Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Wed, 07 Feb 2001 08:37:12 -0500 (EST)
Random Thought: Rush To Judgement

I was sitting here calmly reading some messages, quietly sipping a cup of freshly brewed coffee, relishing UNC's No.1 ranking and victory over Wake Forest, when suddenly out from the monitor came a sudden searing flame. The force of this vicious blast lifted my eye lids, threw my head back, and pinned me to my seat. This verbal torch singed my eyebrows and reddened my skin.

Without going into pointless detail, I'll just ask what is it about too many academics who have to denigrate students merely because they know less information; what is it about too many academics who have use students as a whipping post for their displeasure of being in the classroom; what is it about too many academics who abuse their authority and get more than a touch of pleasure at watching students squirm; what is it about too many academics who are indifferent to students. What is it?

Why are there academics so ready to rush to judgement? Most of us really don't even know each student and yet we're already making snap judgements and taking cheap shots on the most superficial information. Why are so many of us so inclined to pre-judge?

So many of us find it so easy to play the blame game. In one way or another, we defend who we are, what we believe, how we do things by highlighting the very imperfections of others we are supposed to be struggling correct. I think being judgemental is a visible expression of our unawareness of and disconnection with students; it's a reflection of fear and insecurity which have a way of seeping into our spirit, thoughts, and actions. We don't want to recognize that far too often the problem is not the students. The problem is our attitude towards students. I find that it's not the students who are flawed, but our flawed methods aren't designed to cure their "chronic success deprivation." The real flaw is in our academic institutions and we academics who won't find ways to tune into the students' "broad brain width."

So, am I sighfully supposed to pre-judge most students as "can'ts," "won'ts," and "don't belongs?" If I listen to this professorial Aesop fox, sourly labeling students as "incompetents" chained down by impervious chromium steel links of "inability" and "incapacity" who should be "summarily kicked out," I know I will find a validation to dismiss, turn away and stay away; I will find a good reason to dismiss a student as easily as rejecting a blemished apple from an open cart. No, the searing power of being judgemental dries up the sweet nurturing waters of kindness leaving a parched, barren and uninviting desert of callousness.

I think there is a vanity--and a danger--wishful "if only" ideal. Failing to come across the "ideal student" we despair, become jaded, become alienated. We'd put anger, blame, hostility to replace passive resignation. We'd even try to numb ourselves from classroom experiences by medicating ourselves with high doses of scholarship.

This I know: when I no longer am in awe of the human capacity, when I no longer believe that there are potential thinkers and creators and doers in each student in that class, my teaching stops.

Now you might believe if we weren't judgemental we would not be able to distinguish between honors, average, and poor students; we would be indecisive and unselective; we would be dumbing down and diluting; we would be void of standards.

When we are free of expectations, we are free to be receptive. When we no longer fear that students conflict with our professional and scholarly interests and our actions, when we no longer prejudge, we are open. When we stop clinging so tight to our troubles that our knuckles whitened, we are free to move on and about.

Think about it. What if we didn't pre-judge. We might not lament "ah, me" or malign any day. We might lead ourselves to be understanding. We might discover the truth of the moment. We might connect directly with innocence, freshness, immediacy, and vitality. We might connect with a person. We might discover tolerance, exercise compassion and forgiveness. We might be flexible and adaptable. We might see with eyes of awareness and with eyes of newness. We might listen closely and see keenly. We might walk slowly among "the crowd," and realize how large are all the little live things.

We should talk about what each student can do rather talk about what's wrong with students. I think we should think of students first instead of our subject, research, publication, or ourselves. Students aren't really intellectual wimps. They are are are creative, intelligent, imaginative.

So often we let ourselves get boxed in a box. Too seldom do we teach outside the lines using creative alternatives to conventional methods and employing imaginative tactics. The first day and every day that follows is a blind start when you reach out and hold onto whatever you get. When you reach out and touch, when you teach hard with a light touch and soft eyes, and a tender heart, it begins.

One last word to my detractor, each student is too valuable of a human being to leave behind, leave out, kick out. Almost every student isn't slack, just bruised or hurt or ashamed or angry or self-depreciating. With every "doesn't belong" student welcomed and embraced in the classroom, our society grows stronger. This is not a sentence to be read, but a mission to be lived every day.

         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,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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