Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Tue 4/13/2004 3:36 AM
Random Thought: The Class

Good morning. Classes began yesterday again after too short of a week long Spring Break. It was a heck of a Spring Break week for me. Some break. No break. It nearly broke me. You know that television ad about swarming termites in the house? Well, that was my and Susan's house!! In the spirit of Passover, I wish these angels of destruction has passed over our house. But, no. They treated the house like the first born of Egypt. They fed on our house like voters at politician's barbecue. Those uninvited and voracious buggers had taken out large portions of two outside walls and a ceiling in the den. You just had to be there to appreciate it. After two weeks of contending with bonding exterminators and contractors, it was my turn to put on the finishing touches. They nearly finished me. I've spent the last seven days, from sunrise to sunset, in endless ripping out, plastering, sawing, hammering, hauling, measuring, designing, cursing, bandaging hammered thumbs, cleaning cuts, masoning in stone facades, laying tile floor, putting in a new ceiling, routing, mudding, painting, pilgriming to Home Depot and Lowe's, and nursing aching muscles as I struggled to undo the ravages of termites. And it still isn't finished. The only respite I've had was my pre-dawn walks and my planting strolls in my garden.

And then again, there was Nina, who put everything into perspective and made sure it had been a magnificent week. Our wait is over. Nina Danielle, our beautiful second grand-daughter, was born: 7lbs, 13 oz. We'll soon be on a plane to California. She's not yet in the grandma and grandpa stage to be spoiled, but her two year old sister, Natalie, is! Yummy!!

Anyway, in the midst of this chaos, I had come in from a refreshing pre-dawn walk in a refreshing drizzle to read a refreshing message from a new-found e-friend. She said that she really had gotten a lot out of the workshop I had offered at the Lily Conference last November on forging classroom community. What she wanted was to grasp the spirit of the entirety of the class. As soon as I finished reading her request, I thought of a mid-term evaluation I had received from self-avowed average students that was anything but average. It was reflective, insightful, and profound. So, to accommodate her, I think I'll let these students offer a wisp of the spirit of the class through their eyes and with their words:

"Hey Schmier:

You wanted an honest mid-term evaluation of you and how the class is going from each of us. And, you said you really didn't want a 'golly, gee-whiz, quickie.' You said you wanted each of us to think long and hard about what's gone on because our evaluations are important to you and that most of how the class feels and operates came from suggestions and comments in these and the final evaluations. We figured out that if you read every word of our weekly journals, you'll read this, respect our opinions, and listen to what we have to say.

Well, when you read this 'Remember THE CHAIR!' We did. So, our community had decided to write this together as our own special project instead of doing individual evaluations and then send it to you by e-mail instead of handing it in during class. Think about doing evaluations that way. It forced us to talk with each other, think about things, work together some more, and be honest with each other and you. This was not as easy a project as we thought it would be, but it was fun doing it over pizza and beer. Of course, none of the projects in this class are easy, although having fun doing them tricks you into thinking they are. We had different things each of us wanted to say and we had to put it all together like a quilt. We're calling this project "The Editorial." This is going to be a long one. So, sit back and relax. Here goes.

The class: how about a 'golly, gee-whiz?' Just kidding. But a 'Wow' and a 'Wonderful' and sometimes 'Ugh,' 'Different' and a 'Challenge' and especially 'what a surprise' will do!! There are more words we can use, and we will later on. At first, we thought this class would be a joke and a snap. We heard there'd be no lectures and no note taking and no papers and no tests and no grading. Heck, it's anything but a snap. This class is a habit breaking class that sometimes throws you into aches and pains of withdrawal. We have had to rethink a lot of stuff. We had to learn to unlearn ourselves. You want us to learn to do stuff to learn not just to pass a test and get a grade. It demands that we depend on each other in a community for whatever we do. That's something none of us was used to doing. As such, here are another set of words for this class, it's a challenging, demanding, inconvenient, uncomfortable, and time consuming pain in the ass! But, to our surprise it has become such a nice pain. Turns out that so far this is the only class any of us three wouldn't miss for anything. Remember that none of us have missed a class! None of us can say that for any of our other class now or before. And, it's an eight in the morning class!!!!! We never know what is doing to be going down. Each day is a surprise that gets our curiosity going. Heck, it gets us going. It's really better than a sugar kick. Even on Fridays!!!!!!!!!! Especially Fridays after Thursday Party Night. :-)) Yeah, it's too bad, we don't have it every day. It's the best upper each of us has to get out of bed and get the day started.

It all started with us thinking you were some kind of a nut what with Barry White coming out of your boom box, you greeting us at the door, shaking our hands, introducing yourself, getting us to meet each other and talk with each other, putting us at ease, making us feel wanted and welcomed. The letters from the students of last semester that gave us the inside poop was awesome. That's a real keeper. Probably second only to THE CHAIR. That takes guts and trust and respect to do! There was the creation of what you called Communities of Mutual Support and Encouragement. We thought at first it was just the same ole teamwork stuff. We were wrong, but we're getting ahead of our story. There were the three unbreakable rules that you laid down: everyone had to face each other in a community, no one could say anything in class without first introducing himself, and no one could say anything negative about themselves. There are no strangers in this class. You have to work hard at it to be one. There were the 'getting to know ya' exercises, the "this is what I want you to know about me objects," the 'treasure hunts' and interviews and portfolio image project that got us to give ourselves a community name, to help us feel comfortable with each other and get to know each other and learn to work and communicate with each other. We loved the "Communication, Communication, Communication" exercise. "The Story" was wild, but we haven't used it enough afterwards. Somehow you got to use it more and tie it into what we're doing and history more.

At first, we didn't understand why we had to stand up and sing solo. Then, we saw your madness as we debriefed and use it almost every day. It's true. If we sang, we can kick ass. We can't hide behind our shyness as much. There's a reason for all of your madness. And, of course, there was the ultimate reason and madness, there was the amazing 'THE CHAIR.' What would we do without 'THE CHAIR?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?!?' It's everything. It's at the center of everything we do. That's a triple keeper. The those 'what do you want to know about me' stories where you told us about yourself connected with us is a close behind 'The Chair.' You came out from behind the lecture thing and showed us how human you were, just like us. Some us had tears in our eyes and goose-bumps all over as you told us about Kim and your pinky nail and the story of how you changed your attitude towards us and why this class is what this class is. You don't know this, but one of our mothers (we won't tell you who) had you about twenty years ago and she can't believe the stuff we do. You really were really a demanding bastard back in those days who put the fear of god in the students. And now, you're a demanding nice and caring guy who really loves-- yes, loves--students. We know how you're secretly giving ....... a special second chance. And, we heard you're giving someone a special third chance in another class. You don't know what it means to a lot of us when each Wednesday and Friday you send us off with a 'don't drink and drive and don't drive with anyone who has been drinking.' We'll just say that one weekend one of us thought of what you said before we got into a car and it saved, really saved, one of our butts, legally and physically. Thanks for caring. That means a hell of lot to us. Too bad, we somehow feel embarrassed to say it openly.

The closing of our eyes to music at the beginning of class at first we thought was sappy, but after a week or two it got under our skin and we were looking forward to it each day. It really settled things down while we closed our eyes and got into the mood to do whatever we're doing that day. It felt weird when you came in one day without the boom box because it had broken. Writing on the blackboard about how we're feeling when we come into class we also thought was stupid and yet we got to see how each of us felt and we think it gave you a sense of what was going on with each of us. We remember, and you probably didn't know a lot of us noticed, that when ....... wrote 'really, really scared' on the board, you quickly went over to her and started talking with her real quietly and brought out a nervous smile and then caringly tapped her shoulder. And the next couple of classes asked her how she was handling stuff and if there was anything you could do to help. That was tight!

We're not wild about journaling everyday, but they let you see what's going with each of us that effects us in class. So, we guess they're okay. But, we can't really write. Oops, will that negative cost us each a dollar donation? :-)) or :-((

Anyway, the 'Words of the Day' on the board that you tie to the material with our personal lives, 'work days,' the birthday donuts, the late-to-class charity 'donation' fee of fifty cents for being disrespectful, the 'consequence' fee of donuts for everyone if our cell phone goes off (even you had to pay up with donuts for your screw up) for being disrespectful, the 'no negatives' charity 'donation' fee of one dollar if we say an 'I can't' or some other negative about ourselves for being disrespectufl, all that helps, or, at least, can start to help us be respectful to other and ourselves if we want. Strange that whether we know it or not or want it or not, it creeps up on most of us. We all started as strangers to each other and a lot of time to ourselves, created what we at first called teams or groups, and amazingly almost all of us became communities--really families-- and are now going beyond that to become a supporting family for each other. None of us would have believed that could happen when we first came in. We hope it's happening in other communities. We know it's not. There's that one community that fights like cats and dogs. No one listens and everyone talks, and isn't even a team. And, there's another where one person never shows up or does anything. They don't get it. Some don't want to get it. Takes all kinds, doesn't it. We can imagine their evaluations. It's like the quote from Popeye the Sailor that you wrote on the board one day, 'Youse gets out whats youse puts in.' How you don't let it annoy you is absolutely amazing. But, what we really like is that even if you you can't get to everyone, you never stop trying. We guess you do because you know, like you wrote on the board, you only fail when you stop trying. So, please, don't ever give up on anyone at any time for any reason. Let you in on a secret, as if anything in the class is a secret to you--it's amazing what you see and hear--following your example, we're helping two other communities that are having problems and telling them how we handle weird schedules and lots of outside stuff. That's what it's really all about isn't it, embracing each other. We're helping each other more than you dictating to us what to do. It's that damn 'CHAIR' again.

As far as the "weird projects,"(just kidding), it's really hard to get together to work on a project because we have such different class and work schedules. We really appreciate that you understand that and give us in-class work days for each project and it's up to us to take advantage of the opportunity you give us. Some communities, at times us included, don't take advantage of these work days and get annoyed when you don't extend the due date for a project, especially when something, like paper is due in another class, comes up, but that is our choice whether we, as you say, choose wisely and use the time. We have to play, as you wrote on the blackboard, 'the responsibility game instead of the blame game' and 'those who live by the last minute, die by the last minute.'

We decided we learn more about history from the projects and will remember more than from just sitting and taking notes from a usually boring lecture and studying (read memorizing) just to take a test and forgetting most of it. We figured out that these projects trick us into learning without us knowing it. Well, your secrets are out. We're telling everyone. You know, the stuff from the first project still sticks with us. This class is nothing like any of us ever experienced or expected. We're so much our own learners. We even teach each other. Every time we ask what do you want, like you promised at the beginning of the class, you answer something like 'You heard the rules' or 'Remember the chair.' We know we're not allowed to say 'it's hard,' only 'its possible.' We know we're not allowed to say 'can't,' only 'can'--unless we want to donate a dollar to the charity fund. So, we'll say that we've been surprised to find how much we thought was impossible is possible and how much we thought we couldn't do we could if we, like you wrote on the board, let challenge be an opportunity instead of a roadblock. You know this is not only a history class it's a class in getting along in life.

Because of 'THE CHAIR' the class has been one big free-spirit. It's like an colorful invitation to be free to learn without fear. We think that the freedom you give us in doing the project is probably the best motivation we have. As you say, it's our class. It's up to each of us to take advantage of and use the freedom as we did our community building exercises, created our community portfolio, drew our abstract painting of the first two chapters about Reconstruction, wrote our Dr. Seuss book for the next two on big business and inventions, and just wrote the lyrics and sang our song about Progressivism. We heard we might have to do an advertising campaign, make a sculpture, go on a scavenger, make a Hollywood film, and write a feature piece for 60 Minutes after interviewing you about living during the 1940s and 1950s. It's really a turn on. We decided that that's because the way the class runs is based the fact that you respect and believe in us probably more than we do. We also decided one day over a pizza and beer at the Mellow Yellow as we worked on this project that this class operates by another bunch of words: challenge, imagination, freedom, creativity, community, focus, fun, encouragement, respect, care, and discover. It's amazing. They all come from THE CHAIR. This time we want to explain what we mean with these words because they're so important to us now.

Challenge is, as you wrote once on the board for the Words for the Day and each of us pinned on our wall in the dorm, a 'supposed to be an always.' We don't learn anything from easy. Easy means we already know how to do it. It's a not easy learning how to change. It's not easy learning to depend on each other when we've been taught not to depend on anyone for our grade. But, as you told us, that's the way it is, to depend on others and communicate with them for your success, in the real world. It's also not easy to put grades in the background. We saw that if we can, as you wrote on the board, make barriers into opportunity and impossible into possible and take ourselves to amazing places a lot of us thought either never existed or couldn't ever reach, there's nothing we can't do. Did we tell you we and a lot of us others love those guiding 'Words for the Day?'

Imagination is like fatlighter.

Creativity is the spark.

"THE CHAIR" is like wind that fans the spark into a flame and then into a big bonfire and gets us cooking, and gives us confidence to take the chance to find and use what we have in us.

Community means we're not alone. It gets us over the fear of being burnt by the fire. We started as strangers, became acquaintances, then friends, in our community we now family. We're tight. We wouldn't have met each other except in a class like this. We're friends. We're less fearful of being ourselves and how we come off to others. Sometimes we don't even realize it like we're doing right now. We really don't care if this is what you wanted or not. This is the type of evaluation we want. REMEMBER THE CHAIR!!

Fun means loving to learn and enjoying it and going for it instead of being afraid to making mistakes, getting penalized, and failing.

Encouragement lets us know we can do it because you and each of us really care about each of us. We're always appreciated. You re always there to help us along the way. Every one of us. You're always listening and hearing and looking and seeing and talking with each of us. You more than care. You love each of us. We know you say it and thought it was nerdy. Now we say you live it and think it's awesome. We saw it with ...... and ....... and ....... You're never negative about us or anything we do. You never let us be negative about ourselves. Sometimes you tell us what we don't want to hear but have to hear. You get in our face because we have to face ourselves. You're really fearless in a very kind way. Sometimes some us say we disappoint you and you tell us that we disappoint and disrespect ourselves, but you never give up on any of us and never walk away.

Experiment means 'Remember THE CHAIR,' 'take a chance' like this evaluation. Again, it's like you wrote on the board--and you thought no one was reading them--'no experiment is a failure if you've learned from it.' So, you let us make mistakes, expect us to make mistakes, don't penalize us, and help us learn from them. You know we're no more perfect than you are. We're allowed to screw up, to make mistakes because you're a man of many second chances and you've said this class or any class is really practice for the 'game of life--and followed through on those words with a 'do it again.'

Discover means now more than just learning a bunch of facts, passing a test, and getting a grade. It means looking at ourselves. That is the biggest challenge. It's like you wrote on the board, "everything we can be is already inside us." We found that we're not as shy as we thought, we shouldn't be afraid as we thought, we are more creative than people said, and there's nothing we can't do if we use all the words we've learned so far in this class. You re always by our side helping us use these words. It's a struggle, but like you and Popeye say, we get nothing from doing nothing. We are so far amazed at how much we've learned about history, ourselves, and life, and how much what we've learned we've used in other classes and outside classes, and are sure we will use long after we graduate. We can't wait to see what's coming in the rest of the semester and what we can do that we thought we couldn't do.

So, how'd we do on this project?"

There's the proverbial hitting nail on the head, the My Fair Lady "I think they've got it," all in a nutshell: the spirit of the class. Not bad for supposedly average students, each of whom had written in their journals that they couldn't write. And, I told them that, but this time I didn't charge them a negative donation.

         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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