Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Mon, 07 Jan 2002 06:22:37 -0500 (EST)
Random Thought: Individualism and Surprise

An early bird good morning. No walking. Have had a cold since Christmas morning and the "master sergeant" of the house has since ordered me grounded. It's too cold outside. Cold? Remeber when just a few weeks ago I said how hot it was down here in South Georgie? Well, just a few days ago everyone was singing, "Dashing through the snow in a one.....," as it briefly, very briefly, "snowed." Actually, it was just a few minutes of "aflurryin'." Well, not really. It wasn't even that. It was, as I facetiously told a few people, more like occasional squirrel dandruff. Anyway, it was a surprise to many and everyone was throwing snowflakes at each other.

And, talking about surprises--how's that for a lead-in--someone just e-mailed me asking me why I thought so many academics are surprised at things that happen or don't happen in the classroom. It's an interesting question that comes at an interesting time. I have been thinking about that very same issue since this is the first day of class and there is an inclination to ask yourself, "what surprises are going to greet me today?" I am also beginning to mediatate for a convocation keynote address I'm calling "Great Expectations" which I am to present at the end this week in West Texas.

I really don't have THE answer. I do have an answer, my answer. Maybe it is more of a suggestion. Last week my good friend, Dale Fitzgibbons at Illinois State, shared with me a small piece by Chuck Salter. It's titled, "16 WAYS TO BE A SMARTER TEACHER." In it he says, among other things, that far too many academics think it's all about them and the material, and don't bother to study and learn about the students. How true. Far too many academic walk around taking their pulse, but not that of any students. They are in the class as if they were at a cocktail party and don't know anyone there, not even the hostess. And, in some of the more drastic cases, not as rare as many of us would believe, they enter the class after asking their reflection, "Mirror, mirror on the wall, who...."

Most academics are surprised at what goes on in class because their eyes are on the wrong prize. I have found that far too many academics practice far too much of what I heard someone call "individualism." Now, I don't mean indviduality. I am not talking about uniqueness, self-awareness, self-confidence, self-esteem, self-worth, or self-respect. Individualism in many cases is just the opposite. When I talk of individualism, I am talking about a fundamental attitude of far too many academics believing that they are the sole center of the gravity in the classroom--or on campus.

When a great, but arrogant actress was once asked how she always know where center was without losing her concentration, she answered, "Darling, center stage is wherever I am!" That what I am talking about. When I talk of individualism, I am talking about many academics' "hey, it's me " belief they are that crucial, indispensable, critcal sage on stage. I am talking about an "it's all about me" attitude. I am talking about the wearing of a "know it all" costume. I am talking about a "I have the answers, all the answers, THE answers" posture. I am talking about a conviction that only they matter. I am talking about a belief that the class doesn't light up until they're present. I'm talking about a feeling that the students would flounder without them and that the entire class revolves around them. It's a "Here I am" proclamation. It's a "what's in it for me" position. I'm talking about an individualism that exudes with distance, disconnection, ignornace. It creates a fog that leave them in such a thick mist that they miss what is going on.

The problem with individualism, as I am defining it, is that if you think you're the most important person in that classroom, your eyes and ears will be on you, and you won't really learn what going on or why what is going on is going on. You lose sight of the individuality and humanity of each imperfect student as you think you are practicing perfection. And, when a student is so far in the distance, just an insignificant speck on the horizon, it is so easy to separate yourself from him or her, so easy to ignore him or her, so easy to dismiss him or her, so easy not to care about him or her, so easy to disrespect him or her, so easy to denigrate him or her. You emotionally, intellectually, psychologically lapidify, petrify, and ossify. You turn each seat in the classroom into an uncomfortable, painful, distracting, threatening bed of nails. You really can't be conduits for others or can give yourself to others. Teaching is a matter of human relationships. It's a soul to soul touching. Transformation doesn't come from a book or a subject or a speech called a lecture. It comes from warm, comforting, supportive, encouraging, embracing, respectful, trusting, sincere, and honoring human contact. Such academics won't, can't, take the necessary effort and make the necessary time to inspire and motivated. Seeing no need to reach out for and reach into the soul of another, they won't, can't, take the extraordinary and courageous journey, as Yeats described, to dig deep into their own soul to where they are and see who they are. And so, contrary to what they believe, they won't, can't, truly move anyone to move the world.

Maybe this is why so many academics are surprised by what goes on or doesn't go on in the classroom. Surprise is the result of ignorance. It is a product of unpreparedness. They haven't scoped out the lay of the land. Not having done any surveying, they really don't know very much, if anything, about the inner landscape of each student. And so, they are blind-sided, surprised.

The conceit of far too many academics is that while they put the spotlight on themselves, while they are taking their own pulse, while they are thinking about what they are doing, and while they are leaving the unseen students hidden in the dark shadows, they feel they know all there is to know about what is going on in the classroom and know all about the students and know what to expect. They probably don't, but that is what most of them feel. And, then, they wonder why surprising things happen. It's not surprising.

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
         912-333-5947              /^\      /     \    /  /~\  \   /~\__/\
                                 /     \__/         \/  /  /\ /~\/         \
                          /\/\-/ /^\_____\____________/__/_______/^\
                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
                         _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -    \____

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