Empty classroom in UT's McMaster Hall
(Toledo, OH) I picked up a stray piece of paper as the last of my students filed out the door after taking the final exam. Over the course of the semester I became a bit annoyed at my low-tech classroom, as I had to cart 40 pounds of equipment across campus three times a week.
And yet, as I packed up my bags for the last time this semester, I waxed sentimental over the shared experience of the pursuit of knowledge with this group of students, even in a room that only boasts a VHS player and an overhead projector.
True, a handful of students disappeared from the radar screen in the first weeks, and there were likely a few whose only real concern was passing the class. As every teacher knows, though, there are moments when you can all but see the metaphorical lightbulbs turning on as awareness sets in.
Learning is, of course, a two-way street, and I never cease to be amazed at the things I learn from students. I was surprised that none of my students, for example, considered nuclear proliferation to be a frightening development in human history.
I used to see these signs every day in Detroit Public Schools
As a child of the Cold War era, I grew up quite fearful of nuclear weapons, especially living in what was then an industrial mecca and likely nuclear target: Detroit. We were herded regularly into the Fallout Shelter for nuclear drills, an area that was clearly marked with radiation signs.
Today, of course, these are the "tornado" or "emergency" areas in schools. Maybe I am just a paranoid relic of a time in which government propaganda about the Soviets created a generation of nuke-fearing citizens, but I still think that having more nations with nuclear weapons increases the likelihood that they will be used.
Then again, I would hate to be right about the dangers of nukes; there would be no joy in telling the last thousand surviving humans that I saw the nuclear holocaust coming: "Told you so, you mutant freaks!"
Anyways, modern European history students: thank you for a memorable semester, and I wish each of you well in your endeavors. Remember to enjoy life, to embrace the desire to learn, and to be skeptical of the words of authority figures.
Especially bemused history instructors with antiquated notions.