Copyright © 1997, Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Date: Sat, 19 Apr 1997 09:00:57 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: A Long Random Thought: THE STORY
Hit the streets real early this morning. It was about 4:15. On
the weekend! There was an unseasonable nip in the air. I was in a deep
contemplative mood. Since Wednesday, I haven't been able to stop thinking
about a long entry written by a student I'll call Charlotte in her journal
about something forceful and magical that had happened in class within
herself about two weeks ago. With her permission, I xerox that entry and
have been reading it over and over in amazement. It's laying here on the
desk at the side of the computer. I'd like to talk with you about it. It
tells us how we as educators can design a social architecture in the
classroom where magic can mysteriously occur.
The term had just begun, and for the first four days in my first
year history survey class, we hadn't come near history. Instead, we
started to know each other. We've started breaking the barriers of being
strangers as we started forging a classroom learning community . We
walked around class introducing ourselves to each other; we discovered
interesting things about each other; we did biographical interviews with
each other. We slowly stopped being alone in the crowd. We looked into
each other's faces, learned each other's names, and something about each
other. Now, it was time to actively start building bridges between and
among each other as we continued to create a supportive and encouraging
classroom learning community.
The first of the next four or five exercise I use is called THE
STORY. I didn't create it. Most people, however, use it as an exercise for
"conflict resolution." I use it for what some would call team building.
I call it "creating family." Here's how it goes. I hand out a four
sentence story and eleven short questions to which the choice of answers
are: true, false, unknown. The instructions are simple: "Read the story
and answer all the questions by yourselves. When everyone in your triad
is finished, compare your answers and reach a consensus for all the
answers. Then, compare your triads' answers with those in other triads.
EVERYONE in the class must reach a consensus for ALL eleven answers."
Like a volcano about to blow, complete quiet grew
into a murmur; the murmur built into a low rumble, and the rumble exploded
into movement and sound: students getting out of their chairs, squeezing
between chairs, moving chairs, climbing over chairs; they were walking
around, bumping into, bending over, kneeling; they were arguing, talking,
debating; they were persuading, being persuaded, talking, listening:
"Let's keep it simple...." "But, we don't know..." "No, look..." "If you
read...." "How do you figure that...." "It says that...." "It doesn't
say...." In twos and threes that swelled to fives and sixes that grew to
twenty and settled at the whole class huddled in the center of the room in
one circular mass; answers were erased, cross-out, rewritten, kept,
defended, questioned, attacked; fighting over a word, strugging with a
phrase; confronting over a sentence; heads nodding agreement, heads
shaking in disagreement, arms moving and flailing in all directions, feet
stomping; faces smiling, frowning, laughing, becoming wrinkled and
puzzlied, getting tight and serious; quiet students becoming; vocal
students becoming silent.
I noticed in passing that Charlotte was one of those students who
at the beginning of the exercise sat as a quiet listen, began to say a
word here and there, and who by the end of the class had become quite
vocal. Many others were like her as they slowly shed their hesitations.
Well, not quite like her. You see, towards the end of the class period,
all the students but she had reached a consensus on all the answers.
Holding her ground, Charlotte argued, "I still think all but two are
A friendly mass groan arose.
I stood in a corner, leaning against the wall, my butterflies
fluttering away, thinking, "It's working." I didn't realize at that time
what was really at work.
"You've got to agree since we all agree."
"Yeah, majority rules."
"There's always someone."
"You're wasting time."
"You're being a dictatorship," Charlotte firmly replied. She
turned to me for some reassurance, "I can disagree if I want. Dr.
Schmier, isn't that what's called 'the right of dissent?'"
I didn't say anything. Just continued to smile. But, inside my
guts were "wowing." But, I didn't really know at the time what to really
"Throw her out the window," came a joyful response, almost with a
tone of admiration.
But, she held her ground. "No, this time I ain't gonna go along
just to get along!"
I could see her hands slightly shake with nervousness. Her voice
almost cracked. She was taking deep breathes. I caught the phrase "this
time", wondered about it momentarily, made a mental note, but didn't catch
its full meaning.
Some students sighed with frustration, some moaned with annoyance,
but a few began to listen. "Okay, tell us why you think we're all wrong
and only you are right."
She did, rather forcefully, and slowly you could hear a growing of
hesitant "yeahs", "okays", "I see thats". Utlimately she had everyone
scratching out or erasing and recircling. She changed everyone's mind! A
cheshire smile cut her face in half as her classmates, strangers only a
few days ago, came up to her after class saying: "Good job." "That was
great." "You taught me a lesson." "Boy, I wouldn't have had the nerve to
do what you did. Maybe I will next time." "That took a lot of guts."
I handed her an orange Tootsie Pop with a smile of my own that
said it all.
During the two weeks since, Charlotte continued to be vocal:
before class in chitchat with other students, in her triad as they worked
on projects, in classroom discussions during what we call "tidbit Monday."
I didn't make much of it. I assumed she was one of the natural outgoing
"talkers." I soon learned better.
Last Wednesday, I read her journal and I learned the true meaning
of "this time" and what proved to be the special moments of that class:
This is going to be a long entry, but I've got to put what
I'm thinking and feeling on paper so I can see it over and over.
Wow! What a tidbit discussion we just had on racism.
I couldn't believe how I spoke out--again. A few weeks ago,
I would never have thought I could do that. Each time
I open my mouth I surprise myself, but why should I after
what I learned about myself from THE STORY. Boy, have I
changed in this class so quickly. Everyone told me to sign
up for this class because they said I would learn a lot of
history and enjoy it at the same time. Learning and having
fun seemed like an odd combination. But, I was so scared to
hear that if I liked to talk and voice my opinion, I would really
love the class. I was so scared to hear this. I would
rather die than speak out, but I heard also that Dr. Louis
really cared about his students. One of my friends used
the word love. I thought that was weird. Love in a
college classroom. The guy must be queer. Sorry, but
that's what I honestly first thought. But, something
told me I needed the challenge. I guess it was time and
Dr. Louis's class was the place. I am always to[sic] scared to
tell people what I think about things. I've always been
a go-alonger and get-alonger. Each day at the beginning I wanted
to drop the course. I didn't want anyone to know I was in the
class. Those getting-to-know-ya exercises we did got me out of
the back corner seat and scared the shit out of me, but at the
same time calmed me because I found out I wasn't the only one
scared shitless. I got the feeling that a lot of us were quickly
becoming friends. We'd come into class and start talking with
each other about what we had done and wondered what was coming up.
Then, came THE STORY where we all had to agree on each question.
That was the time I opened up.
I could not believe that I came out of the shadows into the
spotlight and put my ass in front of everybody. I actually
took on the whole class and disagreed even after ..... yelled
to throw me out the window. I held my ground and told them
why I thought I was right and they were wrong. Everyone just
went off on me because they wanted me to agree with them. Damn
I was and I wasn't scared to tell them how I felt about it.
Weird feeling. It was like two people inside me fighting for
control. That always happened. The one who told me to shut up
always won before. I couldn't believe who won this time. I
could not believe I actually spoke out.
Now, I find myself, especially after we all had to sing, moving
from being someone who was too scared to "emote" to someone
who isn't afraid to talk in class. I'm surprising the hell out
of me and finding stuff I didn't know I had in me. But, somehow
Dr. Louis did. It all seems like magic. I'm slowly becoming
less of a jerky, quiet follower to a leader. I can't let myself
stop. I am finding that I was quiet because I didn't think I
had much worth saying and honestly I really didn't listen much
to others. But now. I can't believe how much so quickly I am
believing in myself. How much more I respect myself and funny
but I respect and listen to others more also. No bullshit!!
Now, I am the one in my triad who is encouraging the others to
talk. I never dreamed I had that in me and how I was holding
myself back--AND DOWN. Neat to see what I might be capable of.
I thought all Dr. Louis's talk about creating a class family
was hokey shit, but now I don't think it is. I'm learning
to grow out of my shell and not worry about what everybody
thinks and to stop trying to please everyone. You know I
I think I see how uncomfortable I was when I was quiet and
now how much more I'm comfortable opening up. Really weird.
Wonder if it's because even after only three weeks I feel
everyone is becoming part of a family. We all know and
starting to help each other in large and small ways.
At least, that's what I feel. Words are poping into my head
all over the place. Wonder what's ahead. What else can I do
that I thought I can't. Exciting. Scary. Can't close the door.
Too much light pouring into my darkness. Feel more confident
than scared. Weird. I can't believe I'm writing this way.
Gotta go meet my triad in the library and work on our
"Hemmingway" project on Chapter 3. Almost said I can't write.
Is this my next door? But, like Dr. Louis would say, I sang,
I talked, I can kick ass and write. But, I'm gonna get .... to
read the short story to the class when our turn comes. Even
though I need to still work on my hesitations alot, she
needs to face her shyness and fears just like I am and I'm
going to help her. That's nice feeling. Sorry for the
long entry. Why did I say that? No, I'm not. See ya.
I think I'll just say that it's the Charlotte's who have helped me
to learn that I love teaching for what it can be; I love teaching for
what it is even though it often falls far short of what it can be; I love
teaching for both; I love teaching for what I learn about myself as I
struggle to take the latter into the realm of the former.