Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Sun, 31 Oct 1993
Lordy, it was COLD out there this morning. I had to rush back into the house, an icicle forming on my nose, to get my jogging suit, gloves and stocking hat. The cold air was stimulating enough to fend off depressing thoughts of my impending 53rd birthday tomorrow. I always say that it is appropriate that I was born on All Saints Day. My wife says I was born a few hours too late because there's too much of that little devil in me.
Anyway, as I fought fears of frostbite, I was thinking about what had been going on within the triads and in the class this past week or so and during past quarters. I've been pouring over written student self-evaluation evaluations, end-of-quarter evaluations, some student journals, bumping into veterans from my other classes and talking with them, and just reflecting on my own experiences as I walk or struggle with the scales on my flute.
It seems that whatever the students wrote or said, they always felt that they learned more history in the triad-oriented class than in any other class. But having said that, I noticed that they always zeroed in on the personal associations that developed in the class and within the triad. The words that obviously had most meaning to them were those of emotions and intentions, words that dreams and hopes are made of, words that touched their spirit, words such as "care," "concern," "knowing," "sharing", "responsibility," "personal," and "friendship." But, above all, so many talked of beginning the class, as they do every class, feeling that they were "alone" and, unlike other classes, ended it feeling as a member of what they frequently and warmly and tenderly called a "family" and "community."
"Family and "community," I think, explain the mysterious and exciting happenings that often evolve in many of the triads and in the entire class. These words say to me that many of the students may be changing or facing a challenge to change on a much more profound level than simply engaging in a cooperative effort to learn a subject, pass a test, write up an assignment, or earn a passing grade. They seem to be undergoing a change of consciousness that allows them to develop a different relationship with themselves and with others. This is what the students are telling each other and me. One student, Karen, who took the class this summer, told me Friday, "I got to meet new people, really got to know them. The triad got us into some really deep thinking beyond just learning the material. It made us all analyze our personalities, our future thoughts, our goals. It helped me grow as a person. It was hard to adjust to, but I got to love it." Meat, that's his nickname, got up in class Friday after the quiz and wanted to read a journal entry aloud: "I really like this class. I felt alone at first like in the other classes. But here it's fun to learn, and you learn a lot, and you get to know about a person more than he or she just being in the same room. You get to know their personal life and about your own. Our triad had a discussion last night about some personal stuff and found that we weren't alone in our feelings and could help each other." Now, keep in mind I'm not a trained sociologist, psychologist, or any other --ologist, and I haven't collected statistical data in an objective and scientific study. Having said that, I do have some ideas, subjective as they may be. So, I'm going to go out on a limb.
So many come to our campuses afflicted with a varying severity of "LD:" "L"earning "D"ependency. It's a pernicious disability that drains the intellectual and emotional excitement, drive, energy, purpose and meaning from the student. Since attitudes have an effect on performance, this LD stunts or arrests intellectual development, academic achievement, and emotional growth. Blank faces, hollow gazes, silent voices, unexcited movements are the easily spotted physical symptoms of this malady. The intellectual disabilities are legion: shortage of creativity and imagination, deficient sense of curiosity, lack of initiative, weakened technical skills, addiction to dull and meaningless plodding, satisfaction with copying and memorizing and drill, preoccupation with test scores and grades, contentment with being controlled, inability to exercise empowerment. The emotional impediments fundamentally are a difficulty in believing in themselves, acceptance of mediocrity, a lack of pride, eroded self-confidence, weakened sense of self-worth, and an overriding fear of being wrong or "looking stupid."
The causes of this LD are what I call a "woundedness": physical woundedness inflicted by the chance throw of genes, accident, and disease; intellectual woundedness resulting from a less than supportive educational system that plays with students in dumb-smart games; emotional, mental and spiritual woundedness resulting from a host of personal, social, and family situations, pressures, abuses and prejudices.
In that woundedness, the students often think they are the only ones in the world with pain. They feel separated from everyone else; they feel different. A sense of isolation envelopes them in an opaque emotional curtain that doesn't allow them to see others and makes them think others cannot see them. They believe that other people don't want them, don't want to listen, don't care about them, aren't concerned with them. They feel mediocre at best, worthless at worst. So they hide in silence; they hide in aloneness. So many have been betrayed and hurt and demeaned; so many have learned to build defenses of varying thicknesses and heights. The walls that protect, however, also isolate and restrict.
I think students who feel isolated, or isolate themselves, perform at lower levels. I find that anything which promotes isolation and perpetuates loneliness is debilitating. Anything that promotes a sense of intimacy, connectedness, community can be releasing, exhilarating, and in some cases healing.
Participation in a triad and sharing, however uncomfortable and challenging, is good for everyone. As I form the triads at the beginning of each quarter, I see so many frightened, lonely, self-denigrating people. They are uneasy about participating in a group. Their isolating woundedness does not make it easy for them to rely on someone else. They are at first very reluctant to begin to make connections with others, to begin to rely upon others, much less to address and begin to talk of their personal issues. But, at least in my classes, they cannot hide from me or each other. They must deal with my "blueberries"; they must look at each other and talk with each other; they must see that there is a face on the other side of that head sitting in front of them in a traditional arranged classroom; they must get to know at least each other's names; and, they must work together. Yet, eventually, for many, it seems that each of their woundedness affords the opportunity. Many want to reach out, but never knew how or were too scared to try. They want to share with each other and trust each other, and to find support and encouragement in each other. It's as if the triad contains a comforting salve. Many find they can trust another person because they can sense that the others, too, have woundedness, have pain, have fear. Out of that trust many begin to pay attention to their own wounds and each other's, to teach and be taught, to make the effort, and to start to discover the wondrous potential that lies within them. As associations and friendships form, they start thinking about their feelings, share themselves, let the walls down, and start testing their abilities. They invite the others into their loneliness. They get to know each other and gain insight into themselves and others they may never have gotten. I see emerging relationships between strangers put together by me but brought together by their attitudes and finding each other through their struggles and sufferings.
I'm trying to create a situation where the students feel better about coming out from behind their walls, share who they really are and not be socially isolated, and risk discovering the extent of their native learning potential. We are separate, distinct individuals, but at the same time we are social beings. If our craft is to be noble, its purpose must be noble. I cannot think of anything more noble than to assist the process of making the individual whole, to help bring together not only intellectual, emotional and physical parts of the individual, but to bring individuals together and instill a sense of community.
I am struck by the students' constant use of the word "family." It seems that many of the students are breaching the isolating, inhibiting and demeaning "walls of loneliness" with a powerful, supportive, encouraging sense of community. It is hard to believe that such a simple idea as "community," of sharing, seems to have such a powerful impact and a dramatic effect for so many.
Make it a good day. --Louis-- Louis Schmier (912-333-5947) firstname.lastname@example.org Department of History /~\ /\ /\ Valdosta State University /^\ / \ / /~ \ /~\__/\ Valdosta, Georgia 31698 / \__/ \/ / /\ /~ \ /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" -\____