Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Date: Wed, 18 Nov 1998 10:52:49 -0500 (EST)
It is nice this morning. Not hot. Not cold. Wait 'til this afternoon when it will go into the 80s. And they say the Dogs of August are leashed. Ha!! Anyway, I was just meandering across the campus back to my office from the Student Union, alternatvely sipping a cup of coffee with one hand and munching on a sinful glazed donut with the other. I wasn't thinking about much other than how having lost 25 pounds this summer has let me indulge. Then, from off to my left I heard a voice, "Dr. Schmier." I turned. It was Mandy. She was in class almost a year ago. She looked different, but I couldn't put my finger on it. As she came almost running towards me, I knew what was different about her. She was smiling.
"Haven't seen you in a while. You're smiling."
"Always do now. I just wanted to tell you that I decided to be a communications major!" She said. No, "said" is the wrong word. She proclaimed with such a triumphant blast of accomplishment. Then, as if clarvoyantly translating images that were flashing through my mind at hyper speed. "Remember? I always was quick to say 'I'm shy and quiet.' Well, I'm not afraid anymore. Getting up in front of class to sing and do projects made me I realize that I could do what I really wanted to do." Before I could answer, she concluded, "Well, I have to run over to the Arts building for a class. I learned a lot about history, a lot more than in any class, doing those projects, but I also learned a lot about myself. I saw you and just wanted you to know that our class made a difference for me and I know now that I can make a difference, too, and I want to. Thanks."
"Thank you. I really aprreciate that," was all I could quietly say as she turned to run across campus.
As I danced back to my office, I exclaimed to myself, "I've got the answer!" To understand what I meant, I have to go back to the second day of the semester in mid-August. I was sitting in front of the Library's fountain, relaxing, blowing bubbles from my bottle of Mr. Bubbles. A student from one of the first year history classes came up to me, sat down on the bench, and shared the ring. As each of us took turns swinging our arms arm back and forth or blowing, ignoring the curious stares, producing a string of short-lived, small bubbles that lazily floated skyward, we talked.
He said something like, "You know I read the letter from the student in your spring quarter. I won't tell you what was in the letter. but the class sounds interesting. I never had a teacher who respected students enough to do something like that, really gives the class a blast of honesty and trust."
"That's the idea," I answered with a smile. "I couldn't think of a better way for you to know honestly about me and the class then to hear it confidentially from another student who's gone through it."
Then it came, "I know you don't know what each student writes at the end of the semester or tell them what to write about. But, if you could, what would you want us to say about this class by the end of the semester?"
"Whatever you want to say that you think should be said."
"You're being a weasel. If you were a student, what would you write to another student. Can you do it in one sentence?"
I looked at him as if he was nuts. "One sentence?"
"I want to see if that letter was true. Take your time," he said with a smirk. "I have class. See ya."
I don't how I get myself into these situations. Anyway, I've been struggling to come up with an answer for that student. Actually, it does me good to have to reflect and articulate such things, to go off on a fishing expedition asking, looking, listening, uncovering, seeing, hearing; to probe the darkest secrets of our feelings. I think we all have to have a touch of skepticism of our motives, of our own version of "truth," of our own version of doing things. It is not always comfortable, but it is necessary. If we don't, understanding will seldom join hands with intention and zeal. And that is dangerous.
All semester I've been thinking about what I dream they would say. But, how to put it into one sentence! As far as my subject, history, is concerned, I wish they realize that history is not as it is too often portaryed: a dull collection of meaningless facts about dead people, a series of flatten names and dates whose significance is only in memorization for a test, a collection of maps and charts and diagrams and statistics. I would hope they would begin to understand that history it is about real, flesh and blood, complicated and mysterious and unique individuals who itched, urinated, scratched, laughed, ate, had intercourse, cried, dreamed, hated and loved, and hurt; who--known or unknown--by their mere presence made a difference however supposedly slight or monumental; who had strengths and weakness; who were violent and peaceful, who dreamed and feared, who dared and cowered, who risked and played it safe, who achieved and failed, who fell and stayed down, who fell and got up to strove, who were criminal and law-abiding, who were resolute and indecisive, who led and who followed, all of whom were unique individuals. I want them to see that they are because of them. I want them to be able to relate to a lot of these people who were human beings just like they are and have learned something about themselves, starting to see how they each is a part of history, that each is an heir to the judgements and actions of these past people just as they will add a ply and bequeath their judgements and actions to posterity. I hope they will learn that you don't have to be famous to be important and don't have known to be historic, and that everything associated with and created by human beings, without exception--laws, values, people, outlooks, answers, questions, institutions, arts, society, language, religion, everything--changes.
Wouldn't fit into that one sentence restriction unless I could write like Victor Hugo.
But, there would still be more I would love them to say. I would hope they would say that they have had the same experience in the classroom as you get from both a roller coaster and a church or synagogue or mosque: excitement, adventure, risk, fun, education, emotion, refection, awareness, uplift. But, more important, it's the message I want each of them to take wherever he or she goes. I want each of them to think, to reflect, to feel, to be excited, to be happy, to be inspired; I want each of them to question, "why;" I want each of them to realize that an education is more than earning a living. It's about empowerment and liberation. It never ends. I want each of them to care about something bigger than the particular subject matter, a grade or a degree or a job or presitge or a house or a car or a piece of jewelry or themsevles. I want each of them to do whatever he or she does because it is important, not just to be important. I want each of them to know that diminishment of yourself and others in any form is patently unacceptable, cruelty in word or deed to another is unjust, that violence against another is patently immoral, and that grinding your own soul and that of others into the ground is just not right.
Stll, a tad more than that one sentence mandate, and to add this would really be pressing even Hugo.
Now, here comes Mandy, unexpectedly out from nowhere, with the answer: "Our class made a difference for me and I know now that I can make a difference, too, and I want to."
Her words prodded these words out from me--I punctuated it so that it would be a sentence: "I came into class; I left the class changed; the rest is details."
I think both say it all and should be the simple but profound assessment for every class. I'm going to give the student those answers today: mine and Mandy's.
Make it a good day. --Louis-- Louis Schmier firstname.lastname@example.org Department of History http://www.halcyon.com/arborhts/louis.html Valdosta State University Valdosta, GA 31698 /~\ /\ /\ 912-333-5947 /^\ / \ / /~ \ /~\__/\ / \__/ \/ / /\ /~ \ /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" -\____