The last class of my old professor's life took place once a week in his house, by a window in the study where he could watch a small hibiscus plant shed its pink leaves. The class met on Tuesdays. It began after breakfast. The subject was The Meaning of Life. It was taught from experience. (1.1)
First sentence in the whole book, and boom: This whole story is going to be about learning. It's even given a classroom-like setting.
No one there knew he was a prominent doctor of sociology, with years of experience as a college professor and several well-respected books. They just thought he was some old nut. (2.3)
Morrie is a professor by, well, profession, but he doesn't act like it. When he goes dancing at the local disco every week he proves that teachers don't have to be people that sit behind a desk grading papers their whole lives; he's out there experiencing life just like his students.
Instead, he would make death his final project, the center point of his days. Since everyone was going to die, he could be of great value, right? He could be research. A human textbook. Study me in my slow and patient demise. Watch what happens to me. Learn with me. (2.41)
Talk about making life a learning experience. In fact, Morrie is going to make death a learning experience. But he's not going to do it just for his own research purposes—nope, he has hopes that he can help others learn about the meaning of death through being "a human textbook."
I had remembered what Morrie said during our visit: "The culture we have does not make people feel good about themselves. And you have to be strong enough to say if the culture doesn't work, don't buy it." (7.3)
After their first meeting, Mitch is already being educated by Morrie's words of wisdom. While on a business trip to London, his old professor's words are sounding in his ears and he's starting to see the world from a little bit wiser of a place.
Some of us are agitated. When is he going to say something? We squirm, we check our watches. A few students look out the window, trying to be above it all. This goes a good fifteen minutes, before Morrie finally breaks in with a whisper.
"What's happening here?" he asks. (8.44-45)
In case you haven't noticed, Morrie is a very hands-on type of guy when it comes to learning. He gets his students to think by shaking them up a bit, giving an example before he even starts to lecture. He applies his lesson to real life, which is something his students don't expect from a teacher.
Still, despite their circumstances, Morrie was taught to love and to care. And to learn. Eva would accept nothing less than excellence in school, because she saw education as the only antidote to their poverty. (12.25)
Way to put education on a pedestal. Morrie was inspired by his stepmother, who told him that learning is the ultimate power trip; in his youth, education was the "antidote" to being poor. Obviously it helped Morrie move out of the slums of the Depression-era Bronx.
"Yes. Detaching myself. And this is important—not just for someone like me, who is dying, but for someone like you, who is perfectly healthy. Learn to detach." (15.27)
Here, Morrie is teaching by example again, being that human textbook. The lesson of detachment, he says, is as important to him as it is to Mitch. He's asking Mitch to look at him, use him as a learning tool to understand the importance of what he's teaching.
At Brandeis, he taught classes about social psychology, mental illness and health, group process. They were light on what you'd now call "career skills" and heavy on "personal development." (16.19)
Morrie has always been a teacher of life. Rather than education being a hobby, or even a career path, learning and living are wrapped up together for him; he's earned his degree and helped others earn theirs through the study of human behavior.
I remembered how he used to teach this idea in the Group Process class back at Brandeis. I had scoffed back then, thinking this was hardly a lesson plan for a university course. Learning to pay attention? How important could that be? I now know it is more important than almost everything they taught us in college. (19.55)
Learning how to learn—what a concept. Morrie is wise to realize that this is one of the most basic things we need to learn. We need to learn to walk before we learn to run or ride a bike, right? Well if we learn the basic tool of becoming aware of the world around us, then we can get started on particulars.
Have you ever really had a teacher? One who saw you as a rare but precious thing, a jewel that, with wisdom, could be polished to a proud shine? (27.15)
Mitch eloquently sums up exactly what the whole student/teacher/education ordeal is all about. Each of us has the potential to be glittering, like that rough stone. A teacher helps to polish our minds, makes us into what we are capable of being. Part of being human is being that rough stone and needing somebody to just come along and shine us up.