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The Visitor--an inspirational short story series

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For The Strength of Youth

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    Ch. 44 The Wisdom of the Wise
Submitted by Steven ODell on 12 January 2009 - 4:26pm.

The Experiment
Steven G. O'Dell © 2008

“Good morning, class. How are all of you this fine day?” Miriam Brooker smiled as brightly as she could, to put the children at ease and to let them know they could be happy, too, just like she was.

“Good morning,” came the response, resembling anything but unison.

“I look forward to getting to know each and every one of you this year. And I know that we will be good friends and I will come to love each of you very, very much.” Miriam inwardly cringed a tiny bit, knowing that she had never truly loved all of her students in the past, nor was she likely to this year, try as she might. It was a little white lie that she felt would gain their confidence and allow the process of teaching them to run much smoother. It didn't make her feel any better about using the tactic, but what choice did she have?

“My name is Miss Brooker. Will you all tell me, one at a time, what your names are? Let's start here and go down the rows, shall we?” And so it began.

I t was several weeks into the school year and Miriam Brooker sat deep in thought at her lunch table, wondering what she might do to help her students for the new year. Somewhere inside her a small voice said there was more than just reading, writing and arithmetic; that these things, important as they were, didn't have the power to change lives the way she wanted to. Sure, there was the fact that the children couldn't afford to grow up without these skills, but there was something else. They needed a sense of personal worth and she hadn't been very good at that in the past. The question was how to impart that quality to the children and make them stick.

The children assigned to her were almost a carbon copy of every other year. There were those who were extremely confident and well-adjusted, those who were shy and retiring, unsure of themselves, those who were doers and those who were watchers. There were the funny, animated ones, there were the studious ones, there were the pleasers and the rebels. She would honestly try to love them all, just as she had every year before. And there would be challenges and triumphs, just as in the past. How could she do better this year? How could she make a life-long difference to each of these students? How could she be certain that she was being the best teacher she could be?

“Mind if I join you?” It was a male voice and pleasant to the ear. Miriam turned to face the source.


“I asked if I might join you.”

“Oh...uh, yes, if you don't mind me being distracted and not very good company.”

He hesitated, then took a step back instead of sitting. “Are you sure?”
“I'm sorry,” Miriam softened. “Please do. I apologize. We haven't met before, have we?”

“No, we haven't. My name is Timothy.” He extended his hand to her and sat comfortably now.

“And mine is Miriam.”

“Ah...a nice Biblical name!”

“I hadn't thought of that, but yes, I suppose so.”

“Well, Miriam, I am pleased to meet you and hope we can become good friends this year. May I ask what the source of your distraction is? Perhaps I might help.”

Miriam finished chewing the bite of sandwich and swallowed quickly. “Yes. I was wondering what I might do to instill a sense of personal worth into my students. Something more than the basics, you might say.”

“My goodness! What a wonderful goal to have for your children.”

“Wonderful, yes. But how do I implement the idea? That's where I am falling down. I mean...it's simply not enough to let them know you think the world of them. What one person thinks isn't going to affect their lives that far down the road. There has to be more.”

Timothy smiled pleasantly again and nodded his agreement. “I understand totally. I disagree that your influence and concern will be so short-lived, but I do see what you want for them in a deeper way.”

Miriam was puzzled and showed it in her expression. “Why do you disagree with me?”

“Because I have seen what one person can do to change the life of someone in need, just by being there fully at the time they were needed. Take Helen Keller, for example. Or Thomas Edison. There are any number of examples I could point out. Look what Ghandi did in the world. Or Christ or....”

“Okay, okay. I get the picture. What do I do to have that type of influence on these children?”

“You recruit.”


“Well, you keep doing what you are doing, being the most kind and loving teacher you can be and you recruit others to show their care also.”

“I don't follow you. Do you mean that I should hire....”

“Miriam, stop right there. You get your students to take part in their own improvement. Get them to reinforce the growth in others. Teach them correct principles and then let them govern themselves. They will most certainly surprise you.”

“That's one way to scare me, Timothy.”

“No, really,” he laughed. “Children are wonderful in this way. Many of them want to please you already, right from the start. You know that. You just have to put that to use for yourself.”

“And I do this by recruiting the children? I must admit that I am intrigued. Tell me more.”

And Timothy did just that, through that lunch and several others that they had together. Miriam listened intently and took a few notes. Before long, she had vowed that she would test the principles in her class.

“Children, may I have your attention, please? I want to share something with you. You all know that I think the world of you. What you don't know is that each and every one of you is special. You have the potential to become anything you want to be—to do anything in this world that you might want to do. Do you know that you have the power to change the world?”

Miriam paused for effect. The children sat in rapt attention, no sound apparent.

“Yes, you could change the world. Perhaps by yourself, but certainly with the help of others. Perhaps others who are right here in this room with you now.”

The children began to look around at one another, somewhat in awe, just as Miriam had hoped.

“Yes, maybe those in this room today. You never know what a person will become, do you? But you do know that if they don't try, they will never become much of anything. None of you want to be that type of person, I am sure. But did you know that if you mistreat another, you could possibly be turning them into that type of person?”

A look of sincere concern crossed the faces of her class, even to the most troublesome and mischievous. She had their full attention and she knew it now. Miriam, if you blow this opportunity, you may never get it back again.

“Children, when you treat someone as if they are important and deserve kindness, you get a person who will act as if they are important to the world. If you treat them disrespectfully, what do you think they will become?”

There were many suggestions from the class, all valid enough to give them praises for their insights. Miriam was feeling very good about this talk.

“What I want you to know is that I see each of you as a world-changer. But you also have to see yourself and one another as a world-changer. Do you understand?” There were vigorous nods and enthusiastic mutters of approval and agreement. She continued.

“Do you realize that each of you has the power to help stop wars and fighting? To help where others are hungry, sick or sad? You may be children, but you have power to make a difference in your world right now. Imagine what you will be as you grow up, if you start now. That is why I am going to ask you to help me in a very special and important experiment. Would you like to do that?”

Again, more enthusiastically, came the responses. They were all on board, if only because they were curious at this point. Perhaps, with time, they would all have their very hearts in it.

“Timothy! You should have seen them. They were eating out of the palm of my hand! I had total control over them at that point. And all through class, they interrupted and asked questions about how they might help to make change for good in the world. It was amazing.”

“Be careful with that power, Miriam. Don't let it get away from your control. You need to be a person that makes changes for good, too. These are fragile lives you are molding.”

“Yes, I know. It almost scares me, but I know that I can make a difference. I have to do this. Thank you so much.” She paused a moment before continuing. “Timothy, is this something you are doing in your class, too?”

“Of course it is. I never recommend anything that I am not certain will work and that I won't do myself. That's only right.”

“I was thinking...if you are doing this and I am doing this, why not see if we can get the entire faculty to join us in our efforts?”

“I think that's a wonderful idea, Miriam. You just seem to have an abundance of great ideas, don't you?”

“Thanks to you.” She reached across the table and took his hand in hers, pausing a bit longer than she might have otherwise. “Thank you so much for your guidance in this. I never would have known what to do, if it hadn't been for you.”

“I'm not so sure of that, but you are welcome anyway. Let's make our plans, shall we?”

The day had come for the presentation to the students, at a general assembly of the school. Miriam had been asked to speak in behalf of the faculty, after a brief introduction by the Principal. Miriam was nervous, but energized beyond belief.

“Fellow staff members and students, I am excited to share with you today a very special program that we would like your help with. We have a great deal of faith in our students and their abilities. The potential you have is far more than you know. Let me explain what we would like to accomplish with your help....”

Again, every student was locked onto the words they were hearing. Miriam had no reason to suspect that this time would vary from her experience in her own classroom.

“Hi, Miriam. How's the experiment going in your class?”

“Amazing! I would never have thought it could be so effective. And in your class?”

“Amazing, also. Same method, same results, right?”
“Well...yeah, I guess so.” She laughed aloud. “Still, it is just beyond anything I had ever imagined. The kids are not only behaving better, but actually looking for opportunities to help me and one another. How do you explain that?”

“Simple. When you feel better about yourself, you don't have to look for approval from others. You just accept that your worth is unquestioned and you look for ways to be of help to others. You wish to serve instead of seek approval.”

“Wow. That makes sense. No, that's brilliant.”

“No, it's human nature. You got them to focus on their best self, not on their personal need for attention and approval. It was inevitable. They are even doing better in their grades, right?”

“How did you know that? Their grades are way up, for all of them. I couldn't explain it myself.”

“Again, you have tapped into their best selves. If they keep this up, they will be over-achievers the rest of their lives. That will be quite a feather in your cap, won't it?”

“I would like nothing more than that, but not for me—for them.”

“See? When you tap into your best self, you don't look for self-gratification; you look to serve others instead. That describes you right now.”

“Maybe you're right. And you know what? I am happier than I have been in a long time.”

“Of course you do. You feel useful. That's why the kids are responding so well, too. They feel like a useful citizen and not just a kid that might be considered to be in the way. Their lives have purpose now and they feel empowered in a way they never felt before. They have you to thank for that. They will now do the best they can in all they do. Their lives are changed and they won't ever want to go back to how it was before. You need to be constant with this for the whole year.”

“I will, believe me. I will.”

“And now that the other teachers are doing the same thing, these kids have every reason to reach their full potential in life.”

“Timothy, how did you come up with this idea? Are you some kind of miracle worker? You must be. I've never seen the School Administration move so easily or so quickly on any policy change.”

Timothy was gone at the end of the year. He stopped by to tell Miriam that he was being transferred, but never really got around to telling here where he was going. Miriam never forgot him in all the years that ensued. She and the rest of the staff, including any new teachers that came to the school, continued to implement the same method with the children. What Miriam fondly referred to as “The Experiment” was a resounding success in class after class. The school gained regional, state and finally national recognition for their outstanding academic achievement results. Other schools in the region adopted the program, too. But convincing other schools around the nation to apply the procedure was going to be a bit more difficult, but the staff never gave up hope that one day their methods would become universal.

Side effects of the success with their experiment were the gradual reduction of crime levels in the city, a rash of new and successful businesses that sprang up and an impressive reduction in divorce rates as the years went by. The effects of their experiment were far-reaching, to say the least.

Thirty years had gone by and the school was holding a retirement recognition dinner in the gymnasium for Miriam Brooks. She could hardly believe all that time had gone by—it seemed like a dream that had passed in the night. She wiped a tear from her eye as she listened to one after another of her friends and co-workers tell of her achievements. The last was a female teacher of only a few years experience.

“And now, I would like to introduce some people that can speak from personal experience and tell you what Miriam Brooks has meant to them.. May I present the students of Miriam Brooks.” She turned toward the door and began to applaud as there entered nearly one hundred individuals in single file, passing by Miriam, some touching her shoulder as they filed in, until they had all entered and stood in several rows at the head of the gym. There were a range of ages and Miriam readily recognized most of the faces, although her memory was a bit pressed to immediately recall names for every one of them. The first stepped forward to take the microphone.

My name is Bob Tallman. “Bobby” to Miss Brooks. He smiled at her as he spoke. I am married with three children, run a successful business in Duluth and wouldn't have missed this chance for anything in the world.” At this point Bob Tallman began to choke up a bit. When he had regained his composure, he continued. “Other than my own mother and my wife, no woman has had more influence in my life than Miss Brooks. I can honestly say that much of who I am today is because of her. When I entered her class many years ago, I was a scared little boy that was constantly picked on by other kids. I was unsure of myself and came to expect mistreatment. I would have lived a life always wondering if I was good enough to make the grade. She helped me to see my worth. I owe...her...so much.”

One after another, each took a few minutes to honor the woman that had made such changes possible for them. Each came by and took a moment to hug her and thank her. It was quite the day for Miriam and one she would never forget. Little had she known the influence she would have on the lives of her students over the years. And even less expected was the influence they would have on one another during their stay in her care. The respect and proper treatment they had shown one another had built their self-esteem tremendously and they had become better people because of it, carrying on those teachings to the next generation and eventually beyond.

As Miriam left the school for the last time, she paused to look back one more time to the building that had encompassed so many of her years. In her mind she heard a voice that she hadn't heard for so long.

'Miriam...a nice Biblical name. My name is Timothy.' The voice still rang in her mind.

Miriam smiled and walked to the cab that was waiting for her.

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