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 unknown."
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 "wow" about.
"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.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
Department of History                      /~\    /\ /\
Valdosta State University          /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
Valdosta, Georgia 31698           /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
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