Robert Langdon Is Not A Good Teacher

Robert Langdon is not a good teacher.

Other reviewers of Dan Brown’s books have noted that his protagonist, symbolism professor Robert Langdon, is no Indiana Jones. Where Jones is an egalitarian everyman, a likeable average guy who “makes it up as he goes along” and seems comfortable everywhere, Langdon is a prissy, arrogant know-it-all who rarely does anything right other than figure out obscure puzzles at the last minute. (I read one essay that suggested that that’s why Ron Howard cast Tom Hanks in the role for the movies–you need someone as personable as Hanks to make the character even remotely tolerable…and Langdon still comes across as a stuffy jerk.)

Langdon fails to measure up to the bar of Indiana Jones in a respect other than that of heroism and likeability, though–where Indiana Jones is a good teacher, Langdon is not.

We see Professor Jones at work in the classroom in three out of his four movies. In each, he’s lecturing; in the third, he’s overwhelmed with students at his office hours; and in the most recent, he’s also seen giving ad hoc advice to a kid in the library (while he’s escaping from Soviets on a motorcycle, no less). As a lecturer, Jones is passionate, explaining his large corpus of information clearly, often using stories to do so (stories that, not surprisingly, tend to become relevant to events later in the film). He uses the chalkboard to write key terms, and uses illustrations sparingly. He expects his students to take notes.

In short, Jones is an old school teacher who respects his students’ intellectual abilities and expects them to perform at a high level. He would surely not go for any watered-down curricula or trendy, new instructional technique. He provides well-organized direct instruction and if his students want the quality education he provides, they’d better keep up.

Langdon, on the other hand, embodies almost everything that’s wrong with teachers. He is also shown giving lectures, but these aren’t meant to convey important information as much as they are to show off Langdon’s mastery of trivia. Langdon usually condescends to his student audience by using as many “cute,” titillating references as he can think of, pandering to them by presenting his material in ways that are easy to digest given their feeble political and social biases (the narrator of Brown’s books, in attempting to describe the postmodern Generation Y student body in Langdon’s classes, tends to depict them, if not with outright contempt, then with a haughty superiority that leaves no room for doubt about their lack of any intellectual potential).

His total reliance on PowerPoint is pathetic–without eye-catching visual distractions, Langdon’s lectures would be even more empty of worthy content than they already are. Where Jones’s classes have a single, simple controlling idea around which the pertinent content revolves, a Robert Langdon lecture is an aimless tour through whatever series of factoids will impress his charges and, presumably, lead to good evaluations at the end of the semester.

Robert Langdon, clearly, is the worst of both worlds as an educator. If a teacher is goofy but brilliant, you forgive him because you get so much out of the class, and it’s forgivable to have a less talented teacher if only they’re a decent person in compensation. Langdon, however, is a clueless, ivy-tower egghead who also couldn’t teach a coherent class to save his life.

Luckily for him, he can always save his life by pulling some random occult tidbit out of his bag just when he needs it. Indiana Jones actually had to fight and make noble choices in order to win. Both in and out of the classroom, Indiana Jones beats Robert Langdon every time.

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