Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Date: Thu Jan 15 2004 - 09:40:16 EST
I asked a non-traditional student the other day in an e-mail, what's the good of all her learning, of all her recognitions and awards and achievements, if we teachers don't help her discover the value of her life, the value of values, of her uniqueness, her personal dignity, and all that of each other? The essence of an education is not to stuff her full of facts or to have her spew those facts back on some exam or paper or to get a grade or to acquire a piece of paper or to be showered with accolades, but to help her start discovering her own uniqueness, to help her believe she has something to contribute, to help her fight the battle to be just her, to help her learn the art of being fully human, to help her start developing her own unique potential into a unique actual, to help her take herself into a world she could only dream was in her, and then especially to show her how to share it so others can do the same.
We teachers, I told her, are in the people business. And so, we should see each student as a "sacred one," as some one created in the "image of God," as an individual with dignity, as someone with a life no less complex, complicated, and mysterious as my own, as someone who has a purpose in life, as someone who has a unique gift or special talent to give to others. We should know that each student is worthy of our faith, hope, belief, and love simply because he or she is a human being.
Those words took on a face and a voice this first week of the semester that has sent me on an indescribable high from which there is no coming down. As I bounced up the stairs, the soundtrack from REMEMBER THE TITANS was playing in my boombox, I saw Elisia (not her real name). She was standing by the classroom door waiting. I hadn't seen her for a while. She was one of those who desperately needed reaching whom I had failed to reach. So I thought.
Last time I saw Elisia, she was an angry pit bull wanting to rip out my throat. Now, she was smiling at me, and cheerily and delicately waving her hand at me. She had a piece of paper in her hand. With her "if you think it'll help someone," permission, our conversation went something like this:
"I want you to make room for me. I'll sit on the floor if all the seats are taken."
I smiled in amazement, hoping against hope at what I was going to hear. "Me? You sure? We didn't part exactly as friends."
"I apologize for all those nasty words. Yes. I thought about it for a long while. It's gotta be this way. I owe you. I disrespected you big time in front of everybody."
"You disrespected yourself. You owe you."
"Yeah, but for a long while I blamed you for failing me. I was real angry with you and poor-mouthed you to anyone and every time I could. Boy, you should have read the letter I wrote."
"I can imagine. Raked me over the coals?"
"A heap of big, white hot coals. I used every curse word I knew and then some in that letter. Now I realize that I had screwed up and failed myself and was angry at myself for doing that. You reached out to me and I slapped it away. You paid me no mind and kept reaching to the very last day even after I called you a piece of shit for everyone to hear. I never could figure out why until lately."
"Lots of stuff. I guess letting myself get hit one time too many or one being handed around once too much or one drunk too many or one high to many. One more dream of thinking I could be a Kim. Once more looking at some of your 'Words of the Day." It all build up until I just got tired of being joyless. I want to find joy and bring joy. That story of Kim and your pinky nail really got to me. I so wanted to be another Kim. I scared me. I so wanted to be like her and was so scared that I couldn't. It was easier not trying and pushing you away. I couldn't stop thinking of her and I couldn't get those 'Words of the Day' out of my head, and man I tried to. But, they kept tuggin' at me. I kept asking why am I doing this to myself, why am I letting others do all that bad stuff to me. What did you see? You know I never handed in my final journal. Lucky I didn't. I kept goin' back to one page where I wrote the words down: 'fences are great for fields; they suck when it comes to your spirit.' Time I became my own bulldozer and to tear down my fences and free up my spirit. I don't want to behave this way anymore. Help me help me! Make room for me. You really don't have a choice, you know."
Elisia wasn't talking with amy beseeching question marks. She was issuing a command. "I won't give you any slack," I obediently warned her.
She nodded and then grabbed my right hand. "Not asking for none.
"And when you start tearing down your fences?"
"I'll find that gold I know is there. Never been without barbwire fences. I know it won't be easy. I have to change my ways. I'm scared and excited and curious about this. I don't know what I really am able to do and I don't know who I'll find, but I know what and who I am looking for."
"The right choices. Me, the real me. Joy. Gold inside like Kim said in her letter to you. I'm tired of being sad. I don't want to just knock around and be knocked around anymore by me or anyone else. I don't want to be knocked down no longer. I don't want to be fenced in. I know I'm not shit like I and everyone been saying. I want to find me and the joy in being me. I'm choosing now a 'No.' I'm choosing not to behave this way and not believe this way and not be treated this way anymore. I got rid of my supposed boyfriend who always hit on me, no more being passed around his friends, no more bottles and smokes, got some good upliftin' friends, real supporting friends, now I need you.
"You want to. But, are you ready?"
"Remember Kim told you keep your pinky nail polished so to remind you to be there to help someone become who they can be. Well, I'm reminding you about being reminded. Today I'm that person. Make room for a second chance. I'm not taking a 'no.' You can't say no, you know. I'm going into that class even if you don't put me on the roll. I'm staying'. There's no getting rid of me."
She had me and knew it. I took a deep breath, a real deep breath. You can't imagine how I felt and still feel when I heard that something I had said or done or written ultimately had a role and will have a greater role in helping Elisia seek out her sense of dignity and help her motivate herself to develop her unique potential.
"I know. The pinky nail. Second chance. Glad to have you. I always have room for a second chance."
As I opened the classroom door, I warned Elisia with a stern, but loving tone, "Now, you know what to expect. You've been through this before. You're a leader now and I expect you to help others."
She laughed, grabbed my hand, and gently squeezed it. "Me? A leader? Out in front showing the way? That'll be some change."
"That's what it's all about, isn't it."
She stop smiling, "Yeah. Sure is." Then, the smile reappeared, "Let's go make magic."
As we entered the classroom fittingly to the tune, "Ain't No Mountain High Enough," ringing out from the boombox.
Make it a good day. --Louis-- Louis Schmier email@example.com Department of History www.therandomthoughts.com Valdosta State University www.halcyon.com/arborhts/louis.html Valdosta, GA 31698 /~\ /\ /\ 912-333-5947 /^\ / \ / /~\ \ /~\__/\ / \__/ \/ / /\ /~\/ \ /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" - \____