Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Fri 8/30/2002 4:44 AM
Random Thought: It's More Than Just The Subject

As I walked through dark, pre-dawn, soggy morning, I was thinking about fire storms and tomatoes. Wierd combination. Maybe it's this heat and humidity, even at the wee hours of 5 a.m. Well, it's not a weird as it sounds, really. I've been engaged in a private discussion in which a professor threw a tomato or two at me. "What do you know! We are professors of history! Let's teach history. Go into the priesthood if you want teach morality! All that character nonsense ofyours is none of our business!"

Is it not, really! Now, I am an historian by training. I just think that teaching only history doesn't go far enough. I truly believe, like the Greeks, that an education is more than just about a subject. I have a wholeness approach to education that includes and goes beyond transmitting and gathering information. Some would call it character education. It's a good characterization of my educational philosophy and vision. It is a matter of not just knowing the right stuff, but having the right stuff; not just knowing the right thing, but doing the right thing despite the costs and risks because it is the right thing to do, not because it results in approval and advantage. It deals with helping student develop knowledge, people skills, commitment, dedication, perseverance, optimism, self-esteem, self-confidence, deep caring, a powerful sense of duty and service before self, complete trustworthiness, absolute integrity, boundless creativity and imagination, and even courage. It is these "who you are" qualities, not the "what you know," that really inspire, motivate, and persuade others.

Events of the past few months have made me more aware of their need. I have been reading about the deliberate man-made causes of the raging and destructive forest fires in Colorado and Arizona. Like all of us, I've been reading also about the man-made raging and devastating fire storms of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and a few years ago in the evangelical movements. And let's not forget those devastating man-made fires used by the chief financial and executive chefs within some great corporations to cook the books. These ecclesiastical and entrepreneurial conflagrations are racing through jobs, spirits, confidences, futures, reputations, stock portfolios, state budgets, devotions, pensions, homes, hopes, souls, and mutual funds. Oh, the fires will be extinguished in the forests, corporate offices, and holy sees, but many of the hurts won't heal; many spiritual and financial savings won't be saved; many lives won't recover; many nest eggs will remain cracked; many careers won't be rebuilt. And, there will be scars.

These fires weren't set and fanned by back alley, ignorant, illiterate, academic dropouts. They were ignited by spiritual and economic leaders, talented graduates of our colleges and universities and seminaries, who were moral and ethical dropouts. The deeply disturbing revelations about these ravaging clerical and corporate fires that are shaking the very foundation of our religious and economic systems show how easy it is for supposedly educated people to come up with a bunch of very defensive and self-serving excuses, rationalizations, and explanations for some immoral, unethical, dishonorable, and illegal acts.

Now, we in the Ivory Tower are so pure of heart that we smugly can look down our noses from the battlements on such sordidness. Don't think that Ph.D. is an abbreviation for perfection. We have our share of miscreants who also have been seduced by short-term gain and expediency: prominent professors plagiarizing and engaging in various other forms of academic dishonesty; academics compromising themselves, often at the expense of students, in their self-centered quest of the holy grail of tenure; egotistical turf wars; university research scientists playing with results of experiments; coaches fudging resumes; faculty in cahoots to falsify grades of athletes; presidents kowtowing to alumni and engaging in face-saving and rationalizing damage control when scandalous sports programs hit the headlines; an overwhelming majority of students on our campuses believing that cheating is part of the "game;" and, don't forget the sheepish herds of "I don't have the time," "I don't have tenure," nowhere to be found, go along to get along, self-indulged and self-absorbed, and look the other way submissive faculty. No, let's not hold ourselves up as the paragons of virtue. Just because we have a few letters before and after our names doesn't automatically mean we are moral and ethical.

To many people are moving to the tune that it's no one's fault because it's a "cultural problem," or "it's the system" where "everyone's doing it, doing it, doing it." To them it's "no big deal." To them it's a resigned go-along sigh of "oh, well." Well, it's not well; it's down the well. It's not a game; it's gamy. It not a tune; it's a song and dance. And, it is a big deal. It's a faustean deal with the devil, for our graduates will take, as so many obviously already have taken, with them into every facet of their working and personal lives a corrosive fear and cynicism that expects and accepts and condones self-righteous "dog-eat-dog" immoral motives and unethical behaviors.

These people are our past and future graduates! Too bad we often train them without educating them. If we don't frontally address these issues day in and day out in and out of all of our classrooms, if we don't inoculate students with a high expectation for themselves and others to live noble and worthy lives, if we don't assume responsibility of modeling and instilling virtue--honesty, respect, and integrity--in our students, if we don't think it is our business to be in the character business, we will keep on producing a bunch of characters who are little more than animated scandals waiting to happen, persons without character or with weakened character, persons unencumbered by scruples, persons with a compass that has no markings, persons without the will or the courage to stand up and say no, persons with a willingness to look the other way.

If I teach more than--not instead of--my subject of history, if I promote character education as well, if I take a wholeness approach in and out of the classroom, will I be doing any good? Will I really put fire-retardant on or in front of these consuming flames? Will I make a difference? Will I have a lasting impact? Maybe. Maybe not. Even without a crystal ball, I do know that nothing will happen if I do nothing. The fires will rage unabated consuming all within their path.

I also know that it matters that I be true to my true north. I do know that when anyone stands up and stands out, he or she will get hit by a tomato. When I or anyone seeks to truly make a difference, there is always someone around who is going to tell me that I'm nuts or I can't do it or it's not my job or I am out of step or I'm not a member of the team or I'm not with the program or it's not going to mean much. Some people are just not going to like what I do; some people are going to disagree with me; some people are going to feel threatened even though I'm not doing any threatening thing; some people are going to ignore me; and some people are going to flat out attack. I'm not Joshua. I cannot control that anymore than I can make the sun stop in its tracks. What I can control is the realization that the actions and opinions of others have no real bearing on my worth as a person or the legitimacy of my vision. It's not the end of the world when I experience the passive or active rejection or shunning that inevitably is going to occur. Rejection hurts only when I allow it to hurt, and there's no reason whatsoever for me to allow it to hurt.

I also know that just because someone diminishes or ignores or rejects or attacks what I believe and what I'm doing does not mean I must diminish or ignore or reject my beliefs too. I always have to keep in mind that the opinions of others are just that-- opinions. I will, however, always practice an open openness: I will always listen; I will always consider; I will always reflect; I will always be teachable; I will always learn and grow; I will always change. I don't let criticisms automatically stop me. I keep looking beyond them and focus on my "why." In many ways it would be so much easier, more comfortable, and safer to ignore my vision, to remain silent, to let myself be distracted, side-tracked, stopped in my tracks, and be tossed aimlessly around by everything and everyone of those "others" who comes along. Sure, to follow a steady and positive purpose is harder, less comfortable, and maybe riskier. It demands an outer thick skin and an inner strength. It requires a deep commitment, a perseverance, and a determination. But, it's truer. For too long, I had traveled, like most, that well-traveled road. Only a little over a decade ago did I discover that if I venture and struggle to travel that regrettably road less traveled, will I actually get somewhere and at some place valuable and do something truly far more meaningful than lengthening my resume and puffing up my reputation.

I do know that character does count as much as, if not more than, knowledge. I do know what we do with what we know is far more important and lasting than that soon-to-be-obsolete information. I do know that we help students prepare themselves to make a living. I do know that it is also important that we help students prepare themselves to live rightly. I do know we urge students to attain honors. I do know it is also important that we help guide students to become honorable people. It is important that we be concerned with preparing the whole person and not merely the one dimensional professional and wage earning drone. It is important that we have a combined character based and knowledge based approach to education rather than merely an information based approach. An education without guiding character is no education at all; it is not transforming; it is merely training and schooling that is in danger of producing a bunch of dangerous characters.

I do know that I have to be true to this purpose that motivates, energizes, guides, and drives me. I do know that I don't have any other choice but to give it all I have. I do know that I must know what must be done, go confidently forward, and just do it. And, if I discover that it's not enough, and it never is, I just have to learn how to do it harder and better. And, for me, the character of recent headlines about these characters who have little or no character makes the need for character or wholeness education even more imperative. Otherwise, we will continue to be part of the problem rather than part of the solution.

         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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