Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sat, 26 Jan 2002 12:27:47 -0500 (EST)
Random Thought: On Motivation, I

First time out on the streets in month. "The boss" has grounded me since my walk Christmas day. That walk on that cold day, left me with a heavy cold. I knew I was going to get hit on the leg out. It has been holding on and on and on. I must have down bottles of liquid echinecea in the past month. Anyway, I went out today even if it was a tad misty and chilly on the promise of doing only a mile. It felt like twenty! While I was chugging along, huffing and puffing my lungs out without any house to blow in, I was asking myself why I was putting myself through this. No one was forcing me, especially my Susan. No one could force me. No was going to reward me. No one was enticing me. Why was I out here, bundled up like a rag bag, hoping I wouldn't bump into a roaming bug. My answer was simple: I wanted to; I needed to; I had to. It's that motivation thing.

The whole mysterious issue of motivation has been on my mind lately. And, after reading my eyeballs out, it is wrapped in mystery. It is not a new puzzlement to me, but lately I've been especially thinking about it. Too many of us academics think that the whole issue of motivation is simple. That is part of the difficulty when we talk about motivation. It simply is not simple. Want to talk about a can of worms? Talkd about motivation. It is filled with huge night-crawlers.

For the last couple of weeks, in all four first year American history class, neither I nor the students have gone near history. We have been busily engaged in forging classroom community. We have shared outselves with each other, introduced ourselves to everyone; interviewd each other. I have answered all their "what do you want to know about me" questions. They have read sealed, confidential letters about me and the class written by students from last semester to this semester's students. They have shared those letters with each other. Some have read the letters out loud to the entire class. We have our clockmaster who has total authority to stop class at the exact minute class should end and prevent us from running over. They have the sixteen page syllabus, "All You Want TO Know About This Class and Was Afraid TO Ask," and we have discussed it. They have created the individual communities along the three rules: all three members must be strangers to each other; the communities must be gender mixed to the extent the composition of the class allows; the communities must be racilly mixed to the extent the composition of the class allows. We have laid down the four inviolable classroom "rules of the road": everyone has to indroduce him/herself before saying anything; everyone has to be looking at someone else; there are no negatives; everyone is accorded respect. We have engaged in a non-academic community exercise: each community had to create a name for itself that would be a reflection of its members; each had to find or create a community motto to which the members would be commited; each had to create a community image; each had to put all this on the face of their community portfolio; and each had to present its portfolio to the class. We daily talk briefly about my "words for the day." We all complete the sentence on the black board, "I feel..." the first thing we do when we come into class each day. We small talk before and during class. I am moving around, often sitting here and there rather than standing in front. There is always movment; there is always sound. We close our eyes for about half a minute to start class by listening to music from my boombox. We have done exercises that has laid down the four working themes of the course: "Never Forget 'The Story'"; "It's Communication, Stupid"; "Remember 'The Chair'"; "I Sang; I Can Kick Ass!" The rubber is about to hit the road as we put the history pedal to the metal. Stuff, transforming stuff, is already happening. For some, it is more than others; for some, it is in different ways than others. I can see it; I can feel it; I can hear it; I can read it.

What is going on, I know. It has been for many years. Why what is going on is on I suddenly have an urge to put into some kind of framework beyond the bits and pieces of a Random Thought here and there. I'm not sure why this desire swelled up at this very moment. Maybe, it's the moment. Maybe when I engaged those neat teachers in West Texas some of their words and some of mine stuck to my soul. I wish I knew how to go beyond anecdotal experience, instinct, gut feelings even though all these are of what data is composed. I don't pretend to be a psychologist or sociologist. I really wish I had the wherewithal and knowhow to do a scientific study.

I have been reading student journals from this semester and more than a few from past semesters. I remebered some of the confidential letters written by students to students that were shared publically. I find myself wanting to see, feel, listen, read more intently than usual. I once did a year-long, very unscientitic survey of why without an attendance policy, and eliminating sickness and "official university business" and personal emergency, about 98% of students were coming to class--even on workdays or those very few days I was out-of-town--when my colleagues were complaining about poor class attendance. I never did anything with it. In fact, I never read them. They were just a messy and dusty stack of papers lying hidden away on the floor in a dusty nook. I almost threw them out as I went on an office-cleaning binge at the end of last semester. Now, seven years later, I picked them up, dusted them off, and have been reading them. I almost feel like John Nash in that scene from A BEAUTIFUL MIND in the decyphering room. Words and phrases and sentences that I am hearing and reading are popping up as if they are part of some secret code.

So, to help me make some formal sense out of it all, I have been going to the sources. I've been reading until my eyeballs fell out. My god!!! Do you know how much is out there on motivation? Do you know some of the big bucks motivational speakers, consultants, advisors, leaders and god knows what else they're called command? There's even a person, a high paid person, who calls himself an "attitude masseuse!!" Now, what we need is an "emotional chiropractor." Heck, Anthony Robbins is every doing his thing on the Home Shopping Network and making a fortune with people's fortunes! Do you know how many websites, linear feet of book shelvings, and mountain ranges of tapes exist? It's mind boggling. It's not a cottage industry; it's urban sprawl! Ever wonder why? I think I have an answer or two. At least, my answers.

And, as I start to answer that "why", I feel a bunch of generalizations coming on. So, let me head this issue off at the pass before I go any farther. I understand that a generalization is just that: a generalization. It is a statement, position, observation, conclusion that is, like statistics, full of holes. It's a simplification and as such something of a distortion and breaks down as it is applied in individual situations and to individuals. It won't work every time, every place, in every way, with everyone. I know what works today with one person today may not work or work completely tomorrow. I know what works with one person today may not work with another on the same day. When it comes to people, and it is people that I am talking about, nothing does. For human being, there is never a that 100% solution. People are complex and complicated. And, to paraphrase, John Donne, no class is an island. There is a lot of outside stuff that comes inside to join in the mix. There is a lot of inside stuff that joins the mix with the outside stuff that comes in. No, generalizations are not truths. They are not absolutes. They are not "musts." Like statistics, valid ones, they are nevertheless useful "let's think about its." They are a reference point, a consideration, an optional way of looking at this, a choice of doing something, a framework for evaluation. So, as I have often said, all I am asking is that you bear with me. Be skeptical if you wish. That's okay. Please be open at the same time.

This is getting too long already. I warned you. More tomorrow, maybe. It's the Sunday of the football championship games.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

Return to The Complete Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier
Return to the Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier