Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Mon 12/15/2003 5:09 AM
Random Thought: More on Textbooks--And More

My latest Random Thought has generated a lot of discussion about the value and use of textbooks as I had hoped and unexpectedly reigniting some discussions about testing and grades. At the same it has revealed more. All these exchanges, as I already have told many people, remind me how we're all very good at arguing backwards. That is, not willing or hesitant to learn from or even consider the learnings of others, we prefer to come up with those "I believe" and "In my humble opinion" and "It seems to me," or we make those sweeping statements and draw those stereotypical images that defend and justify what we are already doing. So many of us each have this guiding internal dialogue that often surfaces in discussions. The the world of academia and students are such and such or so and so. They're such and such and so and so, however, only because we talk to ourselves about them being such and such and so and so. Then, we talk ourselves into believing they are such and such and so and so. And, finally, we act as if they are such and such and so and so. So many of us struggle to take a stand on our own established exclamation points and find all sorts of intellectual contorting reasons to wave aside those troublesome question marks.

What troubles me is that so many of us, technology not withstanding, run our classes the exact way we did when we first started in the classroom. Most of us, not trained to be teachers, first aped the professors who taught us, assigned to us, and tested us, and we continued to do so. We accepted at face value the lecture, the textbook, the test, the grade, and all the rituals and ceremonies of organized academia, though most of us weren't shown the educational hows and whats or engaged in reflective discussions of the whys.

So I ask, maybe for far too many of us practice makes imperfect. After all, does it make sense to stick to what we first learned about teaching when that learning occurred at the time we were most naive and least experienced and least informed and most narrow about the processes of learning or the methods and techniques of teaching and the purposes of an education? As we stick with and to what we've always been doing, we get locked into single-minded practices and views, call upon "I have been doing this for years" experience as vindication, and reinforce those views for each other in a supportive back scratching manner until we have a fairly mindless academic culture that lashes out at any divergence or query. And yet, in such an assured answer is a surrender of personal control for we have ceased to think freely for ourselves. Instead, we have unwittingly submitted to and mindlessly accepted the mouthing of the mouthings of other mouths under the delusion that such mouthings came originally from our mouths.

To be sure, it is easier to learn something the first time than it is to unlearn it and learn it differently after a long time. But, if we don't ask the question, we won't have an opportunity to hear the many answers that offer us insight and choice. If we are convinced we have the answer, we won't ask the question and will only ardently defend our answer. I think it was John F. Kennedy who said something to the effect that the true opponent of a truth is not the premeditated lie; it's the ingrained, entrenched, unchallenged, emotionally satisfying, and self-serving myth.

We human beings are doomed to live a life of conscious and not so conscious choices. We can choose to submit to the controlling black and white exclamation of an "is" or we can choose, as Steve Sample urges, think gray and free. To think free, however, means we must accept the questioning doubt and uncertainty of a "maybe" or "what if" and become questers rather than pronouncers.

If we can the accept the discomfort yet exhilarating challenge of doubt and uncertainty, we can exercise personal control, free up ourselves to creative thinking and imagination, offer ourselves to the opportunity to convert that too often mindless practice into a mindful one, be aware of the possibility of more than one perspective, be observant of the changes from minute to minute and the differences from person to person, experiment with alternative methods and approaches, to foster a continuous creation of newness, become open to an openness to new information, be free to discover concepts, philosophies, purposes, missions, and visions. It not an easy task and can be a lonely task. Nevertheless, if learning is reimagining the world, it is true for us, supposedly the purveyors of learning, no less than it is for students.

         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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