Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sun 10/6/2002 2:36 PM
Random Thought: Remedial Doesn't Mean Unworthy

Here I am a motel in Conway, Arkansas, thinking I might wind up in Munchkinland. It's Friday, October 4. It's 2:30 am. I'm wired. Can't sleep. Part of the reason for my insomnia is wondering whether we'll be blown about like Dorothy by the hurricane Lili and I'll be stranded at the Little Rock airport condemned to eating airport food. Another part of the reason for this sleepless is that I can't a bunch of neat, dedicated, devoted people out of my mind. Yesterday, I gave a day-long teaching workshop for the annual conference of the Arkansas Association of Developmental Education. For an entire day I worked with these people, ate with them, smoozed with them, and they put me on a high from which I have yet to come down.

So, with Morpheus no where to be found, I think I'll wile away the time and put down on paper some thoughts and feelings about them I'd like to share.

They were a little group of about fifty, but there was nothing little about them, and little can be mighty. Some of you might even call them small fry. There was no one attending from the state's prestigious flagship institution. Most did not have Ph.D.s. I doubt if any had extensive scholarly resumes. Those at the conference teach in the development programs at such schools as Mississippi County Community College, Harding University, Black River Technical College, Garland County Community College, Arkansas Tech, Ozarka College, University of the Ozarks, East Arkansas Community College, Phillips Community College, University of Central Arkansas, etc. Nevertheless, I call them large fry, and I want you to know about these gallant unknowns who are too often ignored or demeaned or unappreciated in academia. They deserve that much. And, I wish I had applauded them more often during the day and more forcefully edified them. That may have been preaching to the choir, but even the choir needs to know when it has sung heavenly.

You know what I've learned, and have come to admire, and yes, have come to love, about these people in these few short hours I've been with them? They are in love with their world, a world so many elitist academics arrogantly shun! They're in love with people, people so many academics condemn. Like academic Maria Teresas, they work among the supposed academic downtrodden. They teach "developmental students."

You know what a developmental student is, don't you? If you don't, let me give you the definition of most academics: a don't belong, a they let anyone in, a remedial student, a waste of precious resources, not worth the effort, proof that higher education is being watered down and dumbed down; a scholastic leper, an invasive weed; evidence of the interference of meddling amateurish politicians; the result of the inane idea that access to a higher education is an American birthright; a well, we'll go through the motions although we don't believe in them, take their money for a term or two, flunk them out, blame them, and brag on having save the purity of the academic world.

In academia's caste system, these people at the conference are treated as the lowest of the low, looked down by the academic Brahmans because they work with the untouchables, often looked at by administrators as pests to be tolerated. Often they are beleaguered and unsupported and condemned by faculty and administration who are not committed to the success of developmental students. Sometimes it is hard to carry on. Sometimes the burden is almost too heavy to bear. The fact that they persevere in the face of academic adversity tells me who they are.

Unlike most academics who make condemning statements about the need to weed out these developmental students, this group of neat people ask positive questions about nurturing these students. This conference is all about those questions: how can I make a difference in these students' lives; what do I have to do to make a difference; what do I need to make a difference; who do I need to get together with to make a difference. These powerful questions are what the stuff of teaching is made.

These noble people are lovers. They love each student; they love what they do. I think they know they're each in "their place" and know they're doing what they're meant to be doing. They are listeners. They listen to the cry in the night, the moan in the shadows, the groan from people who are in trouble. They are committed to battling the odds thrown against them by complacency and obstruction and objection without considering the odds. These people can only put a smile on your face. They take the supposed valueless student and value him or her. Those whom other academics curse, they package as a blessing. They focus on what others disdain as the common and they somehow wind up spotlighting the uncommon. Their institutions may only be complying, offering lip service, going through the motions, but they are committed. They are imaginers; they imagine who these students can be and what they can do. They are the likes of gardeners who know you plant seed in the bare spots; they see the seeds and imagine magnificent blossoms; they work with radiant conviction in the academic darkness; they hold in their hand an invitation to the transforming power of compassion; their work is never puny and insignificant because their inner workings are never puny; they are tolerant of weakness; they have tender hearts. They know of the power of nice and kind. Their belief in and faith in and hope for each student is revealed in their tender concern, caring acts, and loving embraces. For those who think it is a waste of precious resources, they would rebutt by saying that each student is too precious of a resource to waste and not to love.

Beauty is all they see in these supposed ugly developmental students; they see challenges and opportunities where others see halting barriers. Where others see impossibility, they see possibility. Where others see not worth the while, they see worthwhile. Where others are repulsed by the presence of such academic untouchables, they reach out to touch. Where others see what's wrong with these students, they see what's right with them. And, when you see what's right, you find the energy and perseverance to "fix" what's wrong. Where others could care less about these students, they care about each and every one of these students. And that is so very important, for without the seeing, without the passion, without the excitement, everything would be a drudge, a struggle and labor rather than a joy. They have the passion, and passion is what makes it happen. It's the energy, resilence, creativity, persistence, commitment. It goes beyond motivation and inspiration. It goes to getting things done. And so, they work to improve the tomorrow of these students who don't' matter for most of their colleagues. No matter, they know what they do today will matter tomorrow. They refuse to give up on those whom others would throw away. They see treasure where others see trash. They are the stuff of teaching.

I can see each of them each day passionately whispering in the ear of these supposed don't belongs, "You've made it this far. You here; you're not a loser. I'll help you keep going a little longer, and together we'll see the sun rise on a beautiful day," hoping that the whispers are loud enough to drown out the damning shouts of "You don't belong here!"

These noble people don't want to be the best in anything; they just want to be the best for each student. To them the word "remedial" means, as it says in the dictionary, "to bring back to health."

In the end, I was supposed to refresh, and I have had a refreshing. I was supposed to impress, and I was impressed--deeply impressed. I was supposed to affirm, and I received affirmation. I was supposed to inspire and be motivated, and I was inspired and motivated. And that, too, is as it should be.

They have every reason to stand tall and every reason to deserve an honored place in the academic sun. You may snicker with the sarcastic question, "You'd think you were describing saints?" Well, my simple answer is, "In acadmeia, I am!!" They are saintly not because I or anyone admires them. They are saintly because they believe in and have faith in and admire and bless and walk among and give solace and offer help and give hope to the academic damned.

And, I just think you should know about them. And, I want them to know that they are appreciated. They deserve that much for the noble work they do.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
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                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
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