Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Fri, 1 Sep 1995

No walking today. No weather report. I was just reading Jacob Bronowski's _The Ascent of Man_ for the umpteenth time. I always learn something new each time I pick it up and travel through its pages. This time I haven't read but a few pages when I was struck I something he said at the very beginning of the first chapter. Maybe it was because lately I've been involved in, engaged in, and even embroiled in a variety of separate but related discussions on several internet lists that revolve around the issue of self-reflection and change of technique and attitude. Bronowkski said that every age sees itself as a turning point, a culmination of the search for ultimate truth. Its new material successes and creations, new ways of seeing humanity and the universe, convinces it that its vision is the last and final word. And so, it tries to freeze that vision as a finished construct, fighting off all challenges as if change had come to a halt.

As I finished reading those passages, I was bombarded by a host of thoughts about professional humility, commitment, change. For sometimes, I think what Bronowski said of culture is also is true of all too many of us in education. It seems that the longer so many of us teach, the more we think we have arrived, the more we're likely to entrench ourselves in our personal standpoints and professional positions, the more it appears to us as if we have discovered the right ideals and principles of education and the right techniques of teaching. To protect our turf, so many of us seek out only those proofs that keep us in power and support what we're already doing. We don't hunger as much, if at all, for a challenge to our practices except in the most innocuous and peripheral fringes. We don't thirst as much, if at all, for any contests to our outlooks. We rarely listen because I think we afraid it might show us that what we do could quite possibly have been misconceived and counterproductive. Instead, we suppose our convictions and guiding ideas are eternally valid. We try to bind and distort students in our image, for our own safety, convenience and comfort, and usually in the name of being student oriented. And, we, therefore, make a virtue of unchangeably clutching tightly to our proclaimed visions as we press them tightly to our chests with such _ex cathedra_ declarations as "I've been teaching for X number of years and I know...." or "I know I am ......" or "I know how to....."

That word, know. It can be like cholesterol. The more we use that word, the less careful we seem to guard against how it can clog and harden our philosophical and pedagogical arteries; how it can make our convictions and principles grow increasingly rigid to the point of intolerance, so rigid to the point where we are blind to other sights, deaf to other sounds, insensitive to other feelings, and paralyzed in the face of change swirling around us.

Yet, when I began to take my inner journey four year ago, I learned that my life and my teaching is both an active state of being and an ever-changing state of becoming. It must be a continual process of creation if for no other reason than we as teachers have to meet the demands and needs of the ever-changing people in the classroom from hour to hour, day to day, term to term whether the number of the course changes or not. To my discomfort, I found that for such a professional epigenesis to occur, if I was to actualize my own potentialities and capabilities, I had to accept responsibilities for my situation. If I was not becoming all that I could be, it was because it was me who was not changing. If things were no done, it was me who had not done them. If I was dissatisfied or reaped little satisfaction, it was me who had chosen to be there.

Therefore, if I was to respond to that changing environment of those in the class, no one could do that for me. No one could change me. Only I could can do that. Only I could can want to do that. No one could make me a better teacher. Only I can do that. Only I had to decide if I wanted to and could brave the uncertainties to do that. Only I could accept the challenge of being a better human and professional self. Only I could embrace myself and start renewed. Only I could decide if I wanted to engage fully in that wonderful mission of teaching. Only I could take the risk of embarking on a voyage without any assurance of where the trip would take me or what I would find when I got there. All I knew was that I had to change. That I think is one of the real challenges--no, the courage--of teaching. I discovered that it that required an honest self-scrutiny, something of confession. It demanded a willingness to be self-critical in a searching, but positive way; not to passively accept the way I was, but to take a critical look at how I could become better. It required a willingness to change and seek new ways of doing things, getting new attitudes and outlooks, altering perspectives, self- conceptions, and change perceptions.

This kind of quest for knowing, I was to find out and still face, requires a readiness to face your own short-comings as a teacher--maybe as a person as well--even when it hurts to do so, when its frightening along the way, and when doing so means admitting mistakes and acknowledging fallibility. We may have to stop looking "out there" and begin peering "in here." We may have to stop blaming other people and such ethereal non-entities as the system or society, and take the upon ourselves the full responsibility for have created the state of our own professional lives.

Being reflective and self-examining of who I am and what I do never was easy. It still isn't, because for there is an ever-present uneasiness. The problem is that I always feel that, with my fear of heights, I'm on a high wire paradoxically struggling to keep my balance between humility and faith in myself. In one ear, I hear the sweet voices of humility telling me that it's a virtue to pay attention to others. At the same time, the strong voice of faith is telling me to have a commitment to my own judgement, the strength of my convictions, and to have the courage of being myself. But, if I listen too much to either, the inner ear of my soul is disturbed, I lose my balance, and fall. If I let the utterances of humility drown out the other voices, I surrender myself totally to others: I receive but do not give; I listen but not speak; I am touched but do not reach out to touch; I submit but do not challenge; I answer but do not question. On the other hand, if faith in myself is too loud, the exact opposite occurs: I stop thirsting, hungering, searching, exploring, experimenting; I ban curiosity, seeking out new things; I become intransigent, inflexible, taken with myself, and shut out all who disagree. So, I always find that there is a tension between the two within me. I think this tension is productive for it forces me to be sensitive to the need for a stereophonic sound that helps me to decide when to listen and hear and when to speak and be heard, when to accept and when to resist, when to yield to the tug and when to tug back, when not to apologize for a stand and when I must apologize for taking a stand. Hamlet would say that the rub is that there is no true formula, no guaranteed technique for striking a balance between reverence and idolatry, between self-abasement and self- aggrandizement. Each time I take a step on the high wire of self-reflection and evaluation, each step I take into and out from a classroom, each step I enter a discussion, each step I take to live both my life and profession, each step I talk in my struggle to realize the completeness of my teaching, the world has a difference appearance and therefore a different meaning and purpose. Moment by moment, class by class, student by student, term by term my weight shifts, my center of gravity changes, I wobble, and I have to reestablish my balance, sometimes fight to maintain that balance, between humility and faith as I prepare for the inevitable next step.

Maybe the easing of discomfort is to accept the fact of its irresolution. Maybe Jung is right when he said that the serious problems in life--and I might add, teaching--are never fully solved. The meaning and design of a problem do not lie in its solutions, but in working at it incessantly so that we're saved from both stultification and petrifaction. The never-ending demanding search, I guess, turns the bottles and keeps the sweet, clear wine from clouding, and ultimately protects it from growing turbid and sour. I guess that's the demanding price I have to be willing to pay if I want to be teacher and person I want to be.

Have a good one.


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" -\____

Return to The Complete Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier
Return to the Random Thoughts of Louis Schmier
Return to Arbor Heights Elementary School