While there have been negatives (body heat in the Burruss Hall auditorium, a well-intentioned Facebook group that was usurped by students sharing quiz answers), the positive impacts of the class are indeed far greater.
The most publicized event is of course “The Way’s” visit to Tech, which brought along Martin Sheen and Emilio Estevez. The YouTube video of a packed Burruss auditorium, with students cheering as if they were in Lane Stadium, quickly made its way (no pun intended) around Blacksburg, and Boyer quickly became something of a rock star in the community.
When “The Way” formally announced Blacksburg had been added to its tour, the buzz on campus was teeming. Within a month of the start of the academic year, one class at a school in southwest Virginia had convinced a Hollywood film tour to alter its schedule.
And while the movie and the class’s successful petition for a visit had elements of transcendence, Tuesday’s showcase of the Invisible Children is the pinnacle of the class’s accomplishments. With Jason Russell, the founder of the organization, on hand to speak, the class watched a documentary on the abduction of children in central Africa. The event concluded with Russell making a plea for students to continue to get involved by donating their money or time to the cause.
This, of course, is all well and good, but outside of sheer numbers (one estimate was of 2,000 people in attendance) this was not something that had not been done before — the organization would not be around if large assemblies were a novel concept. But what was strikingly unique was Boyer’s management of the event.
Boyer made the event worth double credit for those in attendance. Likewise, when Russell’s pitch ended, Boyer said if the class broke Invisible Children’s donations record, then those in attendance would be “greatly rewarded” — a not-so-subtle hint they would receive more credit.
With these little nudges, Boyer got the most out of his class. The deeply saddening story of the African children moved many in attendance, but it can only do so much. Those who would have donated anyway still did, but because of this little promise, it is almost certain that Invisible Children raised much more money Tuesday night than it otherwise would have.
With respect to those who ask for purity of motives and actions, Boyer’s pragmatic decision to play on the self-interest of his students was nothing short of ingenious. Neither Russell nor the children he works for care why people give money to the campaign, and the benefits of the extra money are not lessened because they owe their existence to self-interest.
The underlying theme in each of these instances is Boyer has been able to direct the class and coordinate it toward its goals. But in addition to his own ingenuity, none of the class’s accomplishments would be possible without the tremendous size.
Despite the notorious reputation of CLE requirements among students as being devoid of meaning (world regions is CLE areas 3 and 7), Boyer has gotten the most out of his group. If only courses like music appreciation could extract this much from students, there might still be hope for Tech’s CLE program. Until then, here’s hoping the Plaid Avenger continues his mega experiment and finds new ways to get his group engaged with the world.
-the editorial board consists of scott masselli and sean simons