Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Wed, 18 Oct 1995 17:11:54 -0400 (EDT)
The Real Miracle of the Classroom

I'll say that I truly believe that the real miracle of the classroom--what I think is far more exciting then the transmission and ingestion some facts--is not a concern with some axionms, facts, statistics, or principles. It's not a great essay or project or grade in an of themselves. It is the growth of character and moral development and social experience to which the student are exposed and experience. It is seeing students develop into a closly-knit community of people, begin to care deeply about each other, assume responsibility for each other's success, support each other, feel free to argue, be at ease to take risks. It is seeing them attempting to understand why things happened the way they do and how such people and events have impacted on us. It is being witness to a class room slowly and painfully becoming a place where the students are struggling with new ideas, enjoying and playing at learning, learning how to communicate with others, trying to listen to others, working to respect the views of others, forge links of cooperation, feeling that what they have to say or do is significant and interesting. It's helping the classroom become a place of fairness where a student increasingly feels important and interesting, included, noticed, proud, dignified, equal, positive, able, growing, and learning. It is a place where the attitude that students are reduced to inanimate numbers is banished.

Let me give you a specific example from something that happened last spring of how this environment and attitude soars in a way to promote the students'learning about both themselves and the subject.

I give each triad of students a chapter assignment that is composed of a list of 30 individuals. In this case, the chapter dealt with the rise of early 19th century, ante-bellum technology. With this list in hand, each triad had to go off on a scavenger hunt for several days and bring back items which symbolize the historical meaning and significance of each individual, display each item, and explain each to the entire class. On one of the days of show and tell, one student--a reticent African-American, single parent, female (almost too stereotypical to be true) with noticeable self-confidence and self-worth issues--stood up and with noticeable pride said, "This one is mine." The person the triad was to symbolize was Eli Whitney. She held up an empty Beefeaters bottle (I didn't ask how it was emptied) with a long wad of cotton sticking out from the neck into which one end was stuffed. Everyone laughed and applauded her "cotton gin." But, it was not to end there. She said something to the effect, "This is more than a cotton gin. This is really also a Molotov Cocktail." Everyone looked at her during her breath pause. "Because this was going to explode at the beginning of the 1860s, and the whole country was going to go up in the flames of civil war." I looked on flabbergasted. She had used her imagination and creativity that she never truly believed she had in a way she never before had or dared, and had tied together the issues of technology, Whitney, the cotton gin, cotton, sectionalism, slavery, abolition, etc in one neat symbol and statement. She had taken Whitney and the cotton gin to a higher level of perception than most students would have.

After the class, I asked her how she felt. "Real good. Proud of myself. Surprised as hell! I wasn't sure I was right, but in this class I could try among my friends and not be afraid of being wrong." she beamed.

"Hold on to that feeling and never let it go," I advised her. "Maybe you should think about what this says about your ability and your potential. You took one step today. You learned a lot about yourself and a lot of history. You can take another and another and another, and learn more and more and more."

In her journal she wrote, "I never beieved I had that in me. No one let me dare believe that. I am so proud of me. Is that wrong? You better believe I will never forget Eli Whitney, the cotton gin and the causes of the civil war in all my days. If I done it once, I bet I can do it again over and over and learn lots more about history or any other thing I want."

She did, and that's a miracle of no small proportions.

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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