Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sun 7/7/2002 2:39 AM
Random Thought: It's More Than The Subject

As I walked through dark, pre-dawn, soggy morning, I was thinking of fire storms. Maybe it's this heat and humidity, even at the wee hours of 5 a.m. Well, it's not, really. I've been engaged in a discussion in which a professor said, "We are professors of history. Let's teach history!" I have no qualms with that statement--as far as it goes. I just think it doesn't go far enough. I have a wholeness approach to teaching that includes and goes beyond a subject. Some would call it character education. It's a good characterization of my educational philosophy and vision.

Recent events have made me more aware of their need. I have been reading about the less than natural causes of the raging and destructive forest fires in Colorado and Arizona. Like all of us, I've been reading also about the raging and devastating fire storms of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. And let's not forget those devastating fire storms of financial corruption within some great corporations. These ecclesiastical and entrepreneurial conflagrations are racing through jobs, spirits, confidences, reputations, portfolios, devotions, pensions, homes, hopes, souls, and mutual funds. Oh, the fires will be extinguished in the forests, corporate offices, and bishoprics, but many of the hurts won't heal, many spiritual and financial savings won't be saved, many lives won't recover, many careers won't be rebuilt, and there will be scars.

These fires weren't set and fanned by academic dropouts. They are spiritual and economic leaders, talented graduates of our colleges and universities and seminaries. The deeply disturbing revelations about these ravaging clerical and corporate fires that are shaking the very foundation of our religious and economic systems show how easy it is for supposedly educated people to come up with a bunch of very defensive and self-serving excuses, rationalizations, and explanations for some immoral, unethical, dishonorable, and illegal acts. Every day we hear of individual or institutional corruption which carry huge human and dollar costs.

Don't think that we in the Ivory Tower are so pure of heart that we can look down our noses from the battlements on such sordidness: prominent professors plagiarizing and engaging in various other forms of academic dishonesty; academics compromising themselves, often at the expense of students, in their quest of the holy grail of tenure; university research scientists playing with results of experiments; coaches fudging resumes; faculty in cahoots to falsify grades of athletes; presidents kowtowing to alumni and engaging in face-saving and rationalizing damage control when scandalous sports programs hit the headlines; and an overwhelming majority of students on our campuses believing cheating is part of the "game."

Everyone is moving to the tune that "everyone's doing it, doing it, doing it." To them it's "no big deal." To them it's a resigned go-along sigh of "oh, well." Well, it's not well; it's down the well. It's not a game; it's gamy. It not a tune; it's a song and dance. And, it is a big deal. It's a faustean deal with the devil, for our graduates will take, as so many obviously already have taken, with them into every facet of their working and personal lives a corrosive cynicism that expects and accepts and condones bad motives and bad behaviors.

These people are our past and future graduates. Too bad we too often train them without educating them. If we don't frontally address these issues day in and day out in and out of our classrooms, if we don't inoculate students with a high expectation for themselves and others to live noble and worthy lives, if we don't assume responsibility of modeling and instilling virtue--honesty, respect, and integrity--in our students, we will keep on producing animated scandals waiting to happen, persons without character or with weakened character, persons unencumbered by scruples, persons with a compass that has no markings for true north, persons without the will or the courage to stand up and say no, persons with a willingness to look the other way.

If I teach more than my subject of history, if I promote character education as well, if I take a wholeness approach in and out of the classroom, will I be doing any good? Will I really put fire-retardant on or in front of these consuming flames? Will I make a difference? Will I have a lasting impact? I don't really know.

What I do know is this. I have to be true to my true north. I do know that when I or anyone seeks to truly make a difference, there is always someone around who is going to tell me that I'm nuts or I can't do it or it's not my job or I am out of step or I'm not with the program or it's not going to mean much. Some people are just not going to like what I do, no matter how I explain and demonstrate; some people are going to disagree with me, no matter how reasonable I am; some people are going to feel threatened even though I'm not doing any threatening thing; some people are going to ignore me; and some people are going to flat out reject what I am doing and attack. I'm not Joshua. I cannot control that anymore than I can make the sun stop in its tracks. What I can control is the realization that the actions and opinions of others have no real bearing on my worth as a person or the legitimacy of my vision. It's not the end of the world when I experience the passive or active rejection or shunning that inevitably is going to occur. Rejection hurts only when I allow it to hurt, and there's no reason whatsoever for me to allow it to hurt.

I also know that just because someone diminishes or ignores or rejects what I believe and what I'm doing does not mean I must diminish or ignore or reject them too. I always have to keep in mind that the opinions of others are just that-- opinions. I will always listen; I will always consider; I will always reflect; I will always be teachable. I will always learn and grow. I will always change. I don't let criticisms automatically stop me. I keep looking beyond them and focus on my "why." In many ways it would be so much easier, more comfortable, and safer to ignore my vision, to let myself be distracted, side-tracked, stopped in my tracks, and be tossed aimlessly around by everything and everyone of those "others" who comes along. Sure, to follow a steady and positive purpose is harder, less comfortable, and maybe riskier. It demands an outer thick skin and an inner strength. It requires a deep commitment, a perseverance, and a determination. But, it's truer. For too long, I had traveled, like most, that well-traveled road. Only a little over a decade ago did I discover that if I venture and struggle to travel that regrettably road less traveled, will I actually get somewhere and at some place valuable and and do something meaningful.

I do know that it's great to be noticed, to be appreciated, to have support and encouragement, to know that I've been heard or that I've touched someone or that I have made a difference. But, it simply does not always happen. And if it does, many is the time I will never know it. I do know that its really none of my business to decide in advance how decisive what I do really is.

I do know that character does count as much as, if not more than, knowledge. I do know that we help students prepare themselves to make a living. I do know that it is also important that we help students prepare themselves to live rightly. I do know we urge students to attain honors. I do know it is also important that we help students become honorable people. It is important that we be concerned with preparing the whole person and not merely the one dimensional professional and wage earner. It is important that we have a combined character based and information based approach to education rather than merely an information based approach. An education without guiding character is no education at all; it is training and schooling that is in danger of producing a bunch of dangerous characters.

I do know that I have to be true to this purpose that motivates, energizes, and drives me. I do know that I don't have any other choice but to give it all I have. I do know that I must know what must be done, go confidently forward, and just do it. And, if I discover that it's not enough, and it probably isn't, I'll just have to do it harder and better. And, for me, the character of recent headlines about these characters who have little or no character makes the need for character or wholeness education even more imperative.

         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" -    \____

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