May 14, 2012

All Good Things Come in Three’s

Posted in Uncategorized at 5:58 pm by dgcombs

When I was in High School, we had a Physics teacher who was a legend. No, really. He was a legend. His name was Clarence Heberer. He was a very old teacher, even by adult standards. He enjoyed smiling. He enjoyed physics. And he enjoyed teaching more than anything. And every time he made a little joke in class (which was surprisingly, quite often), he would raise his wildly bushy eyebrows just twice. Our class started inserting the gesture parenthetically into our daily life as (eyebrows, eyebrows).

From the 1963 yearbook: CLARENCE HEBERER: An industrious teacher with a sense of humor. He teaches general science and physics and received B.Ed. from Southern Illinois University and M.A. from the University of Colorado. Sponsor of the Class of '63 and the Camera Club.

I'm not at all sure if he is related to the St. Clair County family who founded the Herberer Brothers City Park Brewery on the northeast corner of North Second and West A streets in Belleville or the 1831 Heberer family whose earliest product from Heberer's vineyard was called "the vilest and meanest stuff that ever went under the name of wine." But the 1926 record at Southern Illinois State Normal University lists Clarence G Heberer of Lenzburg (just outside Red Bud), Illinois.

His High School Physics class was seniors-only. Since it was a public school, the books were lent to the students and reused year after year. When we got the books during the first week of class we were introduced to a mystery. Nearly every book had a series of quotes written in the front and back covers. We had no idea where they had come from?

One day, Mr. Heberer told the class about ordering three special, iodine-filled tubes. He told us he had only ordered two, but the company had sent him eight. Since it would cost more to send them back, he just broke six (eyebrows, eyebrows). We were completely  taken aback. Should we laugh? Should we nod our heads in agreement with the apparent wisdom of the decision?

Later that evening, my friend Mark called me. He was beside himself. He had found that very same iodine-filled tube story in the back of his Physics book! We suddenly began to see these quotes in a whole new light. They were like Neanderthal cave paintings in France. A communication from fellow students who had come before us. They had left us guideposts.

Day by day, we were more excited about going to class. What was Mr. Heberer going to say next? Was it already documented in one of the books? Did he have his stories already mapped out in a planning guide? Would he give us a unique gem we could contribute to the growing collection?

Where is that place in Kentucky? Knoxville, Tennesee? (eyebrows, eyebrows)
Of course there were only three. All good things come in threes! (eyebrows, eyebrows)

Another example of the genius of Mr. Heberer took the form of his chapter tests. Each class bequeathed its tests to the next class with the solemn assurance that Mr. Heberer never changed the questions. And that was absolutely true. However, if you simply memorized the answers ("A", "C", "D", "C" … so forth and so on) you were sure to fail. Why? Because every year he changed the answers. True, he did not change the questions, but the order of the answers changed every year. So you had to learn both the questions AND the answers. Then you were sure to pick the right one. We reviewed the text and the tests very carefully. Probably more than if we had not had the answers. On one test, the whole class disputed one answer. We had all gotten it wrong. You see, there were two right answers among the multiple choices. In clear Hebererian reasoning, however, since both answers were right, then we should have chosen the wrong answer. Then that would have been right (eyebrows, eyebrows)!

Toward the end of the year, after our class had entered its contribution to the books and gotten so much enjoyment from our physics class we decided to go through each book and make a "permanent record" of Mr. Heberer's sayings. That was the last year for those physics books. They were to be retired. We were given the option of buying our books or turning them back in. Every single student in our class bought his/her book. The literary club "published" the now classic list of Mr. Heberer's sayings. And a group of graduating Seniors handed a bundle of physics tests to a wide eyed Junior with the solemn assurance that Mr. Heberer "never changes the questions."

I still have my physics book and my own copy of collected sayings. And whenever I read an article with only two points, I look for the third, because of course… all good things come in threes. (eyebrows eyebrows).

Mr. Heberer was a unique and remarkable man in a lot of ways. He loved his school, his classes and his students. I was absolutely sure he must have been in his 70's when he taught me physics, but I was wrong. My high school was in the middle of a March madness basket ball tournament and playing at Southern Illinois University (my alma mater) the very next year. Mr. Heberer had taken the time to come down to show support his school. He died in the stands cheering them on at age 64 in March, 1972.

CHeberer.pdf Download this file


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