Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Tue 8/24/2004 2:08 AM
Random Thought: Faith-Based Education

Last Thursday, during our "what do you want to know about me" question session in class when students ask me any questions about me, a student asked, "Where do you get all your energy?"

Without thinking, I heard myself say, "I'm faith in action. This class is a 'faith based class!'"

Some of the students looked at me as if I was a closet, right-wing, Christian fundamentalist who was going to hold morning prayer meetings to start class. After I assured them that I wasn't going to ignore either St. Augustine's 'give unto's' or the First Amendment, I told them that faith-based education, as I see it, has nothing to do with religion in the classroom and everything to do with my attitude toward and perception of and my work with each and every person in the classroom.

"Faith is not what I have," I told them, "It is what I do. It's not about me alone; it's about how the class runs. It's how I relate to you and me, think about you and me, speak to you, treat you, help you. It's about how truthful you and I are with ourselves and each other. It's what I strive to help each of you help yourself do. Have faith in your ability, seek it out, cultivate it, and to put it into action. That kind of faith is a mountain moving force. It's what moves me to move those mountains.

I went on to tell them that kind of faith will provide a sacred power to break out of a bunch of restricting, if not imprisoning, what I've heard are called "thought traps." that fence them in, that limit their ideas about who they each are and what they each are capable of, and, therefore, restrict their performance. "There isn't one person in this classroom who doesn't belong and isn't capable. You've just got to have the faith in yourself that I have in you. It's not easy, but if you trust me," I assured them, "if you trust yourself, you'll be stunned at what you can do with that kind of faith."

Then, I went on to answer someone's question about my painted right pinky nail.

That moment that answer to that question, was the first time I have described myself, my beliefs, and my methods in that way. By coincidence, this weekend I've been reading some writings by George Lakoff. He's a cognitive psychologist at Berkley. As I understand him, the gist of what he says is that we live in conceptual structures and stereotyping frameworks and institutionalizing metaphors. And, when the facts don't work in our favor, when they don't fit into our frameworks and structure, we fight as hard as we can to keep the frameworks and structures, and deny or ignore the facts with as such assertions as I've experienced: "in my humble opinion" or "I believe" or "I'm not comfortable with...." or "I'm...." or "I'm not...." or "I can't...." or "....but." Thought traps that so many of us academics and students are caught in, that erode us, that atrophy us, that burn us out.

My faith in the ability and unique potential of myself and each student is not a cliché or a slogan. It is a very real "trap buster." I surround myself with that faith in each student as a filter so that whatever may come my way, it must first pass through that filter. That is not to deny or ignore "reality" of imperfection and mistake; it's a matter of choosing how to experience and respond to that reality. My faith makes sure that I react with wonder, awe, enthusiasm, and positive expectations rather than with an attitude tinted by defeat, resignation, anger, and resentment.

My faith is a little, positive "it is" idea that grows and grabs me as it makes that long, ever-deepening journey from my eyes and ears to my head to my heart. When I don't heed that faith, when I don't live it, I'm trapped; I don't filter out the clogging dirt; I screw up; I shirk away; I weaken; I droop like a drought-ridden flower; I get worn down; and, I get deflated with a bunch of exhaling self-pitying sighs. But, each time I believe, each time I listen, each time I see, I stand tall and straight like a satiated flower basking in the nourishing sun; I take myself into a magnificent world beyond myself where nothing is impossible. It is what makes me; it is what makes me ask the questions I ask; ; it is what allows me to take the risks I take; it is what makes me perceive what I perceive; it is what makes me do what I do.

Like Alice, every time I set foot on campus I pass through a looking glass into the spiritual realm of that faith. Everything begins to change, turn upside down, turn inside out, gets revalued. I have become convinced that such a faithful, positive vision reveals the true sacred nature of reality of the "unique" and "individual" person. At the same time, that faith uncovers the profanity and illusory nature of a depersonalized, often dehumanized, denigrated if not desacrilized, and stereotyped "student."

In this faithful world, constantly reinforced by reading the students' journals and small talking with them, I don't see any bureaucratic bean-counter's impersonal "unit." I don't see standardizing labels. I don't see nameless generalizations. I don't see lifeless statistics. I don't see faceless members of a herd-like "student body," or even of "faculty," "staff," and "administration" for that matter. I don't see a spiritless ID number. I don't see a mere budgetary resource to be retained. I don't see an abstraction fit into a strategic plan. No pigeonholes for me. No stereotypes for me. In a room, as well as throughout the campus, I see a gathering based on human values, not institutional rules and regulations and organization charts. I see a unique, precious, and sacred gathering of unrepeatable ones. I see a rich, too often hidden and ignored cache of abilities, talents, contributions, and potentialities.

My faith based approach rests on an assumption as does probably everything we believe and do. It is a decision I've made that imposes an unconditional commitment that, in turn, becomes a driving force which supplies an endless and boundless energy. My faith is that each student is like each day: a beautiful, priceless gift never to be matched, never to be ignored, never to be cast away, never to be wasted, filled with unique and wonderful possibilities. The beauty and positive possibilities are always there even during the storms. Let me let you in on a secret: the more faith you have in each student, the more peaceful your spirit becomes; and, the more peaceful your spirit becomes, the more fully you will be aware of, know, and experience that beauty both in yourself and in others.

My faith is a choice, then. I choose to believe that each ordinary student is extraordinary, and I act on my choice. For me, each student is a unique, and worthy human being to be accepted, respected, and appreciated. Each is too sacred to be left behind or pushed aside or cast out. If we take the time to build their confidence, patiently allow them to fill their hearts with their own faith, notice and savor their accomplishments and thoughts, if we expressed pride, approval, accomplishment, virtues rather than demeaning, criticizing and finding fault, each student, each day, can be a celebration that dwarfs that of any holiday.

My faith in each student twists and turns the meaning of words like power and authority. To live in the powerful, existential, spiritual world of faith is, as I told the students, to have mountain moving strength, to make visible the invisible, to make actual the potential, to discover the hidden abilities, to move the latent talents, to unwrap the wrapped gifts. Faith is the fuel source of my imaginative and creative energies. It is the endless replenishment of my "get-up-and-go" stamina that is as vital for me as a proper diet, sufficient sleep, meditation, and lots of physical exercise. It is vision, purpose, meaning, conviction, commitment, power, authority, encouragement, support, and experience.

Faith, I once said, is one of what I call "my four little big words." For me, faith is a "can do" word an "it's possible" word; it's a word that fuels my inner fires; it's a word of hope for, belief in, and love of; it's a confidence word. It is a map showing the topography of each person, the classroom, the campus, my profession that helps me to understand the direction in which I must travel to fulfill the sacred promise of my work: to become a wholesome person, and to help others help themselves become likewise; to be that person who is there to help others help themselves become what they are capable of becoming.

Yeah, I'm faith in action and the classes are faith-based.

         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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