Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Tues, 4 Jan 1994

I went out a bit later than usual this morning. Nevertheless, it was still miserable. It was cold, and after a night of wind and rain, it was biting out there. I was thinking about a comment someone made yesterday about my students' final exam presentations.

"High schoolish," this professor branded them in an obviously pejorative tone. "Void of any written critical thinking methods and signs of subject mastery."

"Why?" I asked myself. "Because my students chose not to express themselves verbally in the form of a ponderous essay? Is that the only mode by which perceptive understanding, resourceful creativity, analytical thinking, and penetrating reflection can be communicated? Who says so? Us? What makes our imposed, arbitrary standard, which demands demonstration of supposed competency by a single mode of expression, the only accurate criteria for achievement? How does this measuring straight jacket equate with the diverse perceptions, the diverse personalities, the diverse styles of learning, and the diverse forms and ranges of talent and ability that so often lie hidden within the students, condemned, and suppressed by both our own myopic teaching practices and 'assessment' measures?"

No, to say that classroom performance must occur within only one medium, does not necessarily reveal competency so much as the result may be false incompetency. You can't control the human imagination. You shouldn't. You should create an environment to let it flourish. The successful industries for tomorrow are becoming less and less the brick and steel buildings of old with their obedient mass production lines and air polluting smoke stacks. The successful factories of tomorrow, however, will not be the new technology or the human mind alone. I recall Thomas Edison's warning that whatever the mind of man creates, his heart and soul must control and guide. The single most valuable asset of tomorrow's industry will be the marriage of the human mind and human spirit. That union will determine the utilization of that technology: the human mind with its vast storehousing capacity, adventurous curiosity, unbounded imagination, and daring creativity; the guiding and energizing human spirit with its enthusiasm, confidence, courage, hopes, dreams, pride, integrity, honesty, confidence and responsibility; the wedded mind and spirit of the "I wonder.....," "what if....," "let's see....," "maybe....," "will it improve.....," "can it help.....," "could it be.....," "I'm sure I can....."

The state of this marriage affects the state of learning. Yet, what do so many do in education? They still use "smoke stack" readin', writin', 'rithmetic educational methods; they still concentrate on more the mental brawn of information transmission, acquisition, and collection. So many are still more inclined to practice educational crowd control, to herd students into impersonal and uncaring holding pens called large classrooms, to place students at a mass production belt forcing them to engage in a string of meaningless, dull, stultifying, repetitive, parroting, memorizing routines: "Do it this way....," "Remember this....," "Memorize that...," "Think this way....," "Say or write it that way....," "These are the answers...," So many create more often than not an environment of copiers instead of creators, memorizers instead of thinkers, test passers instead of learners, followers instead of leaders. They instill fear of trying by telling students that mistakes are sins rather than steps toward understanding. They inform rather than empower. They tailor student curiosity to fit test questions. They teach the test to students. They foster a non-productive competition in which there are winners and losers. It's a cold, unthinking, unreasoning, and too often a destructive immoral process of bland "whats"; it's not a warm, caring, supportive, encouraging, productive, creative, imaginative, and moral one of insightful and inspired "whys" and "purposes." What has regrettably been accepted so often as a process for the yesterdays and the remnants of today, is not going to be worth much for the tomorrow.

What, then, do we do, or should we do, beyond the dispensing of information? We should see teaching and learning as an adventure into the individual human mind, human spirit, human emotion, and human soul. It requires the daring, courage, curiosity of an explorer who never really knows what lies beyond the podium but knowing full well that beyond is where the journey goes. Teaching is not lecturing to a mass of nameless students; it is not talking down to them. Teaching is conversing intimately at the emotional level with individual students; it's helping, encouraging, and supporting each student to find for him/herself that adventurous spirit within him/herself, tap into it, and use it to become future adventurers.

Until we are adventurers in our classroom, however, until we engage in a never ending quest to see what's out there beyond the podium's horizons, we cannot produce adventurers. We cannot encourage our students to strike out beyond today's horizons into the unknowns of their imagination. We cannot guide the students to be what we aren't or no longer are; we cannot excite them or reasonably expect them to grasp life's visions and to reach for the stars of tomorrow when so many of us have taken so much life out of the subject, out of the class, and out of ourselves.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
Department of History                      /~\    /\ /\
Valdosta State University          /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
Valdosta, Georgia 31698           /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
                            /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\
                          -_~     /  "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\
                             _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -\____

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