Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Mon 4/25/2005 5:05 AM
Random Thought: The Hurried and Harried

“Ladies and Gentlemen, start your engines.” The roar is deafening. Tires screech. Race peel out and start tearing around the track.. We’re watching the end-of-term Academic Roadrace 500!

If you read the student journals, ease drop on their conversations, look at their faces, peer into their eyes, and notice their walk you’d know what I mean. Our campuses are turning into very uneducational pressurized tanks. Professors, who themselves have demonstrated questionable time management skills, have put on their jump suits, donned their crash helmets, jumped into their cars, reved their engines, and are speeding on the raceway in a mad dash to “cover the material.” Their leisurely pace throughout the term has turned into a crash course at the end of the term. They’re racing down the stretch I the course to cover, assign, test, and cram. Oblivious to what each other is doing, for the harried and hurried students it’s like working for five bosses who don’t care about each other’s schedules and demands. And, the onus is placed square on the shoulders of the hurried and harried students.

I have the students write on the white board as they enter class each day one word or so to describe how they feel. I do this so I can get a quick pulse of the class. Lately, “stressed,” “sleepless in Valdosta,” “zombied,” “stretched out,” “brain dead,” “joyless,” “driven,” “numb,” “tired,” “strained,” “at a breaking point,” “tight,” “harassed,” “exhausted,” “fearful,” “nervous,” “edgy” have been appearing as the overwhelming majority of descriptions. Their daily journal entries reveal that these sleep deprived, pressured, harried, and hurried students are losing their playfulness, their physical and mental alertness and agility; their smiles and gleamy eyes are replaced by straight lips and stares; their dance steps have transformed into plods. Nerves are frayed; muscles are aching, tempers are short; brains are numb. This is educationally sound? Can students really perform at their peak in this condition? Not if you read the studies on creativity, imagination, and pressure by Teresa Amabile of Harvard. I think it's critical that we think about what most of us are really doing. When we race at breakneck speeds as if we’re on a super highway just to cover the material in these last few days, doesn’t everything turn to a blur? Don’t we really superficially cover the material just to cover it? Doesn’t deep learning, or any true learning for that matter, flounder on these shallows? Sometimes, I wonder if many of us are really worried more about covering our backsides than the material. The proclamation that was hurled at me when I quietly raised this question with a colleague over coffee was a simple involuntary reflex, “That’s the way we’ve always done it in every class. I made it through all that (expletive deleted) (expletive deleted) in college. Why can’t they?” I missed the moment. I should have asked him why he used a heavy expletive to describe what was hurled at him during his own end-of-the-term experiences as a student and whether it applied as an apt of description of what he was now hurling at the students in his classes.

Anyway, I think we ought to slow down and reflect on what we’re doing to both the student and the image of education. Why? Because, the more an idea, an attitude, a belief, an action is inherited, unexamined, routinized, personalized, and espoused as tradition, the more entrenched it becomes and the more resistant people are to finding reasons to change and to changing the situation.

         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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