Professor Edison waited for the second hand on his watch to strike 12. When it did, he began talking without looking up to see the usual stragglers filing into the cavernous lecture room.
“The honeycomb is a wonder of life, a testament to the geometric genius of nature’s honey bee. Its hexagon cells maximize the space needed by bees to be as productive and efficient as possible.”
He did not see the students in the front row, mouths agape, as they tried to understand the connection that would be coming between the honeycomb and the Middle Ages. For Wally the connection never came; instead, he called his parents that night to say the history teacher was insane. Wally’s parents, in turn, were connected to this private college’s president.
The next afternoon Professor Edison sat restlessly on the plush leather sofa outside the president’s office. “Will he be long and what did he say this was about?” asked Edison.
The secretary looked up from her crossword puzzle and wrinkled her nose: “How should I know?”
A few minutes later he was standing in front of a desk riddled with papers and unopened envelopes under the watch of a seated white-haired man. “Professor, so good of you to come in. I’ll get to the point. What is the blabber about honey bees in your history class?” The president had kept his head down until the last three words: ‘your history class.’
Edison, upset that he hadn’t been asked to sit, cleared his throat and stared at the empty chair by his side.
“Yes, sit down.”
Edison adjusted his seat several times.
“Did you hear the question?” asked the president.
Yesterday’s history class was a vague moment for Edison. He thought he’d made the point about how bees adapted and survived by only using the space needed whereas civilizations battled over the size of towers, the acreage of land, etc. But, is it possible he hadn’t linked the honeycomb with feudal Europe? He couldn’t remember how the class had ended, nor could he recall the faces of the students. It had all become a blank. Was this how it was to end, a once fabled brain, the victim of aging?
He cleared his throat again and calmly laid out the analogy about bee colonies and feudal estates.
The president placed the palm of his hand on his forehead. “Your perspective is intriguing but let’s dumb it down a little—we need these children to succeed in their own minds. Okay?”
“Yes, dumb it down a little.”
For the next two days Professor Edison chanted to himself;” dumb it down.”
Finally, when the Middle Ages course was in session again, Edison walked up and down the aisle with students packed on either side. The room was filled with the sound of bodies shifting on hard wood seats. Two minutes passed before he said in a deep voice, “Dumb it down.”
He repeated the phrase several times on his way to the lectern. Finally, he faced the class and asked, “Would someone tell us the core of what I said last week?”
A young woman in the front row raised her hand. Edison nodded at her. She quickly gave a succinct account of what he hoped he said but couldn’t remember.
Glory be, I still have time…