Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Fri, 4 June 1993

Well, I have just come in from an arduous power walk. And though the south Georgia sun has yet to come up, I still feel like one of Noel Coward's mad dogs and Englishmen. At this early, heat and humid hour of the darkened day, I was thinking about peer pressure. It was not the common variety of peer pressure that we usually think about--the kind that exists among our kids or students. The peer pressure, the deadening negative peer pressure, that I was thinking about is the one that exists among faculty; the overt kind that frequently demeans the value and professionalism of classroom teaching; the adversarial kind that has the chilling effect of intimidating teaching innovation and extinguishing the flames of experimentation; the subtle kind that forces professors to scale back their efforts, dampens their enthusiasm, erodes their self-satisfaction; the isolating and ignoring kind that creates a frustrating loner syndrome; the kind that is the enemy of educational excellence and a breeder of stylized classrooms that produce a rising tide of mediocrity; the kind that is spread by the apocalyptic horsemen of arrogance, insecurity, cynicism, self-righteousness, laziness, resentment, jealousy, guilt, lack of personal and/or professional esteem, skepticism, hostility, negativism, disbelief, and disinterest.

It is disappointing to see our colleagues not striving to do their best in the classroom or thinking that they have little upon which to improve. It is, however, abhorrent for colleagues to actively seek to diminish the performance of others, and it is that kind of behavior that rightly invites criticism aimed at all levels of education. We don't want to talk about it; we prefer to ignore it, maybe deny it. But, it's there! What got me started on this usually ignored subject was a conversation I had with a colleague, a friend and associate of long standing, a self-proclaimed student-oriented teacher, and a supporter of liberal arts education.

I had just come into my office to "come down" from a particularly exhilarating classes. I had begun my intro class with a question about the McCarthy witch hunts. Some of my students took control of the class. I stepped back as they moved spontaneously into a discussion of individual rights and majority rule which ended up in a heated argument about political correctness.

So, there I was with my feet propped up on my desk, a cup of coffee in hand, and about to read the latest issue of the student newspaper when in walked my colleague. Without so much as a "How are you doing," he rather rudely blurted out in an obviously agitated tone: "Louis, you've done it again. Some of us were talking and we don't appreciate you using students to promote yourself to fill your classes, much less manipulating them to advance your agenda and have it imposed upon us."

"I suppose you're a spokesmen," I replied with a calmness that even surprised me. I guess I have been around my son's school in Maine too long. "So, Mr. Spokesman, tell me just what are you talking about. What is it that I am supposed to have done?"

"You know," he asserted, "it's in the 'Letter to the Editor' section of the paper. Some think that you actually wrote it!"

I opened the paper and read a letter written by six of my students:

Hi, we are students in Dr. Schmier's His 200 class. In addition to the assigned triads, we have joined with a few of our fellow students to develop an informal study group. We call ourselves the 'SCHMIERITES.' Our motto is--why ask why? BECAUSE WE ARE SCHMIERITES!

If you've heard about Dr. Schmier's class, you are probably wondering about our reaction to his innovative, provocative and radical teaching methods. Well, you could call it a love/hate relationship. Some days we hate him for making us work so damn hard. But most days we love him. Never in all of our education experience have we had to toil this hard. He motivates us to push ourselves to the max and beyond. We have to delve deeper within ourselves to find the answers to the who, what and why questions of American history. He expects us to accomplish his goals for us, and more importantly, to accomplish the goals we've set for ourselves. Never give up, he says, on ourselves or on others. We are learning to not take anything for grated--question everything. Be critical and skeptical. WHY? WHY? WHY? When the other professors here at VSC get sick of us asking so many questions in class, they can. Want to improve your outlook and increase your expectations? Does your self-esteem need a boost? Need better study habits? Want the experience of being a team member or even a team leader? Searching for courage? Want to test your honesty and integrity? Want to read until your eyes bug out? Do you want to learn how to debate an issue? Do you like adventure and seek your unique potential? Are you willing to put forth your best, and then your better than best and boldly face new challenges? Do you yearn for a permanent, personalized seat in the Library? Would you like to really learn about people in American history and not just memorize facts? Like to argue about today's issues? If you answered yes to any or all of these questions--take the plunge and sign up for Dr. Schmier's History 200 class. WE GIVE OUR THANKS TO DR. SCHMIER!! He has enriched and enhanced our lives. We have begun to think differently, our study habits are better, and our general outlook is better. We have opened our eyes and our minds.

"How about that," I quietly exclaimed.

"Is that all you have to say?" he impatiently asked. "We hear that they sent copies to every administrator on campus. What do you have to say for yourself?"

"It seems that they said it all," I whispered as I focused on those words.

"Look," he proclaimed, "most of us, certainly me, don't care what you do in your classes with your students. But you can't do these things. They're spilling over into our classes and threatening us. And what about the other day when you let your students kick you out of class to talk about you behind your back. The next thing they'll come into my class and challenge my authority. I'm a damn good teacher. I work with the students. You know that. But, you're making me look bad. What are my student evaluations now going to say?"

"Am I really threatening you," I asked as I looked up from the paper, "or are you feeling threatened?"

The conversation rambled on for a while, but little was accomplished. You know, sometimes as I roam my campus I think of a prison. I see the separate cells of offices, classrooms, departments and schools that unnaturally dissect the living body of knowledge and strip education of its natural sociality. It's almost like everyone is teaching and learning in solitary confinement. Someone once told me, "what a world of love teaching is." Like love, teaching is not an individualistic activity in which professor is isolated behind the lecture and podium from the student or is isolated from colleagues. It is a social activity between professor and students, as well as among professors, the lack of which reduces opportunities to acquire new knowledge and attitudes and skills. Teaching is a love whose excitements, fears, triumphs and disappointments should be joyously shared, not jealously guarded or defensively feared and protected against. A college campus should crackle not only with the excitement of research and scholarship; it should revel with enthusiasm of examining substantive issues, exchanging ideas and encouraging reflection about one's own teaching; it should reduce, not increase, strain and tension; it should be dedicated to the affirmation of dynamic instruction by acting as a catalyst for sharing, educating and promoting growth; it should recognize that teaching is not the bastard child to be tolerated, but the love child to be embraced.

I really get tired of the negative debilitating peer pressure, of trying to be convinced that I am the mutant or that I must climb unending hills or fight endless windmills. Let the dynamic professors come out from the closet and use peer pressure for positive ends. Let the dynamic professors stop feeling self-conscious and band together with confidence to persuade their colleagues to use creative teaching methods that actively involve students in the learning process. I have a dream when professors will emerge from their cell-like offices and their isolated classrooms to talk enthusiastically over coffee about their exciting teaching ideas; when they will visit each other's classrooms to observe, exchange information, and help each others develop new teaching skills, then they will help the students find themselves.

Imagine the teaching experiences, the fresh ideas, the increased enthusiasm by professor and student, and the pursuit of educational excellence that would be generated. I have a dream when teaching on the college and university campus will acquire a status equal to scholarship, when it will become a shared and joyful enterprise in which professors will participate with mutual respect for one another. But for that to happen, however, we all must acknowledge the uncomfortable and sometimes painful truth of Cassius' words: "Men at some time are masters of their fates." The fault, to paraphrase Shakespeare, dear colleagues, is not in some inanimate abstraction called society or administration or education, but in each of us.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
Department of History                      /~\    /\ /\
Valdosta State University          /^\    /   \  /  /~ \     /~\__/\
Valdosta, Georgia 31698           /   \__/     \/  /     /\ /~      \
                            /\/\-/ /^\___\______\_______/__/_______/^\
                          -_~     /  "If you want to climb mountains, \ /^\
                             _ _ /      don't practice on mole hills" -\____

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