Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Date: Sat, 6 Apr 1996 11:51:19 -0500 (EST)
I was just walking along the darkened streets just beginning to acquire a tint in the dawning light early this morning before Easter Sunday refreshened by being out on the streets again. But, I was also feeling revived by the birthing sounds and smells of renewal. Buds and flowers adorn my route--all of Valdosta for that matter: dogwood trees dressed out in flowering white and pink, azaleas exploding in their dazzling reds and pinks and whites, irises showing their colorful beards, peeking amaryllis on the verge of trumpeting the season, bare oak tree branches speckled with crowded green nubs. Birds are back with their warm seranades as bees hum an accompanying back beat. This is in truth a time of celebrating the miracles of life. It is Spring. It is Passover. It is Easter. But as I occasionally glanced at the twinkling pins of light in the pre-dawn sky and saw visions once I again of how closure occurred in my last Quarter's classes, I realized we don't just have to look back at the events near the Red Sea or Jerusalem to find miracles. I think we merely have to look in our classrooms.
As teachers we can create miracles renewal if we are committed to being miracle workers, if we want to give strength to someone who thinks him/herself is weak, when we offer a voice when someone who is told he or her can't speak, when we provide eyes to those who are convinced that they can't see, when we see the best in someone who is taught that there is nothing but the worst to see in him/herself, when we lift up someone who has accepted that he or she can't reach, when we gave faith because we believe in someone who had lost faith in themselves, when we love those who have learned to hate themselves.
That was never more clear to me than about two weeks ago during closure at the end of my last Quarter's classes. I first started using closure in my classes last Fall Quarter. Now, I fully believe in it. Almost all classes ends when the teacher or professor offers his or her last pearls of wisdom, tucks his or her lectures under his or her arm and abruptly says with a seemingly sudden wipe of her or her hands with a that's it, "Our final exam is on such and such a date. Good luck", and walks out leaving the students just dangling there in the wind. It's as if you're driving along a highway at breakneck speed and then without warning the road ends and you're falling of the edge of a cliff screaming a surprised "so?" Well, I think every class should conclude without ending, with some purposeful reflection of where each of us has been, how far we've come, and hopefully where we're going.
For closure, I don't give the students any end-of-class reflective questions to answer or any exercises to perform or ask them to synopsize what they've garnished from the course material. I just tell them to bring in something that symbolizes that the class meant to them. I don't even tell the students what I think closure means or what to depict with their symbols. Whenever they ask, "what should I bring" or "can I do", I merely offer a non-answer, "It's your closure." I let each of them decide what had happened in the class, to name what they had learned, and to point out what was most useful and meaningful to them. I'm never sure what to expect. The results, however, this time caught me off-guard. I was so overwhelmed by the magic of the moments of those last few class hours that here it is two weeks later, into the beginning of another Quarter, I am still thinking about and being touched by the students' words and action, and wondering what this Quarter's classes will bring. It is at times like this I wish I was a Wordsworth or a Keats who could pull a word or phrase out of the air that would embrace the lived reality, the passion and spirit, that moved the selection, impassioned the words, and testified to the tears and hugs.
So, what did they bring in and say. In all three classes, the students to a person talked almost in passing, as if it were a given, how much more they learned, how more meaningful what they learned was to them, and how much more fun and enjoyment they had learning then in any other class. But, with their symbols they broke through the narrow boundaries of the subject and the restricting barriers of the classroom walls, and showed that the class meant more to them as a personal experience. In their own way, they stated that the purpose of an education and its fruit is not to harvest information, but to show them how to define themselves authentically in relation to the world, their community, and themselves. They celebrated the class with the idea that an education should not be confined simply to being a stockpiling of facts and theories in an intellectual warehouse, but must include the growth of their emotional inner selves. To them closure meant asking how the class affected their consciousness, pondering what meaningfulness they left the class with, reflecting on what learning was all about, talking about what was it they experienced, stating what is it that they are taking beyond the confines of the classroom wall and the barriers of the subject, pointing to what new worlds they have entered and what new words they have learned to use, identifying what new possibilities became realities and what vast potentials lay ahead yet to be discovered, and acknowledging in what way the class was a personal experience. And, most of these very special people are first year students!
As I walked, I once again saw David handing out candles to each of the triads. He turned off the lights and lit one candle. Each candle was used to light other candles until 18 candles glowed in the darkness. Then, the candles were passed to each member of the triad and then among triads in a swaying, soulful chain of light. "We have discovered," he said, "that each of us have within us the "light on the hill" and we have helped each other to kindle and keep that light burning. Cindy honked a bike horn because, as she said, "we've all learned that we have a voice whose sound is worth hearing and noticing." Mia brought in a bag of jelly beans, which she passed around the room, because she felt. "we've learned how unique each of is and yet we are one in spirit." Others said likewise while showing bouquets of flowers, boxes and bags of chocolates--which we also shared--, boxes of colored markers, crayons, and candies. Quiet Jeff held up a lighter. "We each have shown that we have a flame that can burn bright and high if we learn how to properly adjust it. And just as the lighter is full of fuel, we have seen that we each are full of imagination, creativity, ability and potential to fuel the flame." No one could have said it more beautifully.
Miranda brought in some wallpaper. "Because of this class, I have re-decorated myself. I went from a recluse, shy and unassuming and insecure person, to a re-born and enthusiastic learner." As she said that, a tear came to my eye and I remembered that the day she challenged me and disagreed was a turning point. She has come so far in so short a time that that first day of class that seemed, as she said, "another world, years ago." Shantel brought in a pillow saying, "Because of this class and all of your encouragement, I am starting to believe in myself. I am starting to wake myself out of my sleep. And I know I can and will achieve my dreams." Jennifer brought in five different flavored Tootsie Pops tied in a bouquet, saying, "I never thought that the people in a class so large could become as close as family. No one felt lost in this sea of faces, I felt like I was part of a Tootsie Pop rainbow. Without any one face, the rainbow wouldn't be complete. No one was overlooked and everyone with their unique flavor was equally important." That was nicely said.
Marcellas held up his Regents English Exam passing report bursting with pride saying how proud he was of what he did in the class because he is the first in his family to go to college and saw that he did in fact belonged here. Allyson brought in a picture of her family. She said, "We came together as a family; we supported each other; no one was ever ridiculed, only respected. We laughed with each other, but not at each other. We learned a lot of history; we learned a lot about ourselves. I'm sad because I don't want this class to end. I'm going to miss all you people, but my memories won't end." A couple of times I had to blink back more tears as I thought of the time wheel-bound Crystal was lifted up the steps by Tony, Mark and a few other hefty guys so, as Tony said, "no gets left out of here", when they heard she couldn't come to class because the elevator was broken. And after class, they carried her down the steps.
Latoshia brought in a can of grease because as she said, "I've never learned so much history in my life. Funny thing is that I did so without realizing what I was doing. I worked so hard and yet it seemed as easy as grease. I guess that's because it was fun and enjoyable and I got into it--or it got into me. I've done an awful lot of work, but it doesn't seem like it." Ken brought in a box of different colored tacks because everyone worked to hold each other up. Lenny brought in a watch because, as he said, "I realized in this class it was time to open new doors and walk through." Kim brought in an empty shot glass and a bottle of nail polish. She didn't say anything. They spoke for themselves (I saw Kim on the quad yesterday. We immediately said simoutaneously, "You clean?" We laughed, hugged, and celebrated our three months of being "clean" with a Tootsie Pop!). Christie brought in a charge card because, as she said, "I'm starting to learn to take charge of myself. I got up in front of the class when I was scared the death and saw that I can talk in front of people without studdering. There, I didn't hesitate or studder once! I am so proud of me!!" She sat down to whistles, cheers and applause. Judy brought in a set of keys because she is now more outgoing and open, and less afraid "of looking like a dumb jerk." Teresa brought in a toy airplane saying, "We've all learned more history than any of us dreamed. But more important we've flown high and above and beyond that to see the heights we are capable of reaching."
At the end of one class, Karla got up with tears running down her eyes, and said, "Let's have a hug-in." Everyone jumped up without a hesitation and rushed around to hug each other. In a sense of celebration, I stood by the class room door, as each one of the student departed, I handed them a Tootsie Pop and shook their hand. Most of them, guys included, took my hand and surprisingly hugged me. I hugged them back, gave them a pat on their backs, and said a most sincere "Thank's for being in the class. Stop by for a Tootsie Pop."
I hope Karen is right when she said, "We're leaving this class with more understanding of history than we ever imagined we would. More importantly I am leaving this class with some insight into how I fit into the scheme of life than I ever thought possible, with greater insight into myself, with the most creative learning experience I have ever had, relationships and friendship I hope will not end. I hope this class is not like closing the end of a good book, only coming to the end of a chapter that will open into other chapters in a never-ending story." I said a silent, "Amen."
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" -\____