An Academia Nut


10-Minute University

With Professor John Moschitta

Workman Publishing; 10-minute audio cassette; $5.95.

IF YOU'VE always feared that you'll only remember enough from your $17,000-a-year education to fill a half-hour cocktail conversation, there's a way you can save yourself the anguish of a four-year courseload. All you have to do is lay out $5.95 to buy a tape that packs in all that you'll ever need to know.

The "Ten Minute University" tenured the world's fastest talker to zip through lectures on 10 subjects key to any core curriculum. If the American mind is closed, Professor John Moschitta's curriculum will enlighten it in about as much time as it takes an automatic garage door to open and shut.

Moschita, of Federal Express commercial fame, leads courses more organized and elucidating than many here at Harvard. (Infact, T.M.U. is grounded in the Harvard tradition, having lifted the Harvard seal and substituted Verifast for Veritas.) Students at T.M.U. get a minute-by-minute--i.e., course by course--written outline. Each period begins with appropriate sound effects. There are snores for philosophy and ape squeels for biology. The professor gives a summary at the beginning of each class--for example, in biology, "I'm a mutant. You're mutant. We are all mutants."

PROFESSOR MOSCHITTA is best at using examples to bring theory home to students. He illustrates survival of the fittest with the evolution of tougher puff balls; he shows supply and demand with the "boom or bust beet/brussel sprout market."

T.M.U. succeeds in paring away all but the essentials to come up with an education that is truly useful. In comparative literature, you learn how to make vital literary connections. "In the beginning there was the Old Testament, which is just like the New Testament because both of them are part of the Bible, which was written in verse just like the Odyssey, which is exactly the same as Ulysses, which is real long just like Gone with the Wind..."

Even when T.M.U. teaches a "dead and completely useless language," as it does in Roman Studies 25, it does so in a way that will assist the modern student. Thus, the matriculator at T.M.U. learns how to say travellers checks in Latin and ask, "Ubi est Americanus Expressus?"

Some of Professor Moschitta's pithy capsulizations of catastrophic subjects actually ring true. No one could dispute his explanation of what is relevant about relativity: "It destroys your sense of space, trashes time, lambasts length, builds bombs and makes the world a much more interesting place, relatively speaking."

Then there is the Freudian explanation for the insanity caused by addiction to Wheel of Fortune: "It is the work of the unconscious mind comprised of the sex-starved war monger id and the goody-goody super ego." Even Moschitta's discourses on literature seem to encapsulate the key points of that concentration's tutorial: "War and Peace is exactly like Moby Dick because both are incredibly boring. That's what makes great books great."

YOU MIGHT expect the venerable professor of the "Ten Minute University", who visited Boston earlier this month, to be a guy who spouts off trivia by the milli-second. Actually, he is just your average shmo from Long Island and has the plodding/whiny speech to prove it.

Moschitta says he developed his speaking skill in the closet. When he was 12 he set out to break the world's fast-talking record and, after his family had herded him out of hearing range, he succeeded in uttering 534 words in 58 seconds. Now when he goes into high gear he can speak an incomprehensible 12 words a second.

His speedy talk tends to jar listeners--which is the main reason why attending T.M.U. lectures is as stimulating as gulping down a gallon of Jolt cola. "People around me start to twitch," says Maschitta. "I can start talking and I know they are going to be up until 3 a.m.

What a novel idea--to devise a curriculum that is comprehensive and at the same time manages to keep students awake. Between the stroke of the hour and the time most classes begin at Harvard, students already could have had an entire education--and be able to prove it. All they have to do is clip around the dotted line and frame T.M.U.'s 3 x 5 index card of a diploma.