Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Thu 2/3/2005 5:53 AM
Random Thought: When?

Well, I'm still here. The surgery last week was successful. The cancerous prostate is out and so is all the cancer. The doctor's used the word "cured." Damn, that's a sweet sounding word. Bless those annual physicals and caring, conscientious physicians. Now, I'll be recuperating off campus for about another three weeks under the watchful and loving eye of my Susan who has mutated into a combined faithful friend, devoted companion, loving mother, caring nurse, and a steely-eyed, unyielding drill instructor. I have been such an undemanding good patient that it hurts, and have been uttering an endless string of obediently "yes, ma'am."

Since my diagnosis last November, and even more so now, I have been facing my own mortality. I have realized that life is far more tenuous than anyone of us might or want to think. At some time, I had placed my hand over my chest, had felt my heartbeat, had understood that it is the sound of my life-clock counting down, had known it would some day stop and that I can't do a thing about that. With the suddenly realization that I don't have the luxury of throwing away a single, precious second, I found myself pondering the age-old questions of the meaning of life and what I do. I've mused about why I'm here and what is my greater purpose in the grand scheme of things. So many of us, most of us, so often look for the type of answers that are as grandiose and complicated as that scheme. We simply dismiss the simple possibility that there may be simple answers. Yet, as Newton said, Mother Nature does like simplicity, and following his Law of Parsimony, maybe the answers are simply found in that something that you truly like to do, that something that truly makes you happy, that something that stirs your passion and keeps you going, that something that gives you a sense of purpose and meaning, that something that makes you feel great about what you're doing and about who you are, that something that has the true answers in your heart, that something that is incredibly rewarding, that something that keeps you hanging on, that something which keeps you free.

Most people don't like jolting questions, academics included, even though we pronounce that we teach students how to ask them. Most people like answers, and if they don't get easy, emotionally satisfying, suddenly bathed in bright light, burst of divine vision answers, their eyes acquire a glaze, they drift off into some dreamland, or their lips begin to twist as they prepare to defend to the death whatever it is they do--or don't do. Nevertheless, my answers I pose in the form of questions. They're "raise your hand if you feel you can get more out of what you do" questions. They're tough, honest questions. They're getting to the essence of what really matters questions. They are risky "listen carefully to your heart" questions. They are "do you hear destiny calling you" questions. They are "this is what I should be doing with my life" questions. They are my "when" questions:

When are we going to heed Martin Luther King's word: "Our lives begin to end on the day we become silent about things that matter."

When are we going to stand up and shout that, mission statements and glowing words to the contrary, we do not create a climate for students to learn about their own meaning, purpose, and mission in life?

When are we going to condemn the continuation of what I'll call "false achievement" perpetuated by an approach "We compare, we compete. That's all we ever do" that leaves students feeling isolated and alone, that destroys any concept of community?

When are we going to scream out that our reward and recognition systems cause a great deal of moral and ethical disconnection and contradiction between personal and academic lives both for students and faculty?

When are we going to yell about our restrictions, avowals to the contrary, on innovative teaching and bold new directions in the classroom?

When are we going to stop being silent that the real purpose of an education is not merely to transmit information, but to transform people, to help students learn how to use that information as a source and means of self-inspiration, self-development, self-transformation, respect for themselves and others, and to improve the world we live in.

When are we going to loudly demand that we expunge debilitating and often paralyzing "learned fear" and "acquired aloneness" from our academic culture for both the students and faculty?

When are we going to stop accepting a denigrating level of conformity in virtually every facet of our lives rather than exercise the individuality that is the very essence of who we each are?

When are we going to loudly demand that we develop an educational approach for "strategic achievement that nurtures relationships with others and identifies a purpose cause beyond oneself, that education should be defined primarily are the capacity to care about and to be cared about, to love and to be loved?

When are we going to shout that an education be about the moral development and character growth of students, not just preparing them to get a job.

When are we going to proclaim that the most important question we can teach students to ask is: "What can I do for you?"

When are we going to actively create a campus culture of welcome, of support and encouragement, of respect for and love of and caring of each and every student?

When are we going to shout that an education is a way of life, not an amassed amount of information, not an entry "union card" for a job?

When are we going to realize that the lifelong lessons inherent in a "strategic education" of respecting oneself and others, being empathetic, caring about others, and contributing to the well-being of others are far more important than any grade, GPA, or academic honor?

When are we going to stop focusing so much on what we are doing that we lose sight of where we're going?

When are we going to realize that love--that warmth, that gladness, that encouragement, that embrace, that empathy, that otherness, that awareness, that sensitivity--is the one powerful, enduring, delicate force that brings real meaning to our everyday academic lives?


         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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