Psychology was not a subject commonly taught in high school during the time I was teaching. The supervisor, finding that I had ideas about the course, arranged for me to develop the curriculum. Of course, one person could not get the credit for such an important assignment so she had me collaborate with another teacher. That did not work out so she had me work with all the psychology teachers in the county. This did not work either, but it sounded good. She did, however, give me lots of freedom and did a good job of editing.
One of my ideas was to give the course some semblance of objectivity by starting each week with a laboratory. We did experiments on Mondays. The lab work was not always objective, but it sounded good . During the first quarter when we were dealing with the intellectual nature of man, we studied learning and I had no difficulty finding laboratory projects for that area. Lab work was easy for the study of the social nature of man. We did a lot of personality testing which related to vocational guidance.
The third quarter I had some problems developing lab work for the study of the emotional nature of man. I wanted the students to understand the physical reactions of emotion. That is an important concept because repression of these feelings is the basis of much that creates mental health problems.
I thought about getting a lie detector and testing a few students in front of the class to measure the reactions when we stimulated emotional responses. I did not know where I could borrow a lie detector. I wouldn't know how to use one if I could borrow one.
I thought about developing a play that would have emotional aspects. That sounded like a lot of work and I thought it might not work anyway. What I needed was something simple. So I set my plan.
When the students came to class for their Monday laboratory, I started with a lecture. I did not do this very often because the students were learning much more from each other than they were from me. Now, however, I felt an introduction to mental health was needed. So I explained that we have a lot of physical reactions when emotion is involved. We laugh when we are happy. We glow when we are sexy. We cry when we are sad, and we tremble when we are frightened. Then I demonstrated the way to take a pulse. We tried it. Then I had them count their pulse and write it down. Students helped one another and we managed to get a reasonable count for all of us.
Then I walked across the room and leaned over to stare out the window. I stood there for awhile and then I let out a blood-curdling scream as loud as I could scream. That was very loud!
The president of the senior class who was one of the students jumped out of his seat and landed half way across the room. One student actually fainted. All of them reacted violently. When they had recovered enough to look at me, I said, "Now take your pulse again!" Needless to say everyone had a considerably higher pulse.
The students loved this drama. "Mrs. James, are you going to do this in your next class?" one asked. They wanted to come and watch it. They were all impressed by the change in pulse they experienced and I called the project successful.
After the girl who fainted recovered consciousness I sent her to the nurse with a student to escort her. The nurse checked her out and found she had a physical problem that needed attention. That reaction made me cautious about repeating the process. I thought I might be going too far. I did continue using it, however, and it was always a lot of fun.
It was successful also in initiating our unit on mental health. Many high school students in the midst of basic physiological changes have serious mental health problems. I venture to generalize that no student of mine who learned from a scream doubted the reality of physical reaction to emotional stimulus.