Copyright © Louis Schmier

Date: Sun 9/4/2005 6:32 AM
Random Thought: Suckered? Nah!

I haven't been in the mood to write lately. I don't know why. I just knew the spirit wasn't there and I wasn't about to force it just to write for the sake of writing. Then, a few mornings ago, as I felt deeply sorry for myself that the hurricane Katrina had caused such a scarcity of gas on I-75 here in Georgia that Susan and I couldn't drive to Nashville for a few "grandbaby spoiling" days, I was blasted by a "serves you right" Category 4 message from a professor at a northwestern university. She was responding to a Random Thought entitled, "Ah, Me" that I had written last April. For you who don't remember, it was about a student who had taken advantage of an offer I had made to her and who had decided, upon the advice of her parents, that getting the better grade was more important than doing the right thing.

"I could have told you what she would have decided. No mystery. How can you have such faith in students?" she asked. With an interesting intensity, we she on, "They haven't earned it. They don't deserve it. They'll cheat and take short cuts every chance they get. They want everything to be so easy. They don't want to exert themselves....they want a lot for so little....This student is proof to me why I am right to never trust a student....Your way is starry-eyed and fool hardy....You're a dreamer. What you're asking is impossible....Your faith in students is a poor strategy of teaching. Our time is too valuable to get involved with such things that waste our time and efforts. So, I don't bother with any of them. I'm sure you won't anymore. In your case, I would have been too embarrassed to have shared with the world how easily I had been suckered."

As we e-mailed back and forth, she was surprised when I told her that not only would I do it again without any hesitation, but instead of indulging in self pity, I am at this very moment giving another student a second chance. "He's coming through and keeping his word," I explained. "How do you account for that?"

"He's the exception," she replied. "You're just lucky--so far. Just wait. You're taking some risk....You'll be victimized again."

Her haunting phrases--"never trust a student," "haven't earned it," "they don't deserve it," "poor strategy," "our time is too valuable," "don't bother with any of them," "suckered," "victimized," "they," "us"--smacked not so much of haughtiness and arrogance as they did anger, cynicism, frustration, hurt, defensiveness, dismissiveness, hopelessness, disbelief, meaninglessness, and/or maybe fear and powerlessness. With such an apparent lack of faith and belief, such limiting and discouraging thoughts I can't imagine how her classroom life can be truly bearable for her. "Carpes Diem" doesn't seem to ring in her soul. Though I asked, I don't know why this professor to choose the attitude she currently has. From years of conversation, I do know she is not alone.

As I read and reread her words, as well as those of our subsequent conversations, I thought of all those moments during the eight weeks between the moment I heard that I had a cancerous prostate and the moment the prostate was surgically removed. I thought of all those moments between the time I heard "you've got cancer" and the time I heard "we've got it all." I thought of all those moments in the months between the operation and my recovery, a recovery which, after eight months, is still not complete. I thought of all those moments of six months between the time of the urologist unhesitatingly declared success and my PSA tests that proved him right. And, I thought of all the choices I had to make about living my personal and professional lives. Life in general, and so life in the classroom, comes at us without warning. What each of us chooses to think of ourselves and our world has an enormous impact on what direction we point ourselves, how we each relate to and deal with life and life in the classroom, and how we influence those around us. There is a choice each of us has to make in everything we do and about everything we experience. And, as we choose, we should never forget that the choices we make, both reveal us and make us.

Heck, we all will feel betrayed, we all feel advantage of, we all feel disappointed, we all feel frustrated, we will all feel threatened. It is our choice whether we let these feelings naturally fade to pale images or let them hold us hostage, intensely hold on to them tightly, and give them permission to increasingly weigh us down, eat at us more and more, diminished us more and more, atrophy us more and more. Of course, they don't do all this to us; we do it to ourselves, for they can do nothing without our permission. We can live in the shadow of our anxieties, suspicions, and fears. We can fret. We can choose to use our disappointment or hurt as an excuse or explanation to waste what we still have and can do. We can shun. We can embrace. We can accept defeat within. We can achieve victory within. We can be clinical. We can be involved. We can see more of. We can see less of. We can find common bonds. We can sever all bonds. We can widen chasms. We can build bridges. We can choose to be teachers who are not teachers in spirit. We can choose to be spirited teachers. We can turn the warm, bright, and joyous simple and deep moments of opportunity to make a difference into cold, dark, joyless squanderings. We can see and listen or we can ignore and overlook. We can notice or turn a proverbial blind eye. We can surrender each day or we can fight for each day. We can go into the classroom as if it's a laboring chore and merely mark our days as passing and regretful "ah, me's." We can get up out of bed each morning excitedly thankful for one more day given to us. We can choose to live this one more day, the only day we have, to the fullest, to decide to laugh and smile one more day, to choose to embrace and love one more day, to make a difference one more day. The extent to which we become emotionally wounded and weakened or healed and strengthened often determines how we live not only that day, but the rest of our lives and careers.

Somewhere I read these words: "Yesterday is a dream. Tomorrow is a vision. But today, well lived, makes every yesterday a dream of happiness and every tomorrow a vision of hope." I would add that there are no impossibilities in a dream. Am I a dreamer? You bet!

This message has gotten my wheels spinning. But, enough for now. More later.

         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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