I’ll never forget the first time I was called on in class.
“Mr. Sedberry, do you think that a party who has sent a purchase order for goods to another party should be required to purchase those goods under the following circumstances?”
I was startled from my brief pre-class notes review to realize that class had begun and Professor Reed had called upon me. It was late in my first semester of law school, and I had begun to think that I had somehow avoided the professor’s seating chart and his scrutiny.
Professor Reed finished his now indecipherable question, “ . . . which was responded to with a form acknowledgement with different terms should be bound to the terms of the purchase order or the form acknowledgement?”
Struggling to recall the facts of the three cases which were assigned for reading, and then to decide which case he was talking about, I sputtered out: “Well, uh, the court held that, uh . . .”
Certainly, this was not one of my more articulate moments.
Professor Reed responded (actually, in a rather compassionate way): “Not what the court held, Mr. Sedberry, what do you think?”
“Uh . . . uh . . . ,” I parried skillfully. The classroom had become so quiet that I thought I actually heard the proverbial pin dropping. My mind went completely and utterly blank.
“Uh . . . well . . .er . . .” I continued, driving home my point and proving to everyone within earshot that I was brilliant. Or not. Professor Reed looked genuinely concerned that I might pass out. Students on either side of me stared intently down at their casebooks, clearly not wanting to get drawn into what was quickly becoming an irreversibly humiliating situation.
The year before I started law school, I had given an address to a state legislature at the invitation of the governor of that state. I have made presentations to dozens of business groups and industry associations, involving thousands of people. I have been interviewed by television and newspaper journalists. I have conversed with senators, former United States Vice Presidents, CEOs, prominent sports figures, celebrities, and other extremely intimidating people. At this point in my life, I was rarely intimidated, or speechless.
And yet, as Professor Reed asked me a couple of simple questions, in what was pretty much a non-confrontational and conversational way, I babbled as if I were under a powerful anesthetic. My face flushed a deep red. Freddy Krueger ran his talon-like fingernails across the blackboard. I began to perspire and my breathing became shallow. I reverted to that scared ten-year old inside all of us who becomes speechless when asked to explain the homework problem to the class.
Simply put, the Socratic method does something to your head.