Lessons of the Berlin Wall

This week’s class in my social media course was an assignment for an oral-visual presentation intended to concretize that social media’s success is ultimately achieved in reality, not online.

Judging from the outcome and feedback, the lesson is learned. Stories told and items shown were presented with thought, concision and conviction. Each student told an amazing story with an accompanying physical item that captures some part of what they hold highest and dearest. From tales of a grandmother whose entrepreneurial spirit inspired an online enterprise, with faded black and white prints, to poetry readings and an inspiring story of an encounter on a flight to Omaha with a bill of money ending in Texas decades later with a deal for profit and a tale of taking risks in a haunted fashion show with Elvira, each student cashed in on an ability to communicate in a social context in a way that advanced their goals, growth and development. The students’ presentations were excellent. I told them so.

BurbankAdultSchoolBeing social, which necessitates communication, is part of man’s nature. The 9-week course at Burbank Adult School is predicated on this idea. It aims to enrich the student to learn skills to advance his self-interest. One of the student presentations demonstrated the course’s theme in an especially memorable way. It was created by a student who chose to tell the class about his time in Berlin.

Though he didn’t disclose the year, it was clearly many years ago. He said he had been teaching a skill he’d mastered to a group of students. Some of them, he said, had lived in East Germany, a Communist dictatorship controlled by the Soviet Union. He said he noticed something different about these students. In particular, he told the class that he’d observed something haunted, even vacant, in their eyes. In time, he explained, he realized that the students from Communist Germany were living in terror of making a mistake. He said he sought to help them. He told the class that he made an effort to alleviate their fear so they might begin to live free in the world again.

Then, he said, something extraordinary happened during the teaching of his course.

As he said this, pausing to pull his Show & Tell item from a black athletic bag, he took a moment to compose himself. The year, he explained, was 1989 and, as the Communist regime collapsed in Soviet Russia, the Berlin Wall came down. Reaching into his bag in silence and pulling out a chunk of concrete which was once part of the slave state imprisoning millions of Germans, he told the class in social media that his students had given him this gift for having taught them. He added quietly that he has treasured it ever since.

That day was 25 years ago this Sunday and, in a single display of concrete preceded by a tale of teaching victims of Soviet oppression, he communicated the power of reducing ideas to reality in a course on social media as a means of reducing ideas to reality. In his particular presentation, and in the other students’ presentations, too, he made my course, All About Social Media, searingly, brilliantly, all about his own life, work, liberty, happiness and self. That is the whole ideal.

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