Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.
Thu, 14 Sep 1995
I was sitting on the floor in my office, a Tootsie Pop in my mouth, casually reading last quarter's student journals as I prepared for the start of the new academic year, when a passage jumped up at me:
When so many of our students come on campus, whatever be their GPA or whatever scholarship they may be on, whatever their age, from the very unscientific questionnaires I give them at the beginning of class, the academic rigor they are about to face is usually the least on their mind. The pressures of the campus lifestyle are what they're thinking mostly about. They find to their dismay that the campus is a new ball game, new rules, a new stadium, new officials, new players. Campus life offers them an independence, need for self-reliance, and demand for self- discipline that few have ever known and have been prepared to exercise. It demands that they make so many decisions that had usually been made for them. They arrive excited about their new-found freedom, but quickly find that using it properly is not easy. They're confronted with an incredible number of temptations, distractions, and demands on their time and energies that place so much stress in their lives: living away from home for the first time, having to decide whether to go Greek or not, having to balance sports and academics, having to handle their own money, having to juggle the requirements of a job, having to deal with the demands of family, having to decide on majors that will determine the course of their lives. So many students have problems with simple personal matters that mothers or maids took care of: cleaning their rooms, doing laundry, making their beds, maintaining proper hygiene, deciding what to eat. They have to face the social problems of when to go out, where to go out, with whom to go out, when to come home, when to go to sleep. They have to face the problem of setting priorities and dealing with the distractions of endless cycles of parties, pledging, rush, athletic events. Still others have to balance the multiple roles of husband or wife, father or mother, and job holder.
Little goes on outside the class room which does not impact on what goes on inside the class room. Nothing is easier for a student unaccustomed to having someone look over his/her shoulder, whip in hand, laying down the rules, to succumb to the temptations of countless distractions, and to fall behind. So, my question is, who shall help them learn how to deal with such demands? Who shall assist them to meet the challenges college life poses, to fulfill their responsibilities, to acquire a self-discipline, to deal with other people, to acquire a new vision of themselves that will serve them far beyond campus for the rest of their lives?
The answer comes down to a definition of education. Far too many professors believe that the only important concerns of education are confined to the narrow vocational limits of subject matter and requirements of developing professional skills. As such they see themselves as members of an aristocracy endowed with a divine right to rule the campus. They believe that they are academia's "first born," claiming all the consequent attention, rights and privileges. They see themselves as the centerpiece of the academic creation over which they have dominion, and that the campus operates for their convenience and all exist to serve them. For them, all other considerations pale in significance compared to the knowledge they impart in the classroom. After all, how can any one equate the responsibility of transmitting the knowledge of organic chemistry, political science, Shakespeare, business management with such frivolous concerns as parking spaces, treatment in the infirmary, things to do on the weekend, quality of food, spending money, temperature in the room, availability of washing machines, amount of hot water, having to commute, etc? And when asked to be concerned with these out-of- class issues, so many professors, will scornfully raise their eyebrows and profess: "I'm not their mommy and daddy." "I'm not a baby sitter." "I'm not going to wipe their noses." "Don't ask me to hold their hands." "It's not my job to coddle them. I'm not here to entertain them."
Too few professors believe education must include the broader "wholeness" mission of helping a student to develop a basic set of personal and social values. It defies my logic to think that there is little meaningful teaching and learning outside the classroom. I also believe there are so many different types of learning that a student needs to know to evolve into a contributing citizen and a better person. Aside from the subject content of academic courses and an array of intellectual skills with which professors wish to solely concern themselves, there is an essential and integrated plane of social and communal learning. Students have to learn how to live with a complete stranger who may have different values and lifestyle, how to judge character, how to pick and choose new friends, how to deal with peer pressure, how to relate to someone of a different race, gender, religion or creed, how to judge character, how to resolve disputes, how to compromise, how to pick and choose friends, how to get along without going along, how to make that transition from family to the world out there, how to make that transition from boys and girls to young men and women, how to be ready for the challenge as a mature, self- assured person living and working in a still discriminating society. The classroom may prepare the students to earn a living. Contrary to the assertions of teaching and research faculty, however, much of the most important lessons of how to live occur outside the classroom. In fact, I'm not sure that most significant and long-lasting learning doesn't take place outside the classroom far beyond the limited academic concerns of most professors. Many of these learnings go on in fraternity and sorority houses, on the athletic field, in the dorms, in clubs, in the Student Union, and in a host of non-academic settings under the guidance, leadership, and instruction of a group of dedicated people who don't deserve to be dismissed and ignored and demeaned as "second sons." They are not amateurish coddlers or baby sitters or entertainers. They are educators concerned with the well-being of the students on the campus and are entitled to be recognized and respected and treated as professionals!
The crunch of the issue is to recognize that the professor must share the honored role of a teacher with others on campus who labor outside the academic domain of the professor. Fellow students are teachers. An RA is a teacher. Counselors are teachers. Placement officers are teachers. You can find teachers in the staff of Student Development or Student Life or Student Affairs. The truth is that the one person who touches a student and alters his or her life or causes them to remain on campus, is usually not a professor.
I think we professors have to start working with and accepting as colleagues the caring, concerned, involved, committed people in career planning and placement, student activities, advising, student union, student newspaper, health services, counseling, testing and a host of others that labor under that umbrella term "Student Development" or "Student Affairs" or "Student Life." They may be non-teaching faculty, staff, or even students; they may not have the degrees or scholarly resumes, but they are important members of the campus community serving professional roles and fulfilling vital educational functions no less important than what takes place in the class room.
Like the first born who see in the second-son a challenge to his exalted and vested position, so many professors fear that as they share space in the ivory tower, as divisions are overcome, as walls of the inner scholarly sanctum are breached, as non-teaching faculty and staff cross over boundaries and mingled with them, they will become nothing. But, community is the shape of our being and of the academic society to which we belong. Whether we professors like it or not, acknowledge it or not, we are in community with students and with those outside the class room concerned with the students; we are implicated in each other's lives. We professors cannot avoid contact with the consequences of student personal problems; we cannot close our eyes to the impact of student social distresses, cannot turn a deaf ear to student anxieties and difficulties. We cannot lose an awareness of the existence of such pressures in the life of the student. With visits, conversations, programs we have to awaken ourselves to the reality of the problems facing the students that impact on them, their academic learning, and ultimately on us.
Community, however, is not a collective entity that cancels out the role and position of professor. If we call and treat others on our campus as colleagues, our authority will not be weakened, our elevated and privileged portion will not be eroded, the spotlight on us will not be dimmed, and the academic ethos will not be corrupted. Community is a network of relationships among individuals, unique self, each with a purpose, an essential function, integrity and identity. It is that network which we call a college or a university which are the spiritual bond that tie us together in our efforts to prepare future generations. No, greeting those who labor in the interest of the student outside the classroom as equals, to coordinate our efforts with theirs--yea, even to seek their counsel and assistance--can only augment, not diminish, the benefits of all our efforts. The added radiance of another candle in the room does not diminish the illumination of existing candles. To the contrary, the added light affords us the better opportunity to see better how we can help the student see the way more clearly and make ourselves more enlightened and effective educators.
Have a good one. --Louis-- Louis Schmier (912-333-5947) firstname.lastname@example.org Department of History /~\ /\ /\ Valdosta State University /^\ / \ / /~ \ /~\__/\ Valdosta, Georgia 31698 / \__/ \/ / /\ /~ \ /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\ -_~ / "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\ _ _ / don't practice on mole hills" -\____