"Excuse me for bothering you, Professor..." he begins, stammering and not looking in my face. "I wouldn't have ventured to bother you if it hadn't been...I've taken your examination five times and...and failed. I beg you, be so kind to pass me, because..."
The argument all lazy students give in their favor is ever the same: they have passed all their courses splendidly and failed only mine, which is the more surprising since they have always studied my subject most diligently and have an excellent knowledge of it; if they have failed, it is owing to some inexplicable misunderstanding.
"Excuse me, my friend", I say to the visitor, "but I cannot pass you. Go read over the lectures and come back. Then we'll see."
A pause. The urge comes over me to torment the student a bit more for liking beer and the opera more than science, and I say with a sigh:
"In my opinion, the best thing you can do now is abandon the study of medicine entirely. If, with your abilities, you cannot manage to pass the examination, then you obviously have neither the desire nor the vocation to become a doctor."
From the story "A boring story,"
by Anton Chekhov, November 1889.
In "Stories", R. Pevear and L.Volokhonsky,
translators. Bantam Books, 2000.
For many years I collected passages about teaching I found in stuff I read, and posted them all on my web page, in a more or less hidden link. Last year, when applying for jobs, I removed the link. This is one of my favorite passages. But I'm a math person. Surely many of you can think of examples of "CM-worthy quotes from world literature." It might be fun to have them all in one place.