Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Fri 3/28/2003 12:07 AM
Random Thought: Marvelous In Our Eyes

Well, I was right. That last Random Thought on religion and education got me in lots of hot water. I was flamed in conflagration proportions. Good thing my spirit is fire resistant. On a particular "fire storming" list I shared a "fire break." Here is some of it:

Lots of things have been coming together these past weeks as if I was back in summer camp weaving a lanyard. One strand was the sunrise. The sun came up as I sat before my fish pond sipping a cup of freshly brewed coffee. I was amazed at how I felt a natural and childlike amazement at the amazingly shining beauty of something I've seen thousands of times as if it was something new. It felt like a whole new experience! A second strand is Lacey. She still is one of those "where does this come" miracles, especially after she came up to me and said with wide-eyed amazement and joy, "I may be small, but I'm getting to be a big person." The third beautiful strand is my Natalie. I was playing with my visiting one year old grandbaby for almost a week and was awed by her endless curiosity and bottomless sense of discovery. A fourth strand was a profoundly touching conversation I had with a student a week or so ago that will have to remain confidential. A fifth was a wandering first year undecided student for whom I was unknowingly assigned as her THIRD adviser in as many semesters who consequently didn't believe anyone really, in her words, "on this campus cares if I am alive or dead as long as I pay tuition." And the last thread, I was thinking both about a "difficult" student afflicted with ADD who had to leave school and a long, tearful telephone conversation with his mother.

And, it suddenly came to me. Somewhere in Scripture it says something like "This is the Lord's doing, it is marvelous in our eyes."

"It is marvelous in our eyes." I have to repeat a thought I posed several weeks ago. It is for me a profound question too often unasked on our campuses. If we see a sense of wonder and awe in nature, shouldn't we see it everywhere and in everyone? Shouldn't that sense of wonder and awe be seen and felt not only in the fields, in a forest, on a meandering quiet stream, on a calm lake, on a beach, on a mountain, at sea, in the skies, but on our campuses as well? If we are awed by the majestic elk or the magnificent whale or the graceful swan or the beautiful peacock or the powerful orang or the dainty butterfly or the melodic wren, why doesn't our awe include each noble student? Why do we feel heartstruck and humble in nature and with a haughtiness so often strike such feelings from our hearts on our campuses?

These are important questions of which we must be mindful each day. We're in a high stakes games. At least, I think so. So many of our everyday decisions have potentially momentous consequences. We have the capacity to make a difference in a person's life, and that is no small responsibility. There is no greater virtue in education than to dedicate ourselves to fundamentally changing society for the better by helping each student help him- or herself become a better person.

I'm not talking about the technology or pedagogy or transmitting information or developing skills. I am talking about approaching each student with hearts wide open and eyes filled with wonder and awe. I'm talking about going through each day and seeing things through what Abraham Herschel called called the prism of "radical amazement. I am talking about the "wonder and awe" of "it is marvelous in our eyes."

Now, what do I mean by wonder. Wonder isn't just an "I wonder" curiosity. It isn't just a "let's see" prelude to more knowledge. It is an unending attitude towards the sacredness of each unique person. I don't believe that any good is achieved without a sense of sacredness and respect for yourself and people. Wonder doesn't occur without being turned on and lit up and getting a kick out of each person and yourself. Just as the Fifth Dimensions sang of letting the sunshine in, we have to let the beauty we love in and be what we do. Now for "awe." Awe is a humbling, overwhelming, overpowering, and dazzling word. It's a "something is just bigger than our resume" word.

There is a direct connection between our experience of wonder and awe on one hand and the moral imperative to act in order to make a difference on the other. We have to be dazzled if we are to be dazzling. Once we allow ourselves to see, feel, and notice this awe and wonder in ourselves, once we open ourselves to the wonders in the world, we are open to the amazement in our personal and professional lives, and we are open to the wonder of each and every student. Once we accept this amazement, we grace each student and build our relationship with each one on it. When you have that kind of vision, you remember the medical dictum to doctors going out into the world: "Do no harm."

And yet, so many of us have a mild, and often hidden, contempt for these kinds of "they aren't doing what I want" or "they're making it harder for me" or "they don't belong here" or "they're wasting my valuable time" students. I have found that there is more than a grain of truth to Parker Palmer's assertion that there aren't many places where people feel less respected than they do in higher education. Our campuses too often are places where adulations are thrown at only a select few: the publishing scholar, the grant recipient, the expert, the student who "wins" in the competition. We do not grant respect to stumbling, groping, and failing students. We do not grant respect to the tentative student who just can't get the right word out or who does get any word out. We don't grant respect to the silent and voiceless student.

How can we wish to assist someone if we are not in wonder of him or her, if we do not love him or her, if we do not see him or her in his or her full beauty and value? How can we rejoice in a person as a magnificent bloom if we see him or her as an annoying and invasive weed? We filter reality through the prism of our already entrenched beliefs, prejudices, assumptions, biases, presumptions. What we see is a reflection of our own beliefs and expectations. Everything we experience passes first through the filter of our own attitudes toward our profession, education, students, and life in general. That's why some of us can see beauty and positive possibilities in the exact same person where some of us see only despair and hopelessness.

It is not easy to open up ourselves constantly and incessantly to the wonders in the classroom and office, especially if some students don't act as if they were miracles. We have to work at it. We may have to look harder; we may have to listen closer. Maybe we each need special glasses and hearing aides to acquire the true eye of seeing and the true ear of listening. How differently we would experience life in the classroom, if we would.

I guess the bottom line lies in two questions: Am I truly awed by each student? Do I believe that there is an essence in each student that is sacred and commands respect? Whether the answer to each question is a yes or no, we need to be less bored and more amazed; we need to be less harried and hurried and more amazed; we need to be less routine and more amazed. We need to be aware of the "amazing moments" and those "wondrous people." We have to work out and build up our amazement muscles. That is, we need to develop--or get back into shape--our sense of wonder. We need to do what children do best: get lost in the present moment in a fit of curiosity, wonder, adventure, and discovery. Maybe, if we are truly to serve each student, we ought to heed the advice of Mr. Rogers: we ought to grow up and start being a child.

I know. I know. You're going to say, "I can't do all that." My answer is two-fold. First, our choice of feeling, thought, and action are to be found near us, not far away. They are within our hearts and in our spirits and in our minds. We each have to do whatever we can do within our reach. We just don't know how far our reach extends. When the simple things become important, the simplest daily tasks gain significance. Second, as it says somewhere in the Talmud, we are not required to complete the work, we just are not allowed to desist from it.

So, when we go into a classroom, let's remember Plato. "The contemplation of beauty," he said, "causes the soul to grow wings." And, if we want to find joy in what we do, a good place to start is by working to be sure that each student "is marvelous in our eyes."

         Make it a good day.


         Louis Schmier      
         Department of History
         Valdosta State University
         Valdosta, GA  31698                 /~\        /\ /\
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                        -_~    /  "If you want to climb mountains,   \ /^\
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