Copyright © 1997, Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Date: Sun, 10 Aug 1997 08:37:03 -0400 (EDT)
Subject: Random Thought: What Is An Education?

A few weeks ago, at the Student Union, some of my students threw a curve ball at me. As I munched on a doughnut or two or three, we were talking about the class and how much they enjoyed it and got out of it. One of the students asked why I have them do the "stuff" that they do: the "getting to know ya" exercises, the music at the beginning of class, the moment of silent meditation, scavenger hunts, theatrical presentations, creative writing, abstract drawing, game playing, chain essays and the like.

"Did you know," she said in a whisper as if someone was trying to overhear our conversation, "that some other professors think what you do is kindergardenish and doesn't belong in a university?"

"Don't you care what other professors think about you?" another chimed in.

I told them that I did, but I care more about what the students think since I am in what I called "the student business" and have to be true to myself and my beliefs. Beside, I added so few of my colleagues really know what I do because they haven't sat in our class and observe.

"Would you let them?" another student asked.

Before I could answer, a third student jumped in, "They won't because they'd be a guest and would first have to join 'our community' and sing!" Everyone laughed.

Then, came the pitch. "Seriously," Sheila asked, "in a nutshell, what do you think an education should be?"

"That's a hell of a question." I answered. "A nutshell? I'll need some time to think that one over. Class time. Gotta go!"

We all got up as I promised to have an answer by tomorrow. "A bag of Tootsie Pops for each of us if you don't," Charles laughed.

"You're on," I shot back accepting the challenge.

And, I've been cursing Sheila since then. What was I going to tell them. I was having trouble with that nutshell part until I engaged in a neat exchange on a particular discussion list. Today, I got the answer I want to give them.

I've decided to tell them that when I answer their question, I'm really revealing my values, my character, and expressing my credo on which are founded my truths and beliefs, and on which I base my attitudes and actions.

So what's my credo? As I once told an e-mail colleague, its core is the value of the individual worth of each human being, that as an educator, a teacher, I enjoy and serve the people who have been placed in my path. This value translates into my techniques, my interaction with students, my behavior. It a value which indicates my strongest beliefs, on what I would be unable to compromise, how I view the worth and capability of other individuals, how I view my responsibility of treating students in my daily encounters, which choices I make. I guess I am revealing who I believe I am; what is my relationship to others; what I believe about others; what is my responsibility both to myself and those others. Fundamentally, I believe that all individuals are entitleed to respect, care, and deserve my best efforts to serve them in their needs, their achivement of their goals, and a deeper understanding and regard for themselves. To believe otherwise, I would overlook their worth and create innocent waste. I believe it is my responsibility to help them find the material to fill the potholes in their spirit, find the fuel to energize their ability and light up their understanding of their potential, help them rise above their own limiting preconceptions, and challenge their limits. I believe it my responsibility to do likewise to myself. I have found that it is those times when my attitudes and actions are congruent with my values that I draw affirmation, energy, and fullfilment.

And so, this is what I will tell those students what I believe an education is not and what an education is. This nutshell is going to save me, to their dismay, many a bag of Tootsie Pops.

I do not believe an education is a degree. To believe it is, is probably the greatest weakness in our educational philosophy. A grade is not a sign of an education. A GPA is not an education. A curriculum of largely unrelated classes is not an education. That is, "X" number of minutes, "Y" number of credit hours, "Z" number of core and/or major courses do not constitute an education.

So what do I believe an education is? I strongly feel that first and foremost an education must be a transforming and it is learning to face such growth, development and change. An education should be getting a license to be endlessly curious, to continually ask questions, not just getting the degree for a job. It should be a means of becoming less self-righteous and inwardly stronger, less arrogant and more humble. That is, an education is the acquisition of the ability to listen without losing your cool or self-confidence. By this particular measure many of us with many degrees, long resumes, and wide-spread reputations are not particularly educated. An education is getting someone to know how much they do not know and learn how much they have to learn. An education disciplines rather than just fills the mind; it trains the mind to use its own powers independently rather than being dependent on someone else filling it. An education should develop hearts, not just minds so that people can live noble lives as well as have productive careers. An education should be, then, the development of character, a quest for values, the raising of visions, not merely the hoarding of facts and honing of skills. It should be a the creation of a way of life--a way of looking at people and things--not a problem or an assignment or a job.

This is what I am going to tell my questioning students what I believe an education is not and is, and why they are at VSU.

Make it a good day.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
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