Copyright © 1996, Louis Schmier and Magna Publications.

Sat, 11 Dec 1993

My walk this morning seemed like it was over before it had begun. After turning the corner that began my uphill stretch, I don't remember seeing anything. I don't remember hearing anything. I don't remember feeling anything. I was deep inside myself, really deep, enveloped by what you might call a profound and serene curtain of purpose. I'm not embarrassed to say that I have been very emotional since yesterday when one my freshmen history classes met for the last time. Several triads had just completed their final exam presentations and we were about to scamper out of class when Melinda excitedly stood up. With a broad, confidant smile sweeping across her face and a brightness shining in her eyes, she said, "Before we leave I want to read my class evaluation. I know Dr. Schmier said he would treat them confidentially if we wanted, but I don't want to." As Hope, an African-American young lady who was a member of Melinda's triad, sat to her right with a quiet, supportive smile on her face, Melinda continued. "I want you all to hear how important this class was for me and Hope."

"On day one..." she hesitated, got teary-eyed, and choked up. As she struggled to regain her composure, an image flashed across my mind. This was Melinda, a member of what I labelled by the second week into the quarter, "my hateful triad" of Melinda, Hope and Eric. Three separated students with stern and unapproving looks on their faces, sitting stiffly apart, circling their chairs reluctantly only after my daily "urging," staring ahead with blank faces and looking passed each other, refusing to converse at the beginning of class, surrounded by a heavy cloud of cold, silent animosity.

As Melinda struggled, Hope quietly leaned over, softly and caringly put her hand on Melinda's arm. And Melinda read:

      On day one, I was excited and terrified at the same time. 
      You seemed funny and humorous and interesting, but rumor
      had you as 'evil.'  Then came your syllabus.  It was a
      book.  I had to set my mind for a challenge.  I was
      thinking that ten weeks of you and I would be drained. 
      But, the opposite happened.  I was "filled."  I learned
      more history than I could have imagined, but you took
      history and made it a part of my world.  When I came to
      this class I had my box and my boundaries.  I was
      prejudiced towards blacks and could care less to carry on
      any kind of conversation much less have an in-depth
      relationship with one.  How have my views changed.  I was
      skeptical at first to open up to Hope and work with her
      in class.  But mysterious things took place in the triad
      that I can't describe.  Maybe it was the honest class
      discussions about race, or your conversations with each
      of us, or simply that you gave us no choice but to work
      together.  But my hatred and Hope's and Eric's began to
      disappear.  The barriers began to break down.  Now Hope
      knows some of my deepest secrets and I know that I can
      confide in her.  And I always had trouble talking to my
      sister about who she dated (an African-American) and
      especially about the baby on the way.  Well, now that
      little boy is 5 1/2 weeks old.  He is to me family, and
      I love him dearly.  His skin may be dark, but I am now
      proud to openly call him my nephew.  Three months ago I
      barely even acknowledged that he was soon to be.  I
      wouldn't trade him or my sister now for anything.  I just
      wish that I could have opened my eyes and heart a little
As I looked around the class, I could see through my glassy eyes that there literally wasn't a dry eye in the class. Tears were rolling down Hope's cheeks. Eric's head was bowed. Melinda read on.

      Now a little about the triad.  I love it.  At first I
      hated the idea.  I prejudged those in my group and pre-
      decided that I would hate it.  But not only did we learn
      to study together, we learned to laugh together.  We've
      cried; we've hurt; we've become friends.
As she glanced at both Hope and Eric, she continued:

      We call each other family.  Thank you for the
      opportunity.  Without this class I would not know these
      two wonderful individuals and I also would not have
      realized a lot of stuff about myself.  You opened the
      doors and allowed us to take the steps that we needed to

      Now you--they say that often there's that one course,
      that one professor, who enters your life and changes it. 
      You're that person for me and I know for a lot of others
      in this class.  And are we lucky.  I didn't always agree
      with your values, but that's ok, and you never held it
      against me or anyone else.  As a prof and as a
      friend--yes, a friend--and as  a person you truly are
      great.  I learned a lot of history; I enjoyed doing
      it--most of the time.  You make history a work of art;
      you bring it alive for all of us and bring it into our
      lives.  Yes, a lot of it hurts, but we're better for it. 
      Thank you.  Thank you very much.
That, to me, is what teaching is all about. The quarter had come to an end; the class is over. But, as Melinda reminds us, we teachers leave a lot of ourselves behind in each student. In that sense, the class is never over. To the extent that too many educators do not reach for the future beyond the classroom, do not reach for the stuff of life beyond the subject, are not aware of the students, are not touched, react rather than respond, do not see and hear others, students see no reason to reach for themselves beyond the grade or major. And so, the students too often come away from their college experience with the narrow sense that the purpose of life is merely to be a doctor, lawyer, an artist, or just a specialist of this or of that rather than to grow in wisdom and to learn to love better and be a truer person.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
Department of History                      /~\    /\ /\
Valdosta State University          /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
Valdosta, Georgia 31698           /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
                            /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\
                          -_~     /  "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\
                             _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -\____

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