Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Tue, 23 Mar 1999 07:03:02 -0500 (EST)
Random Thought: DARKNESS: My Third Word For Good Teaching

Good morning. Just came in from a delightful although deliberately short walk. And does it feel good. I've been off the streets for a couple of weeks. A hip kink from a misstep and the ravages of whatever non-flu crud was racing around here will do that. I have to admit that as I stepped into the darkness I felt as if I was slowly and sensuously slipping into a delightful and self indulgent warm bubble bath, and a weird thought enveloped me: he who believes in good teaching sees the darkness and welcomes it. Sounds almost biblical, doesn't it?

Anyway, you know how so often darkness is portrayed as a scary, satanic, forboding, tormenting, sinful, deathly, abominable, threatening, and evil time and place. We are quick to think of darkness as a lifeless, closing, depressing, lonely, blinding, desolate, numbing, cheerless, cold, dismal, colorless, bland, uninviting and frightening shadow world. And with this perception, black becomes a color of gloom, murkiness, ignorance, and sin with more than a few social and cultural ramifications here and there with which we are still wrestling. The dark is the realm of sinister cats, vermin, cockroaches, pimpled witches, slobbering bats, blood-thirsty, vampires, and other sinister creatures of the night. You won't find any saint or angels in the darkness. No, there's something unnatural, supernatural to the darkness. The dark is the time Macbeth's witches stir their insidious brew, the devil's minions dance on Bald Mountain until chased by the dawn's pure light, and once a year a host of tiny costumed "goblins" stalk the night's streets with temptations of trick or treat. No, the darkness is is not a time and place we usually associate with hope, love, life, laughter, charity, morality, blessing, optimism, angels, radiance, or truth. Maybe this is a primal and biological thing that has crept into every proverbial nook and cranny of our individual psyche and entire culture.

So, why would I offer to Kenny DARKNESS as my third major word for good teaching when it is light that is associated with learning and darkness with ignorance? My answer is: think Thomas Edison.

Ever wonder how far into the dark Edison had stepped, and for how long was he in the dark before he saw the light about his light bulb, about his long, persisting hours of wrinkled frustration and anguish driven by equally wrinkled curious peering and questioning, laboring before the "bam" of dawn hits--if it hits. And, then, having seen the light, stepping into another risky darkness and another and another in which he discovered and from which he created.

Actually, I don't think darkness has been given a fair shake. I personally find the dark, pre-dawn streets are a quiet, peaceful, and inviting place. I walk partly to keep in physical shape, to strengthen my cardio-vascular system, to get my blood flowing as an insurance against a hardening of the arteries. But, that "getting the blood flowing" has another meaning. For, sometimes, a lot of time, it's as if the darkness of the street hides the spiritual cholesterol of some constricting, restricting, paralyzing, and stagnating judgemental censor, self or others, and I walk to get my spiritual blood flowing, making sure I don't get a hardening of the attitudes.

And yet, it is interesting that as I dare to take steps through the darkness and quiet, it brings me nearer to the light of the dawn and the sounds of awakening. And equally curious, as I get into my walks, I slowly find that I am neither enveloped by quiet nor dark. Quite often, this place of solitude slowly begins to rock; and, this concealing time is increasingly a revealing time for me. It's a time and place when my inner light and sound incubates and increases like a dimmer switch adjusting up the brightness of an idea or a tuner knob turning up the volume of my inner voice.

The dark is where more often than not I find the light of creativity going on, nothing subduing, harnessing or domesticating about the dark. Now follow my convoluted and not necessarily logical thinking. In the darkness there is light, and in the light there is darkness. You see, everyone can see when it's light, when someone has turned on the light. Yet, in the light there is something sedating, comforting, complacent, habitual; whatever that something is, it has lost its mysterious, nebulous, amorphous, ambiguous, intriquing, alluring "somethingness;" it has lost its newness. In the light something has a distinct shape, someone has given it a defining name, someone has set limits on it with a description, someone has given it a particular use, it's settled into a routine. When you see the light, you tend to feel satisfied with an "I'm there" and "I've got it" feeling, and you stop looking. But, in the dark you are always feeling the ebb tides that surge freely within. In the dark, you're on general alert, guard is up, ready for action, attention fixed. In the dark, you're always looking, eyes and head sweeping, ears perked up, always on edge, better able to evaluate what response are needed to be made; to delve into the darkness of the unknown and newness, to go where mysterious, challenging, intriguing, original, nameless, untested, shapeless, indescribable things wander about waiting to be discovered, uncovered, recovered. In the dark, you are always wondering and questioning, wondering and questioning, wondering and questioning.

I suppose I could have offered Kenny more common words like climb, dare, explore, question, discover, challenge, and change. They are very good words for good teaching, essential words. I use them all the time. But, these are words to describe what we must do to go into the darkness of the unknown in quest for the light of discovery, that talk of the good teacher's journey away from the sights and sounds of comfort and safety into the unknown dark and silence.

So, I think DARKNESS is important in good teaching, for good teaching is no less a daily and risky and challenging venture into the murky from which emerges creativity, imagination, inventiveness. The good teachers alway walk in darkness, delve into the darkness of the unknown. The good teacher is an adventurer and inventor like Edison and Bell and a host of creators. And so, it is where the teachers persevere, search, anguish, question, discover and create each day. Good teaching, then, is like a kind of continuously evolving darkness, a continual effort to stimulate the imagination and interest of both yourself and each student, of climbing to higher levels, and of not knowing what you will find in there. That's the way good teaching works. When you've seen the light for one student on that one day, you find yourself stepping into the dark once again the next day for that ever-changing student, as well as for another student on another day in a different class.

Yeah, DARKNESS is my next word for good teaching that I'm going to hand to Kenny to see the light of good teaching. "Stay in the dark," I'll tell him. "Never believe you've seen the light. Be puzzled; be on your toes for the unseen; and, above all, wonder and question!!

Make it a good day. 


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

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