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We Started an Underground Newspaper and Got Away with It

January 6, 2017

1a1To my students. I give the friendly notice that I am back in the classroom this morning, getting ready for your arrival on Monday as we start our second semester here at GCA.  The weather forecast calls for snow this morning, and as I glance out the window, I see that it is starting to come down.  They’re predicting up to three inches of snow this afternoon.  A regular blizzard, by Knoxville standards.

I’m in the classroom at this moment, taking a fifteen minute break from sweeping and pulling down any leftover Christmas ornaments.  I now realize how much we got into the holiday spirit here in Room 186 – at least fifteen strings of lights, two boxes of ornaments, three trees, a two-foot tall nutcracker, and even a plush Christmas Yoda.

I look forward to your arrival.  You’ve shown me a lot of creativity in your learning process, from your Bible essays to your New Testament speech presentations, and as we step into 2017, I am giving you some more opportunities to show your inventive ways.

As a middle schooler in Hershey, Pennsylvania, I remember when a teacher gave me a chance to express myself creatively.  For some reason I cannot remember, I approached the usually austere Mr. Byrd in our homeroom #236 class and asked him if I could start a classroom newspaper.  He raised an eyebrow at me, but then nodded and gave the go-ahead. Soon I was designing a one-page mimeographed copy of the newsletter with the wildly imaginative title of 236 News.  It contained just about everything but news about the room, however, because common sense tells you that if anything is news in a classroom of twenty-five kids, everybody knows about it.  This did not dissuade me in the least.  At first it started out as a pretty pedestrian affair – a few jokes here and there, a poem I looked up, maybe a quote from a classmate about a recent quiz or test – and it puttered along every week with no real excitement.  I clearly recall that none of it was typewritten, since I had no access to a typewriter.  It was a handwritten production, sloppy but reliable.

Yeah.  Reliably boring.  I seemed to be in a rut, but didn’t really have an incentive to take the next step, until…

I heard another homeroom was planning on creating their own newspaper.  I had to act fast, or I would get buried in mediocrity.

Ah.  I knew just where to go to find my artistic flair.

I collaborated with my older brothers Bruce and Brent – even though they had never stepped foot inside my classroom and had never met any of my classmates – and asked them to help me make the 236 News something different.

Man, did they make it different.

Fifteen year old Bruce had a growing artistic genius that was being recognized in the school system.  Emboldened by administrative recognition and numerous awards, he started branching out from pencil sketches of flower vases and pastoral settings to abstract art, including fantasy sci fi.

Brent started coming up with new ways to format the paper.  Expansion to a second page.  A survey on whether Batman could beat up Green Hornet.  A poll to decide how the Cookie Monster would stack up in an election against Nixon and Humphrey.

I let Bruce design and add drawings.  He went at it with a vengeance, draping the side columns with elaborate winged dragons and his own versions of Spiderman and Hulk racing across the masthead.  The new format shocked and delighted the kids.  Even Mr. Byrd – who for some reason never really liked me – had a grudging admiration for this off-the-wall production.

236 News was a hit.  We expanded to three pages. Then five.  Then six.  We were getting requests for copies from other classrooms, even teachers.  The rival classroom newspapers quietly folded.  Bruce, Brent and I would spend evenings at the kitchen table, inventing new ideas and weirder drawings.  Bruce even wrote a mini-novel and we serialized it.  Brent added a Scouting column that was greeted with enthusiasm; every one of our readers knew exactly what to do if attacked by a bear in the school parking lot.

When my family moved to Delaware in my junior high years, we brothers did it again.  It happened at an early-morning break time when I paid twenty-five cents for a dull-looking four-page newspaper.   I was reading the Delmar High School gazette ( I think it was called something like “The Wildcat News”) that featured stuff like the lunch menus, “Meet the Coach” and football schedules,when I realized that we could do it again.  One night, Brent and I pulled together a renegade newspaper and named it Cry From the Dungeon.  Bruce added his mind-boggling sketches.  We went right into underground news stuff like in-depth reports on which student had the most detentions, a cafeteria food fight first-person report, a freshman paper-airplane craze, and a study hall wastebasket-shooting Wadded Paperball League. We started a superhero comic strip called Captain Delmar (who battled his nemesis The Janitor).  We had a school-wide vote on the best professional ball players and the worst cafeteria food.

And we sold out every week.

For some unexplained reason, the school administration was okay with all of this.  The leadership allowed me to use an old funny-smelling mimeograph machine and even a ream of paper for us to keep Cry From the Dungeon going.  At my 25th class reunion one of my classmates brought out an old copy of CFTD and we all had a grand laugh.

I enjoyed the opportunity to push the creative bounds and I appreciated the encouragement I received to keep extending further.

Our little church youth group began giving us opportunities to do the same.  After I became a Christian, I realized that this abstract approach to things was even more exciting in the Christian realm!  From Bible studies to home prayer times, things were fun, fresh and unpredictable.  We were allowed to create ghost walks for Halloween, Sunday night teen presentations for the church, an outreach comedy team, and yes, a newsletter.  We decorated the hallways and bulletin boards. We wrote music.  We organized Sunday evening all-church “afterglows.” Each week the ideas were more imaginative and fun.  I will tell you more about these in future blogs.

I recall a narrative in the book of Exodus of a man named Bezalel.  He had been filled with “the Spirit of God, with skill, with intelligence, with knowledge, and with all craftsmanship, to devise artistic designs, to work in gold and silver and bronze, in cutting stones for setting, and in carving wood, for work in every skilled craft.” Bezalel was given the joy and excitement of creativity to honor God in unique and artistic ways.  As a Christian, I would soon learn this Biblical truth.  I could use the innovative quirks and ideas in a way that wouldn’t express rebellion or individualism; it could bring glory to God!  The Father was the one who gave me the abstract creative ways of thinking, and I was given the freedom to express Him with these tools.  And you have that freedom as well.

I want you to think about that, students.  We have a whole ton of ways to learn – and show – God’s majesty, His book, His character and His love.  We’ll start exploring new ways of digging into those truths.  Lots of different ways.

And it starts on Monday.  See you then.








Brad Kent Zockoll
Copyright 2017

Dr. Brad Zockoll

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