Chapter 16 Summary
In “The Professor, Part One,” Albom explained how a series of childhood encounters with death and disease shaped Morrie’s desire to help others and why he went on to choose to become a professor. In “The Professor, Part Two,” Albom summarizes Morrie’s early career and the influence of the 1960s, and he contrasts Morrie’s worth with that of highly paid lawyers and businessmen.
After completing his doctorate at the University of Chicago, Morrie did a study in a mental hospital in the 1950s. Although this seems routine today, Albom points out that it was a breakthrough idea in the 1950s. Albom outlines the challenges that staff faced at the mental hospital, ranging from people who soiled their pants to people who refused to eat. At first, Morrie observed the day-to-day social interactions at the hospital and took notes; over time he also began to help people. Albom focuses on one story in which a woman would spend the entire day with body and face pressed against the floor. Morrie began to spend time with this woman and eventually convinced her to sit up and to return to her room during the day. Morrie discovered that the woman wanted someone to acknowledge her.
When Albom challenges his mentor that he is too influenced by the 1960s, Morrie responds that the ‘60s were a good time, especially compared to the decades that followed. Albom relates how Morrie and the sociology department not only taught their courses but also became politically active. For example, because poor grades could cause students to be drafted into the army to fight in the Vietnam War, Albom and his colleagues determined to award all students A grades. Albom’s understanding that people want to be acknowledged and cared for also helped him negotiate peace between opposing factions at his university and in the conflicted society as well. Albom notes that Morrie always managed to negotiate a lasting peace. Not coincidentally, Albom’s newspaper is still on strike, and the two sides seem to be struggling to reach a compromise.
Albom closes “The Professor, Part Two” with an acknowledgement that Morrie’s teachings were not based on career skills. He also predicts that some readers would balk at Morrie’s success in teaching because his students did not go on to earn vast sums of money. For Morrie, and increasingly for Albom, the values of these careerists are misguided. Albom concludes that the value of Morrie’s teaching can be seen in the hundreds of students who visited him during his illness.