Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Tue 8/3/2004 9:06 AM
Random Thought: What's So Wrong With Love In The Classroom?

"Emotion, especially love, does not belong in the intellectual setting of the classroom. Spirituality in academe? We're not in church, you know!" a professor proclaimed in an e-mail this morning. I couldn't let his declared admonishment go unanswered, for hers was not a lone voice. However I respect her position, and perhaps understand it, I certainly don't agree with it. This is what I replied:

"Plastic flowers are not fragrant and silk flowers, however seemingly real, don't bloom. I know of no professor or student who surrenders his or her humanity when he or she steps foot on a campus or who checks his or her humanity at the classroom door. We misuse our intellect to balkanize ourselves and others. We make such foolish divisions in those and among those whom love sees as a whole. For me, it's a question of teaching--and living--grammarically correct. Separating the inseparably interlocked is like living an incomplete sentence.

"When we feel frustrated, disappointed, tired, dissatisfied, unenthused, heavy, unfulfilled, unaccomplished, burnt out, the problem may not rest in society or the administration or the students or in our genes. The problem may be that we are out of touch with our very substance and are distant from the subtleties of the human experiences and the myriad of human struggles around us. What we need in the classroom is a more humanizing understanding and deeper vision of what it means to be a teacher and a student."

"So I ask you. Why is that we're members of a profession--assuming you believe collegiate teaching is a profession--that so often wants to treat both students and professors as if they are emotionally sterilized? Why do so many of us want students to be as tranquil as corpses? Why do we feel far more comfortable dealing with only the intellect and are so quick on the draw to denigrate emotion as, to use your words, 'touchy-feely stuff?' Why do so many academics want to address only a part of a person rather than the whole of the person? What is so wrong with acknowledging the fascinating marriage between emotion and intellect between what people feel, think, and do?"

"What is so wrong with specifically acknowledging the importance of love in the classroom? To do otherwise, seals us off from our depths and heights as well as from those of others."

"Spirituality ins't the preserve of a church or synagogue or mosque. It means waking up to and being aware of both the humanity in each of us and to the connecting oneness among people. It's called community. That connect isn't severed when we step onto a campus or into a classroom as so many assert. If spirituality is making connections, then love is the stuff of those connections. One of the major elements of love is empathy, the ability to put yourself in other people's feelings. Let's call it lavished attention. It's a deeper dialogue than ordinary discussion. Let's call it genuine openness. Let's call it deliberate concern. Let's call it intent presence. Let's call it habitual focusing. Let's call it conscious willing of the will. What matters is not so much the construct of your lecture or the organization of a class as the condition of your heart and soul. I maintain that we can only find our meaning and purpose as a teacher in the emotional connective tissue of awareness of, understanding of, and sensitivity to each student, all of which create and hold together a classroom community that both supports and encourages each member of that community, and that includes the teacher. Every time you choose to have love in the classroom, you'll feel it's gravitational pull. You can't help but close the distance, warm up the chill, feel the glow, feel fresh, be user friendly, be at ease, be aware, be sweet, find yourself in others, put others ahead of yourself, and disarm fear. And, then, your world will grow larger and larger and larger. And, then, you'll have the reason for a genuine experience and satisfying smile."

"All this makes sense only when you use your feelings and senses to notice and listen and see, when you invest your consciousness in others, when you offer your heart to hearten others. I have no hesitation to call it the Zen of an education, or the spirituality of an education, or the essence of an education or the power of an education because it is the most potent and greatest single effective teaching tool you can devise."

"You say that the classroom is not a church. Well, maybe that's one of the problems of academe. Where our attention is, there is where our heart and mind are. For me, the classroom is a reverent place. It is a place where we should hope to find and uplift sparks of inner light, even where it seems hardest; where we should do all the work that is needed to help each student discover the sacredness in him/herself. Maybe we should ask more how we can become a more loving human being and less how we can assesses or increase our scholarly reputation. Far too many of us dive deep into our heads and disciplines and swim in the shallows when it comes to our hearts and the students. I hear a lot of "I love _______ (discipline)" or "I have to be dedicated to my discipline." I so seldom hear, "I love each student."

"Pronouncements to the contrary, academe generally doesn't treat the teaching classroom with the same sacredness, solmenity, respect, and stature as the research laboratory or archive. Let me paraphrase a Sufi saying: If you put method and information and intellect ahead of and between you and a student, the method and information and intellect become disrespectful spiritual and educational mirrors, opaque screens, obstacles, even fearful opponents, and still even corrosive substances; if, however, you sincerely--I repeat, sincerely--put a student ahead of method and information and intellect, if you use method and information to remember, to be aware of, to be sensitive to, to notice, to care about, to love, to elevate, and to serve the student, then, method and information and intellect become respectful spiritual and educational windows, even loving allies, and still even transforming substances."

"If we heeded these word, if nothing else, we might become less 'fussy' in demanding the perfect class in which each student displays an obedient, robotic calmness. And, wee might devote ourselves more to the refinement of individuals rather than to the mechanical parts of an educational machine."

         Make it a good day.


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