Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Wed, 17 Jan 2001 08:35:49 -0500 (EST)
Random Thought: Teach Deliberately

Good morning. In the comfortably chilled air this dark morning, I was think of my good e-mail friend, Anne Pemberton. She e-mailed me last week in response to my last RT that the joy I usually have in teaching was missing. I have to disagree even if I wasn't bubbly. I do have to admit that I took a hit with Niteka's murder and Sara's celebrating letter did throw me into deep thought. Because of that walking into myself, I danced into the first days of classes more eagle-eyed and spirited than I usually am. Maybe that's why miraculous events occurred that delightfully brushed my spirit like tickling champagne bubbles.

I don't think that contemplation, reflection, or deliberation are synonymous with somberness. To the contrary, Sara's letter sent me into bubbly raptures, and I gave her a hearty, joyful, toasting hug to her courage and new-found faith in herself when she came into my office yesterday. We sat on the floor and we talked and we shared our feelings.

I firmly believe that we have to teach contemplatively, reflectively, and deliberately. Most of us are good at throwing it out; we have to be able to take it in. What we need is a reflective and truly open openness that starts with a willingness to be open with ourselves to both that which is emotionally satisfying and that which is not; it continues with a willingness to be vulnerable. We need to look inward; then, and only then can we speak out. We have to hear, not just be heard. We have to recognize that any "certainty" is really an approximation. We always have to struggle with that quality of "un-figure-out-edness" that is characteristic of most everything. I find such deliberate deliberation to be difficult yet releasing and constructive and life-giving nourishment, not dangerous and destructive and a life-threatening assault.

I once told someone about the time some education majors asked me, "How should we teach?"

"Deliberately," was my answer.

It was play on Thoreau's commandment to "live deliberately."

What do I mean by "teach deliberately?" As I told these young people, I mean slow when you reach the inevitable and constant "why" in the road.

Every busy "what," and every action "how," and every hurried "do" must first begin with, rest on, be deeply rooted in a quiet, reflective, meaningful "why." Without the anchor of that "why," whatever we do or say is really shallow, adrift, directionless, and maybe even purposeless. I mean that to "just do it," or just do it the way it always has been done, or just do it because its familiar and comfortable, or just do it because it's safe, or just do it the way we've always done it, or just do it because that is what we copied from our professors we love so much, or just do it because everyone is doing it won't get it done without a long "think about it." I mean that wise action occurs only after a deep contemplation during what I might call a "creative putting off."

And yet, as I told these people so many of us so often throw ourselves prostrate before an idol of NOW. In our adoration and worship of action, we are so busy being busy, so rushed rushing around, such in a hurry to hurry. "We haven't got the time," is the usually pronouncement. We have no time to make time to take the time. We have such a bias toward blurring action and against focused deliberation. We have to be on the move; it's a crime and a waste if we just lean back, resting the back of our head in our clasped hands, and mull.

Many people have said so often that "one size does not fit all." I certainly agree, although they usually mean "shutting down." They take that stand as a defense to keep on doing what they are doing and not consider other unaccustomed and challenging approaches. Then, those very people look for the all-encompassing five easy steps, search for the universal seven conditions, seek out the uniform ten characteristics.

We like the golden fleeces of those easy formulae, the simple sound bytes, the quick fixes, the shortcuts, the magic keys, the perfect answers, the guaranteed technique. We always are on the move, trying one thing, then zipping to another, then speeding to still another. We take so little time to set up or settle in or settle down. We reorganize, install, specialize, divide, and separate. We write glorious mission statements, devise feel-good slogans, compose high-sounding phrases. We plot strategies, strategically plan, reengineer. We TQM, MBO, and Peoplesoft. We sponsor workshops, hire consultants, analyze, measure, test, chart, evaluate, assess, score. We simplify.

And all most of us are doing is creating an empty promise, the mirage of change, the illusion of progress, the fantasy of purpose, the myth of mission. We still teach the way we want to teach, living in a rescue fantasy. That is, when we have a problem, we expect some consultant or some formula to pick up the pieces. And, you know, from experience I think most of us know all that in our gut.

Maybe we ought to teach deliberately. That's a powerful command: to circumspect instead of to circumvent; to have in hand instead of being offhanded; to hear and listen; to look and see; to focus rather than to blur; to slow, reflect, think deeply about how we think; to creatively procrastinate; to uncover meaning and purpose before we do it and as we do it. Then, and only then, can we meet the challenge of teaching with connection and compassion.

         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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