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History lessons from the classroom

Editor’s note: NolaVie contributor Folwell Dunbar shares a few lessons about education he learned in and outside of the classroom. 

A Tough Sell   

Mr. B wore nothing but tweed. His eyes bulged with excitement (though it could have been the thick glasses?) as he lectured passionately through a muffling hedge of mustache. He rambled from slide to slide without books or notes -- shards of this and mosaics of that. I sat alone in the front row. As soon as the lesson began, heads would fall like timbers behind me. By the end of the class, the hum of the slide projector could not be heard over the buzz of snoring. Ancient History, with all of its mystery and intrigue, was still a tough, tough sell.

The Eraser 

On the first day of Freshman English, my expectations (and fear) of failure were already well grounded. Years of Southern parochial attrition, combined with a dyslexic inability to spell, convinced me that I wasn’t ready for the academic rigors of a progressive New England education. My self-esteem in writing had been all but red-inked out.

The instructor walked in and faced the class. He asked us all to turn in our pencils. I can remember being embarrassed by mine. It was long and tooth marked, with the metal top squeezed flat to extract a bit more use. To my surprise, he then gave us each a handful of new pencils -- all without erasers! “Just write,” he said. “Don’t worry about mistakes.” And my fear disappeared.

A Walk in the Forum  

“Do you understand the relevance?” The professor was obviously frustrated.

He wanted us to see so much -- to feel the history pulsing beneath our feat. Our minds, of course, were somewhere else.  The Trevi Fountain or the Spanish Steps seemed much more appealing than the battered remains of Roman antiquity.

“Perhaps your footfalls can tell that Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, Livy, Juvenal and Catulus once walked these same streets?  Every stone has a name and beneath every step, there are a thousand stories?” He muttered something in Latin from Cicero and continued his walk in the Forum.

I looked it up: “For those that travel across the sea, not only the sky above their heads must change, but also their souls.”

Education can be a hard sell. If you create an environment that is conducive to learning, eraser free and filled with energy and imagination, the rewards are limitless -- you can change the children, as well as the sky above their heads!

 

Folwell Dunbar is a New Orleans educator, artist and survivor of many things, from roaches to German U-boats and heartbreak. He is putting together a collection of these short stories and survival tales called He Falls Well (his name is pronounced “fall well”). NolaVie is honored to preview some of those stories here. Email him [email protected].