Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Tue, 27 Jun 1995

It's about 9:00 in the morning. 36,000 feet somewhere over South Carolina on the second leg of my trip home after two days at a magnificent conference of the Organizational Behavioral Teaching Conference at Western Illinois University. I am physically and emotionally tired, but like this plane my spirit is soaring high in the clouds. I am enveloped by a strong and warm sense of community and fulfillment that won't let me shut down either my mind or soul. I find I have unexpected emotions about this conference that few others have stirred. Just three days earlier I was anxiously flying in the other direction believing I was Daniel about to go into the lions' den; now I am going home with nary a scratch but with newly forged friendships. I went west anxiously wanting to get the conference over as soon as possible; now, as the clouds roll by, I am sad that the conference has come to an end and regret that I am heading home so soon. I went as a stranger in a strange land--an historian among people associated with teaching in business schools--and am returning with warm feelings as an adopted member of the family. I was initially greeted correctly and politely with introductions and handshakes and left with warm back slapping, embracing hugs, and kisses. I went not believing that any session at a conference of business academics could really of much interest to me; now I depart having experienced more personal growth in two days then at most other conferences I have attended. I had planned to give, but received far more. IT was something else, something magical--at least, for me--that has stirred something within. As I was about to lean back and close my eyes, and think a while about just what that magic may have been, a little girl from across the aisle came over to me and started smiling at me. I smiled back. Then, she asked, "What's your name?"

I told her, "Louis. What's yours?"

"Sam." Then, she put her finger to her lips, leaned over, and whispered, "It's really Samantha, but that is such a yukkie name."

"No," I said with a grin. "I know a nice and beautiful witch named Samantha that does nice things for people."

"What do you do?" she asked with a spontaneous and innocent giggle.

"I'm a teacher," I replied.

"What do you do?" I asked as I offered her a Tootsie Pop.

"I can turn around and jump at the same time."

"I can make myself look like a fish," as I sucked in and puckered my lips.

She giggled. "I'm flying in an airplane."

"You are?" I feigned surprise. "Me, too!"

"Where are you going," she asked next.

I told her. "And where are you going," I asked.

"To see Mickey Mouse," she laughed.

As she started to tell me all about her trip to Disney World, our delightful conversation was cut short. Her mother pulled her away with an admonishing, "Don't disturb the man."

"It's no disturbance," I protectingly advised.

"She shouldn't get in the habit of talking with strangers anyhow," I was reproached with a feigned smile.

And that was that. The little girl's glow disappeared. But, she wouldn't be deterred. Nor would I. Every now and then, we turn and sneak a peek at each other, wink at each other, or lick on our Tootsie Pops on the same beat, or quickly raise our eyebrows a bit, or faintly smile, or wrinkle our noses, or make unnoticed funny faces.

As we secretly communicated so her mother wouldn't notice, I started thinking about three words that I had heard in a session at the conference. They've been reverberating inside me since Larry Levin used them to define spirituality at the beginning of a powerful session on spirituality in the classroom presented by Judy Neal from the University of New Haven. He said that spirituality is "listening to children." How true. We may have brute authority in the class room and we may have intellectual power. But, without the child, there is no spirit, no meaning, no purpose, no humanity. Without the child, the classroom becomes a cold, bleak, loveless orphanage.

It's the child in us that brings constant freshness and enthusiasm; it's the child within that makes both us and the students spontaneous actors and constant discovers; it's the child within that makes us all learners, experimenters, players, dreamers, explorers. For the child, no nook or cranny is too dangerous, no object too valuable, no obstacle too insurmountable, and no place too sacred to investigate. It's the child in us that keeps us crawling, digging, and climbing. It's the child within that sees, listens, feels, and smells the world. It's the child that endows us with our sense of wonder, of freedom, of joy, of surprise, of risk, of trust, of spontaneity, of flexibility, of adaptability, of fantasy. It's the child within that drives us to mine our creativity, inventiveness, imagination, authenticity, caring, love. It's the child within that urges us on to tumble over our mysterious surrounding to discover the wonder of our vast existence. It's the child within that tells us to trust our perceptions, acknowledge our feelings, proclaim our worth. It's the child within that endows us with our uninhibited, optimistic, and zestful view of learning and life. It's the child within that ultimately digs out the exciting, magical, and wonderful "me", that drives each of us to strive for our own uniqueness, potential and authenticity.

It's the child in us that makes us magicians with the power to conjure up, transform, and cast out. To be in touch with students, to feel deeply each of their moods, to experience fully each of their magic, to sense the wonder out there and in each of them, to sense the wonder in ourselves is to be in touch with the children within. It's the child in us that creates the mystery of each student each day in each classroom, that reveals the spirit of each person. It's there, waiting to be called forth even if we deny its existence or don't experience it. It's the child that gives the class its spice, that casts out boredom, that creates an ecstacy and rapture in learning, and proclaims that there is wonder out there in every moment of every day. Starve the child within and the music of the class room dims, the paint loses its brilliance, the glaze is chipped, the taste loses its spice, the dance stiffens, pages are torn out, the poetry is less read and understood, the guiding light goes out, the love loses its intensity, the magic is done, the spirit dies, the celebration ends, and we stop wiggling our fingers and toes. All that remains of the nourishing oasis is a parched desert of meaningless, dull facts. The pleasure of learning is replaced by the pain of it, the love of it by the hate for it, experience by telling and direction, noisy excitement by quiet and boring routine, spontaneity by dulling discipline and order.

It's sad that so many of us were children who now have forgotten how to be them or are afraid to be them. And so, we have sadly so neglected the child within us and the students; we have so lost the capacity to play at learning and learn by playing; we've allowed our precious "child" to atrophy and thereby have fossilized the spirit of the class room. It really is sad that so many people, as they grow older and acquire greater reputation, tend to lose their playfulness and hurl insidious prohibitions against anyone who would be a child. It's too bad that so many academicians, who have themselves fossilized, see the attempts to retain youth as pathetic signs of naivete, immaturity, superficiality, insincerity, serendipity, silliness, impropriety, childishness, waste, weakness, and even irrationality. It's sadder because most people have submitted. Our academic culture certainly is conducive to it with all those people, their degrees, resumes, and titles draped around their neck, telling us--as a colleague told me the other day when he heard music in the class room--that learning is "serious business", that I should stop "fooling around," "remember your position," and "act your age." But, in fact, I think we should applaud those teachers who cling to the child within them and encourage their students to allow the child within them to be a dynamic dimension of their personalities, who know how to teach and learn and play and have fun all at the same time, who get down on their knees and talk with the child within face-to-face, who stay in touch with that wonder and never forget it, who remember how to live life and teach life. People can teach and learn hard without it being at the expense of the child within them, at the expense of losing that wonderful capacity to play and have fun. No, the spirit of learning is the spirit of the child. And so, we teachers must love and nurture and nourish the "child" within. Not to do so is to lose the capacity to braille the world, to be involved with it, to wonder and dream, and to live.

And so, holding up an unwrapped orange Tootsie Pop in salute and blowing a bubble or two, to Larry's definition I would only add, "and listening to the child within ourselves and others."

Have a good one.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
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