Copyright © Louis Schmier

Date: Thu 1/19/2006 5:00 AM
Random Thought: Here's To Gray!

Just came in. It's a chilly "brrrrrrrry," 31 degree, overcast morning out there. No colorful streaks of dawn. The skies are woolen gray. The air has a light smothering, ashen hue. There's a gray feeling that the color has been sapped out from everything. And as I started working to get back to my pre-op power walking distance, I thought about gray. Poor gray. Who would lift a toasting glass to gray? Few I know. Who would think to get up in the morning, brew a pot of delicious coffee, step outside, take a deep breath, walk five miles, sit down with a hot cup, and feel "God, it's a bright, beautiful gray day?" Probably not many. I will after this morning. In fact, when you enter that classroom you might consider proclaiming "What a magnificent gray class." Use a monotonous color associated with the doldrums and blahs to describe that glorious gathering of those whom I call "sacred ones?" You bet!.

Poor gray. It gets a bum rap it doesn't really deserve. I say this because for some reason a piece in the Washington Post a few weeks ago by Phillip Kennicott has been tugging on my mind. In it he was down on gray. He wrote about the drabness of winter's gray, accentuated by the fact that it follows the celebrating colors of the holiday season. He was down on the color gray calling it a dulling color like "pewter gray" and a corrupting color like "blue gray." In one sense he's right. After all, does anyone remember ever having seen gray Christmas lights adorning homes, trees, or malls?

But, I think he's done a disservice to such a deserving color. You see, when it comes to teaching I like gray. I find nothing tedious or ordinary about it. In the classroom is it the most colorful of colors; it is the most dynamic; the most precise; the most challenging; the most lively; the most invigorating. No, gray in the classroom is not a "neither-here-nor-there-color;" it's an "on-the-mark" color; it's a "full-of-life" color; it's the purest of colors. It's the color closest to the reality of real life. It's a "keeping-you-on-your-toes" color. It's an awareness color. But if you don't like gray, you've forsaken most of who and what is in the classroom; you've bleached out all that is colorful; you've erased names; you've blurred faces; you've made for uniformity, conformity, and monotony.

Why? Gray is a gray area color. Gray is a nuance color, a color of complexity and complications. It a defying defining color. It's a stereotype-buster color that spotlights the individual. It finds the holes in the statistical averages. It is, therefore, for me a poetic color. It's the color of the extraordinary. It's a color of the subtle; it's a color of the sublime. It's the color of the valuable. It's has such a bright side to it that I almost have to wear sunglasses. None of that simplistic, over simplistic, distorting, unreal, flattening, life-leeching, herding, stereotyping, faceless, nameless, cut-and-dry, and black-and-white stuff with gray. With gray you can't mindlessly categorize and label into distorting corrals. You can't dehumanize the classroom.

That's why gray is so vibrant. It smartens up education. It's the color Carl Jung would have referred to when he said you have to put aside your formal theories and intellectual constructs and axioms and statistics and charts when you reach out to touch that miracle called the individual human being. And that is exactly what we do or should be doing: reaching out to touch each individual human being each day in each classroom. You know, many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our point of view. What would it mean, then, if you saw each class as a gathering of separate and sacred ones, if you treated each student with a sense that he or she was of infinite value? I can tell you what I do. As I praise the miraculous-ness of each student, each student appears valuable in my eyes; and, as each student appears to be valuable, I am obligated to treat him or her as a valuable not to be lost. Then, I find that I am more inclined to look each student in the eye and see a noble, sacred, unique, miraculous human being, not a student,. The result is that I can't help but treat him or her with the infinite respect and concern to which he or she is entitled. After all, isn't that how each of us wants to be treated? Why should we be any different when we treat each student?

I like gray, then, because when it comes to students and teaching in academia, there so often deafness to Jung's warning; there's a consequent laziness of ideas, a susceptibility to simplified explanations, and a playing of a numbers game. This stereotyping is always and totally unethical and immoral because it lying. Not every person is guilty of the charge that's leveled or of the perception imposed. No, its gray that inoculates each person in that classroom with the life that stereotypes and classifications and categorizations had sucked out. It's gray that tells us that the life of the classroom is an intricately woven carpet with many different colored and differently layered threads brought together in different patterns. And while we have to reduce this complexity to manageable proportions for the sake of conversation, the tendency is too often to over-simplify and consequently to distort, and, then, to refer to that distortion as if it is absolute truth. The result is that we unfairly don't deal with the whole person; we judge, assess, and rely exclusively on one or two things; we see selectively because, once again, many of the truths we cling to depend greatly on our point of view. We see a GPA, a test grade, an SAT score, an award, a recognition, skin color, special needs, clothing, tattooing, body piercing, accent, gender, sexual orientation, etc, etc, etc. We academics see each other no differently. It's akin to appraising a diamond by merely looking at one facet or designing a house with only one or two walls or reviewing a book after reading only a few pages. There result is that we lose the sense of the sublime and subtle, we're blind to the totality and wholeness of the person, and we, therefore, reduce real people--as well as ourselves--to inert abstractions and staid statistics and lifeless constructs.

That's the real dumbing down in education.

So, here's to enlivening gray. I think I'll e-mail Kenny and give him "gray" as another word for my Dictionary of Good Teaching.

         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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