Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Fri, 31 Jun 1995
Well, I just came in from an interesting walk wondering if mosquitos and gnats sleep. I don't think they do. They, the 77 degree heat, and 97 percent humidity are an unholy trinity--even at 4:45 in the morning--that ordinarily would make walking the darkened streets at this time of year anything but fun and games. Yet, it was a sort of a strangely fun walk this muggy, sticky, steamy equatorial morning even if my skin was quickly getting a pale greenish hue.
I was giggling and at times laughing to myself almost the entire way. With my chest convulsing, my stomach muscles tightening, and my short chuckling snorts, everything was totally out of sync with my feet. I couldn't breathe properly, my cadence was shot, and I was almost always off balance. I even stumbled once or twice. But, it turned out to be a delightful- -or at least bearable--walk. I had these dancing images of groups of laughing students standing up in class and playfully singing their ABCs. Others were cackling as they did twenty jumping jacks next to their desks. Still others were howling as they struggled to mimic barnyard animals. Their moos, oinks, baas, and cock-a- doodle-doos pierced not only the air, but their spirits as well. That will get them for not getting the correct answer to the questions thrown at them by other students during a game the students devised. But, Casher smiles were everywhere. Then, there was the delightful sight of tears of laughter rolling down cheeks at the sight of Jimmy, a football player, in bonnet and dress, broom in hand, as he portrayed a frontier housewife in a skit. I saw this bright picture of the place rocking during the scavenger hunt presentation as Andy stood up, fishing pole in hand, presented his symbol of Harmine Melville, miming fishing, futilely fighting to reel in his catch, being pulled into the water, and ending his presentation with a feign wipe of his sweaty brow and saying "It's a whale of a transcendental fish story." There was this shining vision of the place rocking with spontaneous and uproarious laughter during a brain- storming and mind-mapping session as student furious shouted out, screamed out, poured through the book, feverously writing on the blackboard, walls, and huge pieces of butcher paper. Smiling images flashed across my mind of students jumping, reaching, stretching, as Tootsie Pops hurled through the air in their direction as incentive, reward, prize, encouragement, nurture, support, pick-me- up, or just for the heck of it. I saw smiles appear on student faces and tense muscles relax as the music floated through the air at the beginning and end of class.
I guess these images kept popping up as a lingering effect of thinking about the child within. I think it was also the fact that for the last few days I've been reading student journals and evaluations from last term and the first journal entries from this term. And, I've been noticing that the word to describe the class almost all the students used, second only to "caring", was "fun", and how they joined it into phrases and sentences with other words like "learning", "excitement", "interesting", "enjoying", "feeling good", "picked me up", "experience the class". I remember one student sort of summing it up and writing, "I did not want to miss one day of class, I looked forward to coming, because it was so much fun to be there and have fun learning. It was some kind of a turn-on An enjoyable and rewarding adventure!"
After reading those journals I knew that I had truly had a friend, a partner, a colleague, and compatriot to whom the students could turn to help them combat the monster of fear, denigration, and tension. I invite this buddy of mine into everyone of my classes to talk with everyone everyday. We enter class arm in arm smiling to the tune of my boombox. No, we bounce, dance, sing, and skip cross the threshold together. We're allies in our war against that ugly, evil troll. My inseparable pal is beautiful, bubbly, animated. She's a good fairy. Her name is FUN.
Don't be deceived by her quixotic manner; don't mistake her charm for weakness, her joy for frivolity, her laughter for childishness, her skipping for casualness, her excitement for absurdity, her playfulness for silliness, her beaming smiles for immaturity . She always come with her dancing, singing, skipping family of playful, uplifting pixies. They're named: laughter, excitement, play, joy, serendipity, surprise, glee, merriment, smile, giggle, chuckle, and chortle. And, are as powerful as boulders hurled from a Roman assault catapult. She and giggle can breach thick guarded walls of isolation; with chuckle, she can leap over putrid moats reeking with fear; with laugh, she will enter and refresh defensive redoubts foul with confusion; with glee, she will bring light into the darkened rooms of worthlessness, with chortle, she will electrify dead circuits of hurt, and in the company of guffaw, will blast open up the strongest locked doors of insecurity. Fun floats around the class around dubbing a shoulder here and there with her twinkling wand, daintily saying, "Oh, yes you can", "See the wonder of it all", "Go ahead", It's safe in here", "Take it easy", "Don't be afraid", "Let go." And when that malicious monster of fear and tension growls, with an easy wave of her exorcising hand, with a deceptively delicate voice, she says to that pimpled, twisted imp, "Shoo, shoo, you naughty ugly little thing. Leave these good people alone." And surprisingly, it starts to move backward, fear in its blood-shot eyes, and slink away. Once that monster slithers out the room and fun spreads around her sparkling dust, I notice that we start learning.
Having fun in class comes naturally to me. Without it, I feel too stuffy. I feel dead. The students look dead. The lights are out. More than once I have been criticized by colleagues for not being serious. I get the feeling that they feel that there's something wrong, inept, unprofessional, amiss, frivolous, insignificant, if you're happy. Authority and knowledge equals seriousness. Laughter equals childishness, spontaneity, uproariness, insignificance. Outlandish clowns make us laugh, not professors. We'll role in the aisles at Steinfeld, but the class room is not a place for leisure. We pay Red Skelton to make us laugh with Klem Kediddlehopper, but the class room is not a theater.
So many teachers are convinced that students must suffer, to paraphrase Hamlet, the slings and arrows of the outrageous fortune of learning", that students have to wear hair coats, flay themselves, whip themselves, suffer, suffer, suffer. Must they endure intellectual and emotional asceticism as proof of their devotion and academic piety, as some sort of intellectual cleansing ritual. If they are enjoying, if they are laughing, if they are smiling, they are ne'er-do-well-revelers. They are childish; they are kindergartenish; they are immature.
In so many, too many, of our classrooms, there is painfully little joy displayed and experiences. There's an all too prevailing attitude that say there seems to be something not quite right about the student and teacher who are happy or in classroom that rocks with laughter. I almost get the feeling that all too many people think there must be something wrong with a classroom where student miss attending class or where teachers and students are sad the class ends. They must be, as the line goes, frivolous blockheads without a grain of common sense in their bodies.
So many teachers take themselves so seriously. They walk into class with a lost a scowl on their face, a sense that their face will shatter if they make the slightest smile. After all, education is serious business; it's nothing to laugh about. No kidding around in here. There's nothing to make fun of or light about. Yet, do you know what the students most criticize faculty for in the journal I've read and discussion I've had? Aside from being so uncaring of them, it's making the class, as one student said, "so hypnotic and dull and monotonous and repeating and boring and lifeless and stuffy and laughless and mindless and mechanical that it's almost impossible not to go into a coma just like as you read this sentence."
But, I ask, why are seriousness and enjoyment antithetical? Why was I reminded only last week that education is "serious business" and I shouldn't be so "casual" and "childish" about it; why do some of my peers that my classes shouldn't be kindergarten? Why are so many of us wont to allow this good fairy into our classroom? Are we too rational in our classes, too serious, too organized, too ordered, too controlling, too predictable, to mind-dulling? Maybe. But that dour attitude seems to be to be the more reason to have humor in the class room. When someone's presentation is dead, when their movement resembled the stiffened pace of the zombie, there's a sense something is wrong.
I'm no psychologist, but it has been both my personal and professional experience that fun us probably one of the most human revealing experiences I know. It's been my experience that unless the students are having fun, they can't have a deep relationship with themselves, with each other, with me, or with the subject. In the classroom fun breaks the straight jacket of convention, the dulling predictability of routine, and boring expectations of behavior. It's a stimulant, an activator; it keeps you awake and alert. But, I think having fun is, to paraphrase Victor Borge once said, the shortest, most human, and most equalizing distance between professor and student, among students. It brings people together. We have to have a place for zaniness, irrationality, less mundane and more serendipity. That means letting go, trusting students and yourself, to spontaneity, freedom risk, and active environment full of surprises and encouraging wonder. It's an environment of teasing curiosity, "what's going to happen next?"
They were having fun in my classes. My God, how academically blasphemous, heretical--and foolish! But I say that I have found that the bonds of caring are easier to establish in an environment of fun and joy. I think that fun, humor, laughter, joy are wonderful tools that bring comfort into a classroom, that they are intimately related to student well-being. I think that there is something sane about being just on this side of foolishness, and something really rational about being just on this side of inanity. Fun lets the student overcome inhibitions, relieve tensions, and raise alertness. We break out of the straightjacket of convention, locking routine, dulling boredom, predictability, and expectations. They can touch spontaneity, and serendipity. When we laugh we open doors and demolish separating walls. We feel closer to one another. We're more comfortable with one another. Whenever we and the students are happy, we're all less stressed, more open, more capable of seeing things.
Having fun does not mean taking learning too casually. It does not mean learning is not occurring. To the contrary, it's almost as if fun is an aspirin to the pain of learning, a relaxant of the tightness of education. I think having fun is the strongest force towards learning. With all the bonding and trusts exercises I use at the beginning of class and through the quarter, I think the environment of natural madness, natural spontaneity, of having fun while learning, does more to bring the students together in caring, trusting, warm, joyous, and productive relationship. I have noticed the during those moments when students laugh, they are more relaxed, more involved, their guard is down, the material seems more connect to them, and they learn more. I sense that fun brings people closer. The students are more open, their vision is sharpened. Fun is a natural pick-me-up. When students are having fun they seem more willing to let go, take a risk. It's almost as so simple thing as sucking on a tootsie pop opens a slit through which they can peek inside to believe in themselves, find resourcefulness, find creative uniqueness they can rely upon, and daring to dream. I can't quantify it. It's just what they write in their journals and what they feel. That's what I observed, and it's what I feel.
Should I be firm, serious, keep my feet planted on the ground, keep my head out of the air? We're having a lively blast while other students are being bored to death. We being songful, laughing and dancing all along the way while others are being so wearisome; we're learning with abandon, totally and without fear.
Maybe the key--the real secret--to learning is an occasional chuckle, by a good guffaw, a good belly laugh. It keeps the child in all of us alive and playing.
Have a good one. --Louis-- Louis Schmier (912-333-5947) email@example.com Department of History /~\ /\ /\ Valdosta State University /^\ / \ / /~ \ /~\__/\ Valdosta, Georgia 31698 / \__/ \/ / /\ /~ \ /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" -\____