Copyright © Louis Schmier
Date: Tue 2/28/2006 2:57 AM
Here we go again! It's chilly outside but a fiery message super-heated the inside and nearly melted my computer screen. This professor just won't give up. She is a pit bull. But, that's okay. It's her right. Besides, I've got skin like a rhino. More important, she's still doing me a great unintended service by forcing me to reflect, formulate, and articulate my 'whys.' This time, she smoked me with a short and less than sweet message. "The academic world would be a much better place without braggarts like you who pollute the intellectual world of higher education with your touch-feely nonsense and make others feel less than what they are," she wrote, "I know this cuts you to the quick, but I don't apologize. You are outrageously selfish to make yourself feel high and mighty at the expense of others. Some humility please."
I replied, "So, tell me how, then, does lighting my candle lessen the light of other candles. If anything, it increases the ability of the other candles to chase away more and more distant shadows and flood larger places with brighter light. What have I said to make you feel lesser? When I experience a deep sense of life's harmony, beauty, and awesomeness in the classroom? What have I said that makes you feel low and puny? How I feel when I see students being creative and I feel I am making a difference? How am I outrageously selfish? When I show and tell how my teaching feels purposeful? When am I the braggart? When I work with students and faculty I discover the great potential in each of them?
"I know when I see something that makes me stand silently in awe, I don't shrivel. When I look up in the skies, I don't feel insignificant. When I see a great work of art, I don't have a sense of being diminished. When I read of a selfless heroic act, I don't feel inadequate. I don't know about you, if anything, I get goose bumps; my eyes go agog a 'wow;' my eyes swell up with happy tears; and, I get an admiring lump in my throat. All that awe and wonder connects me to myself, other human beings, and something beyond than myself."
"Your blistering comments remind me of a portion of a discussion between Agrippinus and Epictetus, that's hanging above my computer and goes something like this: '....you consider yourself to be only one thread of those which are in the tunic. Well then, it was fitting for you to take care how you should be like the rest of men, just as the thread has no design to be anything different to the other threads. But I wish to be purple, that small part which is bright, and makes all the rest appear graceful and beautiful. Why then do you tell me to make myself like the many? And if I do, how shall I still be purple?'"
"I know I can't please everyone. I don't even try. For one thing, it would be a mistake to play the 100% game. It's a no winner. For another thing, I'd lose my integrity, individuality, authenticity, and freedom. For still another thing, there are so many different people out there with different perspectives I could not write a 'one size fits all' universally inoffensive pabulum piece if I wanted to. It would have no true meaning other than attempted pandering. I have often said that sending out a message on the internet is like playing roulette: 'around and around it goes; into whose mailbox it falls you never knows.' All I can do is be true to myself and write from me rather than try to kiss up to others in order to gain their favor. You see, I accept the risk of decent and sincere people such as you taking umbrage with my well-intentioned comments. Of course, I am accountable for what I say and do, and I do assume responsibility for my verbal actions. At the same time, we each are responsible for the way we interpret other people's motives or words and how we respond to them."
"In other words, we are the blame we level and/or responsibility we accept. We are our responses to people around us and to circumstance."
"When I act in good faith and without malice, I'm not responsible for the way others feel, for I cannot control how they will respond to my words. How can I worry about pleasing people whom I do not know and what they're going to think? How can I do anything creative if the whole thing of what I feel and think and do is motivated by trying to please somebody else and worrying about what others think? When a sculptor sculpts, he or she is both pleasing him/herself and hoping that whatever he or she is creating will reach someone else who'll see it on that level. To worry about someone picking it apart and discussing it element for element, and trying to knock you down or weaken it in any way doesn't amount to anything but a waste of material. When a master artist panders to others, he or she has reduced him/herself to the depths of being a commercialized technician."
"Now, let me take this several steps forward. The demand for humility such as the one you leveled at me is often a false accusation that cowers so many into silent corners as safe and disengaged 'lurkers,' onlookers, and by-standers. You want to shape the discourse. Why would you deny me that opportunity? I don't share my experiences to exalt myself. I am truly sorry you interpret my words as signs that I'm cocky, egotistical, into myself, self-promoting, arrogant, self-serving, lacking humility. What would you have me do? My immediate answer is that I'm a guy cut from the cloth of Joshua 1:9, "Be strong and of good courage; do not be afraid, nor be dismayed...." Do you want me to remain silent? Do you want me to crumple the brim of my hat in supplication? Do you want me to hunch over and bow my head in submission? Do you want my knees to buckle under peer pressure? Stare at the ground? Stay in the shadows of the corner? Slump around? Be invisible? Be fearful of what others would judge? Bleach the purple of my thread to white? If I did, that would be false humility. And, there's enough false humility going around in academia."
"False humility is nothing less than a dark pretension-ness costumed in saintly white robes. It's arrogance in disguise. It's self-righteousness behind a mask. It's a facade hiding feelings of superiority. It has to do with claiming publicly you are less than you privately believe you are in order to be more publicly more than you actually are, that you can do less than you believe you can, and almost always demands outside confirmation or affirmation as a cover up an inner feeling of insecurity and inferiority. The person with false humility has a driving need to convince others of how unassuming he or she is. It's self-centered selfishness par excellence. It's little more than an act."
"True humility is not self-effacement. It's not silence. It's not invisibility. It's easy to pose as an irrelevancy; it takes no effort to disappear into the crowd, to go silent, and to be one of Agrippinus' undistinguished white threads. True humility is uniqueness. It is self-respect. It's courage. It's seeing yourself clearly both as you presently are, presently can be, and presently should be. It's putting your values into practice. It's a feeling of being worthy, but not worth more or less than anyone else no matter your position or renown or length of your resume. It's a respect that doesn't come from being high above others on some summit. It has to do with acknowledging and respecting who you are and what you can do and what you can achieve, without any outside confirmation or approval. Above all, it's a recognition that while you are worthy there is something worthier and greater than you, and that you are in the service of others. It's knowing, as Epictetus said, 'When you have gone into your room, and shut the door, you are not alone.' Humility is a recognized, acknowledged, and activated affirmation that, as John Donne would have said, you are not an island and whatever you do must be a conscious investment in the well-being of others."
"I am a teacher. Am I supposed to just sit here on my hands, be quiet, be pressured, stay unnoticed, just think about things, be bored, believe I'm a lesser being, be not be willing to dare, worry, be insecure, be overly concerned with what others think, try to impress others, struggle to get the approval of others, not have fun in what I'm doing, not have a purpose in life, not be emotional, not be spiritual--yes, spiritual, be without a vision, be without meaning, not know where my future's going, not knowing how to get there, not realize that teaching is the greatest thing that has happen to me? Am I to stay in the shadows? Am I not to share my philosophy and my experiences, my outlooks and insights, my successes and mistakes, how I apply that approach to education? Is that how I reach out? Is that how I touch? Is that how I make a difference? Is that how I do important things? Is that how I feel fulfilled? When we make believe we're small, whom does it serve? Aren't my gifts and talents and insights and accomplishments meant to help others, just as those of others are meant to help me?"
"I'm a teacher. I don't seek to impose. I don't want to coerce. I don't seek to dictate. I don't demand to control. I don't have to dominate. Why would I? If I've learned anything since my epiphany, especially from reading student journals, it is three things. First, control, coercion, and domination are merely ways for looking out only for yourself and your own interests at the expense of others. They're ways to merely to prove you're right. They're ways to protect and promote only yourself. Proclamations to the contrary, they seldom consider others or operate for the benefit of others. Second, the more any teacher tries to impose control the more people and situations become uncontrollable. Third, in the spirit of Carl Rogers, I realize that I really can't control anyone. So, what's the alternative to control? Persuasion. Persuasion, as Peter Senge indicates, brings people on board, brings them along, helps them buy in, offers them ownership, empowers them, and has a better chance of lasting. I want to persuade people that there is an alternative to coercion and control and imposition. I want to bring others along. I want to persuade you how wonderful each student is. I want to offer you an insight how much hope and faith and belief and love you can feel when you work with students and colleagues whom you care about. I want to transmit the blessings of my realizations of the rich fulfillment from teaching in ways that promote, encourage, and support connectedness rather than separateness. I want to offer alternative views. I want to offer new choices to speak up with confidence, act with courage, and struggle to bring new life to this age old profession of teaching. I want to speak up and affirm my views and choices. My purpose is to be contagious. I want to "infect" you with seeing what I see, hearing what I hear, feeling what I feel, loving what I love, believing what I believe, having hope in what I have hope, having faith in what I have faith. I try to communicate what I've learned or the new ideas generated in conversations, letters and even these commentaries. New insights are a great gift, and I think we should open them and share them. There's that Eskimo adage about sharing the richness of the hunt again"
"Do you know why I throw myself into teaching and do it publicly? It's not the sin of pride or of feeling important; it's because of the damn importance to teaching that so many of us academics regrettably don't accept. It's the blessing of feeling worthy and of doing important things. It's not to do anything for my own sake; it's to do things for the sake of each student. It's not the sin of material wanting or desiring public adulation; it's the blessing of having meaning and purpose. It's because I cannot achieve any sense of fulfillment without having a vision in which I fervently believe and which I vigorously pursue. It's because I have discovered that only when I have my heart in it with all my heart, live for it, taste it, die for it, that I won't doubt, fear, be bored, burn out, be frustrated, and be resigned. And, I will find happiness, satisfaction, fulfillment, and a worth that once was beyond my wildest dreams and once thought could never be mine."
"So many people look high and low, in every nook and cranny, for beauty. They will search it out in gardens, in meadows and forests, on mountain tops, in the great museums, on the high seas, in foreign cultures, and in the heavens. Yet, so few search for it in the classroom; so few search it out in each student and in themselves; so few acknowledge the blessing, dignity, mysteriousness, sacredness, honor, grandeur, nobility, wholesomeness that is each student and themselves. Yet, everyone is a miracle and I have discovered in the last fifteen years that to see each student as a miracle is one of the greatest daily vitamins I can take. What's wrong with sharing my feelings and the effects of those feelings that makes the classroom for me a dose of delight, a place that makes me feel energized, a place that stimulates my imagination and creativity and that of others, a place where I and others feel hopeful and faithful and believing and loving, a place where I feel in tune with and connected with people, a place where I can't stop smiling, a place where I feel connected with something bigger than myself, and a place that is a fountain of youth for me where I am young beyond my years?"
"Don't like what I say? Fine. Don't agree with what I do? That's okay. Don't accept the rules I've set for myself? No problem. Reject my assertion that mindfulness, hope, belief, faith, love, passion, empathy creates effective result in constant emotional and physical and intellectual and spiritual renewal needed for enduring teaching and learning? I can live with that. Deny the results of studies and research? I'll go along with that. But, I ask you. When do you meditate and reflect? What is it that you meditate on, reflect upon, and articulate about? What is the 'why' of who you are and what you do? What is the meaning and purpose of what you're doing? What is your personal mission statement? What personal vision motivates and inspires you? You see I have found that you teach not only from where you are, but perhaps more importantly from where you have been and from where you are heading."
"Understand this: the ideas I stand for, the vision I have, the guiding credo I've devised for myself, I admit are not totally all mine. They're a mix of superbly tasting ingredients. I'm not all that original. I have borrowed some meaty ingredients from friends and colleagues too numerous to list whom I admire and from whom I have learned much. I have pulled more than a few nourishing tidbits from different disciplines. I have drawn some from Socrates, Aristotle, Rumi, Marcus Aurelius, Maimonides, Aquinas, Confucius, Buddha, Lao Tse, Jesus, Moses, Paul, Isaiah, Micah, et al. I have pulled some spices out from the Koran, the Old Testament, the Talmud, and the New Testament. I have 'swiped' some morsels from the likes of the Dalai Lama, Rashi, Locke, Pope, Jung, Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Mother Teresa, Thoreau, Picasso, Shaw, Emerson, Twain, Thich Nhat Hanh, Michaelangelo, Albert Einstein, Elie Wiesel, Thomas Jefferson, and a untold host of others. I have 'stolen' a lot from Dewey, Maslow, Seligman, Palmer, Senge, Gardner, Jung, Goleman, Kabat-Zinn, Telushkin, Rogers, and--yes--Dr. Seuss. And I have put them, and a host of others, together into a pot, mixed and stirred and stewed to create a recipe with which I am always tinkering of who I am, what I feel, what I think, what I dream, what I do, where I want to be, who I want to be, and how I get there."
"So, if you don't like the rules, values, principles, visions, callings, admonitions, findings of my 'mentors,' and my recipe, whose would you use and how would you cook them into soul food that nourishes your feelings, beliefs, faiths, loves, thoughts and actions?"
"It's a question that even more important in these days. Have you watch the PBS program, DECLINING BY DEGREES: HIGHER EDUCATION AT RISK? Do so. It's discomforting. Read the sobering editorial in this past Sunday's New York Times, 'Proof of Learning at College?' Do so. It's disturbing. Consider the recent findings from the National Assessment of Adult Literacy and the suggestion by the chairman of the presidential Commission on the Future of Higher Education that standardized testing of what students learn in higher education should be imposed on colleges and universities. Do so. It's scary. And, going into defensive denial or silence or even vocal haughtiness won't alter the situation, nor will forming a bemoaning mutual admiration society. Teaching needs to become a true top priority on an equal plane with research and publication in the higher educational universe. That student out there has to become as important, if not more important, than a book, grant, conference paper, a keynote address, a line item on a resume, and the like. We need to stop treating teaching as a peripheral or marginal or lip service or sometimes issue. Maybe we ought not to sacrifice the student in that classroom in our quest for renown and tenure. Maybe we ought not go into and stay in the classroom as ill-prepared and untrained and unlearned as most of us have done and still do. Maybe we ought to stop accepting an amateurishness of what we do in the classroom that we wouldn't accept in our scholarship. Maybe we ought to accept our dual role and be prepared to become future classroom teachers as vigorously as we are prepared to become future scholars. Maybe we ought to be required to keep abreast of the new findings about teaching and learning as much as we are required to keep abreast of advances in our disciplines. Then again, maybe we ought to finally seriously think about implementing the recommendations of oft referred to but usually neglected Boyer report, SCHOLARSHIP RECONSIDERED and give unto the teachers that which is teaching equally and as prestigious as we give unto the scholars that which is research and publication. If higher education truly embraces what this means, it will require a complete overhaul of not only how we practice in the classroom, but how we train for the classroom. It all gets down to living and living up to our poetic mission statements. It all boils down to a mindfulness, sensitivity, respect, and being in the service for each student, our disciplines, scholarship, and as well as for ourselves. And, that would make for better education and a better education."
Make it a good day. --Louis-- Louis Schmier firstname.lastname@example.org Department of History www.therandomthoughts.com Valdosta State University www.halcyon.com/arborhts/louis.html Valdosta, GA 31698 /~\ /\ /\ 912-333-5947 /^\ / \ / /~\ \ /~\__/\ / \__/ \/ / /\ /~\/ \ /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" - \____