Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Sat, 30 Oct 1993

It was deliciously brisk this morning. The late Saturday morning air was fresh and clean, having been washed by a torrential evening downpour. The chill was just enough to excite my bare skin, enough to make everything feel alive, enough to sharpen my mind. After the months of debilitating heat and humidity, this encounter with autumn, however brief, is exhilarating. And though I had to walk between occasional rain drops, nothing could dampen my soaring spirits. I walked like I had wings on my heels, not just because of the uplifting climate, but because I can't get my students out of my mind.

I can't stop thinking of Marguretta, normally quiet in class, who, as we were discussing the ante-bellum South, raised the issue of the demeaning slave mentality and how it related to and compared with the black experience since the Civil war and to racial issues on campus; of Heather, who made the connection with women's issues. As she said, "it's no different from what we face as women around here and in our families" and raised the issue of women's rights; of ------- who then told the class of how struggles with an unsupportive, demanding husband affects her sense of self- worth, her performance, and hinders her efforts "to make something of myself, other than just to serve others as a wife and mother and cook, that I can be proud of;" of Holly who carried the idea on to include students and said, "and as students we were told to be quiet because we didn't have much worth saying. And most of us still believe that stuff we were handed from the teachers. And darned if it still isn't that way in almost all the classes on this campus;" of Matika who took the discussion in another direction and talked about children being treated, as she said, "nothin' but garbage" and got us to think about the effects of child abuse; and of.......who talked haltingly about her abusive childhood horrors.

"Let me tell you about being mixed," said Pryn as he jumped in. When he was finished, Ivelysse and Sylvia added their perspective of being Latin-Americans. Then, Ben told of being Catholic in a small south Georgia town and how it created a reverse prejudice in him. "It looks like there are still a lot of Know-Nothings around," he concluded.

I can't stop thinking of Sharon who burst out in tears demanding, pleading, shouting that we should all start to see each other for who we are and not for how we look. "How many of you are prejudiced?" she sobbingly asked. Everyone raised his/her hands, myself included. "Well, why? And what are you doing about it?" Wow, that triggered a vigorous discussion that lasted two days about the origins of racial prejudice, regional prejudice, religious prejudice and prejudice in general in this country. And these are supposedly freshmen who "aren't university material." There was Barbara who said to me as I was passing out the weekly quiz last Friday, "I have to say something to the class. Dr. Schmier, the quiz can wait. This is much more important." Then she got up and said:

"I just want to tell you guys that last night in the library our triad talked honestly about what was going on in class for the last few days. It got real emotional and we were crying with each other. We decided that we have to respect each other and understand why we think and do things the way each of us does, and that we each have a heritage of our own and a heritage that we share, and that we ought to be proud of both of them equally, and we should celebrate them every day as a reminder of what we have accomplished. We're good with each other now. Natasha, me, and Trey feel like we're one and a family, and will be there for each other. And I want you to know what we did and I think each of the triads ought to do the same thing."

And these are freshman who so many say "only know how to copy."

There was Laquanda who came to me at the start of Wednesday's class and told me she had something to say to the class. And she did. With a great deal of courage and humility, she walked up to the front of the room and she said that she had been "firmly spoken to" by some of her African-American friends in class whom she respected after her outbreak of anger the previous day during the discussion about slaves and racism and women, that she had telephoned home and spoken to her father that evening seeking comfort and support. Instead, he "gave me a yellin' at." She told the class that she had stayed up all night "doing some heavy thinking about why I have a 'log-size' chip on my shoulder," and with tears in her eyes saying, "this is hard because I never done this before," that "I have to admit I am wrong with my attitude and apologize to anyone I might have hurt with my cruel words." And she is a freshman who "just wants a grade."

And there was Arden who answered a class-mate protesting that we weren't talking about the "facts in the book that you're going to quiz us on":

That's our responsibility to get that stuff out from the book as a triad," was his answer. "In class, we're learning more history than I ever did in any class. We're using the facts and understanding Dr. Schmier's 'whys' and our 'whys,' not just memorizing them to pass a quiz or test. I'm starting to see how we're linked so close to the decisions others made in the past. It's like a movie, and I'm part of it. We're using the book as a springboard to discuss all kinds of issues and how those facts influence me and you. We're learning a lot of history, but we're also learning about life and about ourselves. I know a lot of us really look forward to coming to this class.

And he's a freshman who "doesn't care about learning."

I can't stop thinking of Regal who missed class and, in tears, tackled me as I crossed the campus. "Dr. Schmier, I know everyone in the triad sinks or swims together, but don't punish the others in my triad because I screwed up and didn't hand in my part of the assignment. Give me the "F." I deserve it. I failed them. But, it's not their fault. I swear I won't do it again."

I can't stop thinking of Chrissy, Elana, Elaine, Calvert, Greg, Mike, Ivelysse, Natasha, Yolanda, Melanie, Melinda, Shannon, Jeff, Peter and a bunch of others who participated in these wondrous reflections and discussions. Some contributed a phrase, a word, a sentence. Some bared their souls. Some gave discourses. Some offered insight. If I were to tell how each participated and contributed, I'd have to write a transcription of a week for two classes. I talked very little these past days. I just stood on the side and watched with respectful awe. These "poorly prepared" freshmen initiated and carried on all the discussions; these "unskilled" freshmen did all the connecting; and these freshmen "who can't think for themselves" asked all the questions of each other; they did all the analyzing. I am so proud of them. I always start each quarter with great anxiety, wondering if things in class will successfully work out with this particular group of students, if the perseverance will pay off, if having to defend myself will be worthwhile. Things are starting to work out and pay off in this class, and these great people are worth the effort. Even most of them feel it.

Yeah, this has been one heck of a week or so, maybe a watershed week, for almost everyone, including me. I am not sure I really have the ability to describe the spirit that embraced all my classes. All I can say is that sometimes, when and if it clicks, it sure does click. It has been a difficult week, a good week, a tiring week, an exciting week, a rewarding week, a satisfying week, a fulfilling week, and a magnificent week. It has been a week of great intellectual curiosity and exploration, of high academic accomplishment, of deep emotional self-examination and discovery, of extensive social struggle and growth. It has been a week of courage, honesty, trust, openness, sharing, humility. This has been a week of debate, argument, admonishment, discomfort, pain, anger and tears. It has been a week of laughter, joy and camaraderie. This has been a week of communication, the beginning of mutual understanding, and, hopefully, of some healing. I now am beginning to see in so many eyes, unfortunately by no means all, a gleam where there was once emptiness, a brightness on once bland faces, smiles on once stoic lips. And, I see others now struggling to have that gleam, brightness and smile. Some remain bumps on a log. "But," said Lisa, "we'll work on them. We owe them that much, to try."

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
Department of History                      /~\    /\ /\
Valdosta State University          /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
Valdosta, Georgia 31698           /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
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