Copyright © 1997, Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

Subject: Random Thought: A Student and A Sparrow
Date: Thu, 20 Mar 1997 10:36:25 -0500 (EST)

As I walked through the dark streets, white carpeted with the fallen snow of dogwood petals, this morning, my thoughts and feelings focused more on the blackness of the night then on the whiteness of the umbrella of dogwoods, more than bleakness of the few remains of winter than on the renewal of spring colorfully bursting forth. For the last couple of weeks I can't get out of my heart and mind an article a friend of mine, Ron Butler at NC State, had sent me. It is a heart-rending tale of a troubled father's anguish for the denigrating pain inflicted on his dyslexic young son at the hands of his educational tormentors.
I have been reading and re-reading that agonizing piece. It has grabbed me, plagued me, tugged at me every time I pick it up. With every word, every phrase, every paragraph my breath always deepens and lengthens, my eyes waters, my muscles tighten, my head involuntarily shakes, my emotions stir. Many of the searing words and phrases this father penned are burned into my soul. It's the same tearful tale my wife and I have told many a time of the broken promises, empty assurances, and disinterested attitudes by teachers and councilors. Every haunting word brings back the nightmares of my ADHD afflicted son's suffering as my wife and I could only stand helplessly by. I could feel the helplessness as this boy's father writes of what he calls his son's private suffering: "He's not disruptive in class. His behavior doesn't demand immediate attention....he is sensitive, quiet and trying as hard as he possibly can simply to fit silent. He falls into one of our educational system's most heartless cracks. Unless someone reaches out to him, he will remain there unnoticed and finally ignored. It won't be intentional--but the results will be just as devastating." He then goes on, in a mixture of anger and confusion, to mournfully tell how his son's teacher, who knows of her student's affiction and had expressed deep concern for the boy's welfare, gives his son a D- on a social studies test mainly for misspelling correct answers. Taking cues from adults, fellow students mistreat the boy, refuse to sit next to him, and call him names. And no one in authority does anything. I can see the father with tears in his eyes write, "Today, my son wants to know why. He wants to know what he's done to deserve it all." I have felt his pain. For his son's future, he ends this woeful letter with a fearful prayer for the support to accept his son for whom he is, the nurturing of his true fulfillment of self-worth, the valuing of his sacred uniqueness, and the encouragement to be himself: "The ability to 'be whole' has become my prayer for my son."
I'm not all that sure about what is in store for the future of this father's son as my thoughts moved quickly to a series of electronic conversations I've been having with several professors, one of whom is on my campus, in response to my comments about Dean Smith. In response to their stand that Dean Smith had the luxury of choosing the type of players for his team and that it was unconscionable of me to compare this high-salaried coach to a lesser paid, struggling classroom professor who had to deal with, as one asserted, "all comers without having the option of cutting any of them," I asked them separately what kind of student would they like to have in their classes if they could choose. All chose, in their words, the attentive, respectful, self-achieving, self-respecting, self-motivated, hard-working, disciplined, skilled, accomplished--in my words, the easy, ideal, and unafflicted.
As chance would have it, about three miles into my route, thinking about my colleagues' choices and the anguishes of this North Carolina father and son, I passed a large water oak tree that seemed strangely in perpetual motion amid the stillness of the surroundings. At first I thought the horde of perched and darting bodies, silouetted against the graying sky, were south Georgia mosquitoes preparing to take off and attack me. But, I quickly breathed a sigh of relief as the cacaphony of chirping told me they were sparrows gathered in a restless flock so large they seemed like swarming bees.
I stopped for a few seconds, looked at those sparrows, started off again, and began thinking about them, this father, his son, my son, and those professors' choices. I thought how quick we are to sermonize about the fallen sparrow. And yet, we are so quick to let a single, fallen student--and educational sparrow--coldly go unwanted, unloved, unnoticed. Why should we stop and give aid and comfort to the fallen sparrow and yet find all sorts of excuses for rushing blindly pass the fallen student? Why do we say so easily that we should take notice of the sparrow, fallen from the nest, and so easily say it is not our job to take notice of the student's fallen spirit? Why should we care any less for this single student than we would the sparrow? Should we not see both with an equal eye?
It seems to me that the sparrow is a symbol of the significance in what seems at face value to be the insignificant. It seems to me that the single student, this man's son, my son, or the student the professors would rather not have in their classes, is no less a symbol that we are biggest, are at our best, and do our most important work through what seems at face value to be the most inconsequential, most time consuming, most demanding, most frustrating, most unrewarding, most unacknowledged. It seems to me that the frustrations over, work with, noticing of, time and energy given to, struggle for that father's fallen student or the professors' unchosen students, like the sparrow, tell us that bitter is better, "tried to" is better than "tired of", less is more, least is most.
I am not talking about extending respect for, love for, concern for, attention to a student with great fanfare, loud promises and special proclamations most of which quickly prove to be passing and empty. I am talking about the ingrained, unthinking habit of little gesture by little gesture, whispered cheer by whispered cheer, passing word by passing word, nurturing morsel by morsel, day by day, inside the classroom and outside the classroom, small silent support and encouragement by small silent support and encouragement, step by step, sincere simple concern by sincere simple concern, assignment by assignment. When we don't have time for that single student, that is the time we have to stop and spend twice as much time: time for ourselves and time for the student. It is what we _go through_ with that single, "doesn't belong," "can't do it," "doesn't believe," "won't do it," "doesn't care" student that we truly _grow through_ and consequently inwardly _glow through_.

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" -\____

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