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24 Historically Speaking · June 2002 Elizabeth A. Dreyer Hostages in the Classroom1 When a young man entered my classroom atFairfield University at 4:00p.m. on Tuesday, February 12, 2002, and announced that he had a bomb and that we were being held hostage, we tookhimveryseriously. No one in the class had ever methim. Onlylater did we learn that his name was Patrick Arbelo, and that he was a 2001 graduate ofFairfield University. His choice of our classroom was random. He did not know any ofus. A short while into the ordeal I had an intuition that this young man was not dangerous and did notintend to harm anyone. But we had to play it "by the book." The stakes were simply too high. Mr. Arbelo's basic demand was to have a brief statement and a list of five books read over the radio. The statement, unclear and disorganized, contained elements ofanti-Semitism . Within a few minutes ofhis entering the classroom, Mr. Arbelo told three students to leave, then two more. I requested that several other students who had health issues or who were very upset be released. After several hours, I was able to negotiate their release. The time moved both slowly and quickly. After about five hours, I began to wonder if we would be there all night. On the other hand, I was very busy mentally, which made the time pass quickly—staying alert to every detail; periodicallymaking sure that each student was okay; constandy encouraging and supporting students in an attempt to alleviate their fears; and following the conversation between Mr. Arbelo and the police hostage negotiator over a two-way radio. Coincidentally , right before Mr. Arbelo entered the room, I had been describing the two perspectives within which ancient Greek culture viewed time—as chronos, or ordinary time (I remember givingas an example Tuesday, February 12 at 3:45p.m.) and kairos, or special time, time thatis pregnantwith meaning and possibility . I wrote these two Greekwords on the board in large letters andwe stared atthem for almostseven hours! Afterward, I asked the students iftheywould everforgetthe meaningof the Greekterm, kairos. I received a loud "NO!" from everyone. There was occasional levity. One student wanted to know ifthis experience meant that / learned that university students in my class are strong, savvy, resilientpeople. Each one didsomething important to move the situationforward . . . . everyonewould getAs forthis course. Another wrote a note that she had recendycommented to a friend how uneventful her life was! At one point, I told the students that theycould consider Lentdone and proceed directly to Faster as soon as we got out. One aspect of the study ofhistory is that we "meet" figures from many different settings and time periodswhohave overcomevarious challenges. The subject matter of this class, "Voices ofMedieval Women: SilentNo More," provided a context with several links to our crisis experience. The centerpiece of the course is a critical reading and analysis of primary sources in translation written by medieval women mystics. We examine the historical , ecclesial, social, economic, and political contexts in which each textwas produced. Butwe begin the course with a contemporary piece. The previousweekwehadhad a spirited and engaging discussion ofMark Salzman's novel LyingAwake (2000) about a group of contemplative Carmelite nuns living outside Los Angeles. The protagonist, SisterJohn of the Cross, is faced with some very difficult challenges in the course of the novel. Litde didwe knowthattheverynextweek, we would be faced with some ofour own. The assignment forthe followingweekwas the PassioPerpetua , a prison narrative ofa Christian catechumeninCarthage , NorthAfrica, around the year 200. While our settingwas totally different from Perpetuas, the experience ofbeing imprisoned was shared. Havingtaughtgraduate students formany years and coming onlyrecendy to undergraduate teaching, I am constandy struggling to find meaningfulways to linkthe pastwith the presentthattheseyoungpeople experience— to find "hooks" in students' knowledge and experience thatwill help them see historyas a complex, lively, and interestingstory that ends up in the present with their own stories. To this end, I use experiential learning, various media, and tryto engage students in the search for common ground in the human condition. In the hostage crisis, I think students discovered that some ofthe ideas we were studying could be used to help cope...


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