Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Thu, 2 Mar 1995
Spring is in the air. So it the pollen. My red Mercedes (my "baby": a 450 SEL with 165,000 miles on it), like everything around here, is slowly getting jaundiced. But, we had a laundering rain yesterday that left yellow-bordered puddles lining the sides of the street that almost made me want to stop and pan for gold. I wish I had windshield wipers on my glasses this dark, cloudy morning as I cut through the misty drizzle that was hanging in the air. As the clouds decided whether to drench me or not, I was thinking of a first year student in one of my classes, whom I'll name Judy, who came into my office unannounced early yesterday morning before my 8:00 a.m. class. She really got me thinking about things I haven't thought about before.
I was sitting there, listening to Pink Floyd, as I was struggling to finish the homework in my Russian class, writing a six-page letter in Russian to my teacher. Judy suddenly appeared in the doorway with exasperation written all over her snarled face and stiffened parade stance. I looked up. "I hate this place. I hate registration," she screamed in a murmured breath through her clenched teeth and tightened lips without even saying an "hello." My students know they can come to my office unannounced because I tell them that I always put them before things and will drop whatever it is I'm doing to help them. "I'm just a name to everybody around here. Nobody gives a damn about me until I write a check. My adviser sucks! The way she acted to me made me feel like I was interrupting something more important than to talk with me. I felt like I was just a f------ folder to her! Grrrrrrrrrrrr!!!! (that's what she said)." And she stomped her right foot so hard I thought she was going to put it through the old floor.
I got up, grabbed two Tootsie pops, and gave her one. We went out into the hall, sat down, and I listened. After she was finished, I went back into my office, made a few phone calls, got irritated with the bureaucratic response, but ultimately got things set straight.
As we both left for class, something started nagging me. I felt like an pesky gnat was flying around me all day and I couldn't quite grab on to it. Then, this morning on the streets it hit me. I realized that maybe the reason that so many of us don't teach the whole student is we don't see the whole person. We just see disjointed little bits and pieces. And for some reason, I thought of my son, Robby.
I started thinking all those troubled years ago and began to see how all those people who came into contact with him looked so differently at him. How each of them--myself included--as a truck does to a character in a cartoon movie, had squashed the full wonder of his wholeness into a flattened, dehumanized, one-dimensional poster image. How each person made him appear differently. The school counselor saw him as a problem of apathy; the school psychologist saw him as an unused high IQ; the special ed teacher saw him as a learning disability; one of his psychologist saw him as a "behavioral response"; one of his psychiatrists saw him as an "incurable condition"; a physician treated him, in his words, as a "chemical deficiency"; the school principle saw him as an administrative problem; the Vice-Principles saw him as a disruptive, rowdy head-banger; the teachers saw him as an enigma or a frustration or a pain in the neck or an inconvenience or a disciplinary problem; the police saw him as a delinquency case. At times, my wife and I, in spite of our effort to see the wholeness of him--when we were at our wits end, when the pain was most acute, when the fear for him was the greatest, the depth of despair the deepest, and when the anxiety the highest--saw him as a problem child and a disruption of the family. And I'm sure others would now see him only as a high school dropout, a loser, a construction worker, or a wasted life.
We each used only our eyes to see him instead of our hearts. What bit or piece each of us saw was influenced and limited by the labeling of our selective pre-conceptions and perceptions, by our standardizing values, by the walls of our self-definition, by the restricting patterns of our thinking, by our expectations, by our apathy and laziness--maybe fear as well--and by our models of perfection. We saw him--judged him--though the myopia or tunnel vision of "our" rather than by the inspiring uniqueness of "his." We each saw only one facet rather than the sparkle of whole diamond that was him.
I not sure it's much different when we look at students. Each of us, influenced by our personal and professional perceptions, values, expectations, models of perfection, and laziness, as well as the academic circumstances, flatten the student into this or a that problem, dehumanize him or her as a this or that issue, make him or her lifeless as this or that activity, stereotype him or her as this gender or that race or this religion or that culture.
We dump each student into a shallow mold, maybe because we feel more comfortable doing it and because it's easier. We see each student only as a social security number, a signature on a tuition check, something that fills a seat in class, a name on a financial aid form, a part of the enrollment count, a major, a football player, a "bright" student, a member of the band, a "necessary annoyance", or a barrier to higher professional achievements. And, as with Robby, we lose sight of the student's potential total wonder.
What is essential about each student? Is it the color of the skin? Gender? Age? Country of origin? Style of clothing? Social status? Accent? Intelligence? Major area of study? Fraternity or Sorority? SAT scores? An earring or a belly button ring? GPAs? What is it? Today, this morning, I realize that most of us, myself included, so often use only our eyes to see what is essential, and the students, like Robby, are being seen superficially with only eyes. Like Robby, we look at the students, but we so often are missing so much of them that we're missing the essence of them. He, like the students, was probably everything each of us saw, but he, like they, is a hell of a lot more, magnificently more! He is more than the sum total of his parts. What is truly essential about him, and each student, is invisible to the eye and, I think, is beyond the power of words to define, but not beyond the ability to experience.
I always say that the heart of education is the education of the heart. And so, I believe, it is only with the heart that we can truly see. So we've got to teach them that they are unique, that there is no one like them throughout the vast universe, that what they are will never again occur in history, that if only for that reason they should take pride, that they are a special thread in the fabric of humanity without which the fabric would be less than it could have been. That's hard for many of us because we don't believe it, and we cannot teach what we don't believe or know. We cannot give what we don't have to give. So much difficult "unlearning" is required in learning; so much heavy garbage has to heaved away that I and others have laid upon ourselves and others. I have a clearer understanding--I think--that what is essential about Robby, and each student--about myself--is so vast and wondrous, and what is visible to the eye is so limited and small. There is so much more about him, and each student, that is yet to be undiscovered then what is already discovered. That they, you, I are not static, that it doesn't matter where each of us are at any given time, for are we always becoming, always changing, always growing. And, that's the wonder of it all--the incredible uniqueness and potential of each one of them--and of me. And, the more I see of each student, like Robby, the more I see there is so much more to see.
Make it a good day. --Louis-- Louis Schmier (912-333-5947) email@example.com Department of History /~\ /\ /\ Valdosta State University /^\ / \ / /~ \ /~\__/\ Valdosta, Georgia 31698 / \__/ \/ / /\ /~ \ /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" -\____