Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Sun, 22 Oct 1995 07:27:59 -0400 (EDT)
A Random Thought: To Touch Is To Learn

As I glided through the brisk 45 degree morning, expecting to meet Jack Frost at any moment--first day of walking sweats--I thinking about what a strange two weeks I have had with the classes and individual students. Successes and failures, satisfactions and disappointments, achievements and defeats, fulfillments and emptiness, pleasures and pain had come in such rapid fire succession I could have sworn I had been riding a physically draining emotional roller coaster. If I graphed out the rapid seismic sequence of those highs and lows, it would seem as if I was charting an 8 point earthquake on the Richter Scale: up one day and down the next, up one day and down the next, up and down, up and down. By the end of the week, however, three days of twenty-seven five-minute skits put on by the students in two first year history classes dealing with two chapters in the text that covered the American Revolution, the framing of the Constitution, the struggle to ratify it, and the emerging conflict between the federalists and anti-federalists sent the needle off the scales and left me soaring on one John Denver's Rocky Mountain highs.

And what a high those skits were. The triads had a week to prepare their skits. Their instructions were simply to select from the material what they decided was a pertinent issue, topic, person, incident, etc. and "run with it." The more and more I use skits as a learning aid and tool, in the belief that to touch is to learn, the less and less nervous I get that the students will come through. And come through they did! For three days we watched and listened to history being played out in front of the class. It was like a classroom hands-on museum, Sesame street and Mr. Rogers, and off-broadway theater wrapped into one. We saw Forrest Gump sitting on a bench describing how "I was walking on a road and saw this man who had fallen off his horse. He told me to tell everyone the redcoats were coming. I ran yelling, 'the redcoats are coming. The redcoats are coming.' I guess there was a big sale on redcoats in Boston and he wanted everyone to know about it. Thought it was kinda early to do...." We hummed the theme song from the Mickey Mouse Club with new lyrics: "C-O-N....S-T-I...T-U-T-I-O-N. CONSTITUTION. CONSTITUTION. STATES FOREVER JOINED AS ONE. NOW'S THE TIME FOR ALL GOOD MEN TO UNITE IN LIBERTY. C-O-N....S-T-I- ...T-U-T-I-O-N. C-O-N: "'N' IS FOR A NEW GOVERNMENT! S-T-I. 'I' AM THE MOST IMPORTANT PERSON IN THIS COUNTRY! T-U-T-I-O-N. 'C' is for centralization.....'O' is for opportunity.....'U' is for the all United States.....'S' is sanctity of the individual.....'T' is.... We listened to a swing ensemble at Club 1776 singing a medley of original lyrics about the struggled birth of the United States. We witnessed a fight on the floor of the House between a federalist and Jeffersonian Republican; we were privy to the discussions of Lord Townsend deciding on what the British response should be to the Boston Tea Party. Where was Molly Pitcher, ramming a cannon after her husband had fallen. We tuned into Crossfire as a rebel and tory grappled with the legitimacy of opposing the king. We heard Oprah interview John Hancock as the show was interrupted by a news flash about a clash at the Boston Commons. There was a play-by-play of a federal/anti-federalist football game replete with announcers and color commentators describing how the federalists, quarterbacked by Hamilton punched through the anti-federalists line using their favorite "FP" (Federalist Papers) series of plays and how the anti-federalists with Jefferson and Thomas Paine at linebacker though defeated called upon their defensive "BOF left 10 (Bill of Rights)" play for a last-ditch goal line stand. There was an original rap session called "Constitution and Revolution"; there was an original blues song lamenting the failure to end slavery entitled, "Oh, Tom." We were relieved to see an appropriately costumed "Super Constitution" save the fledgling country from the evil, bald "Lex Confederation." We were informed by a newscast from WSCH with anchorwoman and on the spot reporting. There was a boxing match between Jefferson and Hamilton for the soul of the country and we could hear each in his corner discussing with their respective managers their strategy. "Give him a jab with state sovereignty"; counterpunch with "state rights; right cross with "we just fought a big government"; "give him an uppercut with the Bill of Rights"; go to the ribs with the Report on Credit." A Lehrer/McNeil show discussed the Great Compromise of the Constituion. We watched "Jack Daniels and Jim Beam" lead the Whiskey Rebellion. We spied on the British with Mrs. D. And we chuckled as Mrs. Adams, finger wagging, castigated a subdued John Adams for ignoring the rights of women.

For three days, props and costumes were everywhere: feathers, bow and arrows, wigs, brooms for guns, waterguns, boxes filled with tea, microphones, backdrop scenery, signs, huge Walmart bags cut into Indian clothes, borrowed period costumes.

For three days, the classroom was so alive with the sounds of fun and learning that Julie Andrews might well have pranced in and sung about them. The walls and windows were set vibrating by the rocking of laughter, rolling of shouting, clapping, whistling, and cheers as the students encouraged each other on.

For three days, I saw students, smiling faces and sparkling eyes betraying their sense of self-satisfaction and achievement, teach themselves and each other. I saw them reach into the imagination of each other to create a cooperative effort. Their storytelling and acting out created a learning medium that brought together a broad and broadening range of intellectual, emotional and social abilities and activities that allow them to hear and speak and see the material in a new context, at times with deeper meanings, that can only enlarge their portfolio of experiences, understanding, and responses. Rather than me dictate what they can read, hear, see, discuss and should know, in each of the skits, the students themselves alloyed information, abstract ideas, understanding, creativity and imagination, risk-taking, self-worth all together in shining, glorious ingots. Whenever a student came to me with the age-old submissive questions, "what do you want" or "what do you think about this" or "can we do this" I merely answered, "It's YOUR skit." At first reluctant, hesitant, annoyed, frustrated, and even at times angry, left to themselves, I watched themslowly gain momentum and confidence. I watched them slowly discover for themselves that it's all there inside them: a garden, waiting to burst into bloom, merely in need of the proper intellectual, emotional and social fertilizer and watering. I watched them intently during the class time they took to prepare. Everyone was visible. Everyone was valuable. They read the material, thought about it, discussed it, fought over it, explored through it, went beyond it to other material, struggled to understand it, sifted through it, weighed it, and selected from it. They expressed, considered, debated, evaluated, interpreted, decided upon, wrote scripts or songs, staged, costumed, and finally performed.

They brailled the subject, climbed over and through it, touched it, felt it, smelled it, hugged it, chewed it, tasted it, listened to it, EXPERIENCED IT, and got excited about it. There was no stagnation, no dull routine, no copying, no memorization. They were no longer bored observers. Now, they were excited participators. They were no longer sitting on the sidelines, Now, they were in the game. There were no passive, glazy eyes of receivers and followers. I saw only active and energized looks of thinkers and doers. In each skit, the students proclaimed, "I can do this" or "I can be this" or "I understand what's happening" or "This is how I interpret the material" or "this is what I've decided is important."

As they would file out of class or talk among themselves between skits, my ears tuned in, I'd eavesdrop. I could hear them say to each other, "I like this", "learned a hell of lot", "didn't think we had it in us", "we pulled it off by working together", "education is good", "it makes the hard stuff seem so easy," "this kind of class is fun," "learning this way is excitin", "I'll never forget this stuff."

And, that's what gives education its lasting meaning, marvel, and magic.

Have a good one.


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

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