Copyright © Louis Schmier and Atwood Publishing.

January, 1996
Subject: Random Thought: The Power of Caring--A Reply

The number of responses I've been getting off-list to that students's journal is blowing me out of the water. I've been hitting the keys so much that I've worn the prints off the tips of my fingers So, as I've done on other lists, I'd like to respond to you on list. I've been thinking alot about that student whose journal entries I wrote about, and the several discussions in which I've been embroiled because of it, over values and education, subject vs. student oriented education, attitude vs. performance, as well as changing from a teaching to a learning classroom environment.

I find it strange--well, maybe not so strange, but at least interestingly human--how we purveyors of change are ourselves afraid of change, how easy we talk of changing things out there and changing others and yet are so fearful about even considering changing ourselves that we heavily barricade the doors to our professional and personal ivory towers. Yep, just shows how truly human we teachers/professors are inspite of our degrees and scholarly resumes.

You know, I think it's sad that we marvel at instilling in students what they had possessed so naturally as children and has been sucked out of them by so many educational systems--the insatible desire to know, an uncontrollable curiosity, a unquenchable thirst to braille everything. So many come to my campus--and others as well having had innumerable conversations at teaching conferences--after climbing--or pushed up--the 12 rungs of k-12 as self-denigrating, glassy eyed memorizers, copiers, passive listeners, note takers, corner cutters, grade getters, test takers--even many honor students--voided of that natural curiosity of the child, that sense of wonderous discovery, that exhilaration of adventure into the new, fulfillment of learning, and so much faith in themselves squeezed out of them. It's tragic that by the time they come into my class, the classroom has become a stressful battleground, a painful hellhole, a joyless bore to be endured and suffered--and survived--rather than an exciting Eden of growth, change and discovery.

Most of us in academics do so well with the information thing and we do so poorly with the caring thing. It would be nice if we approached education with a "whole" vision, with an understanding of educational bio-rythms, that recognizes the organic unity, inseparability, and interaction of intellect, emotion, spirit and action; if we treated the classroom as a gathering of sacred ones and respected the students for the unique individual he or she is; if we interacted with each student as we would others to interact with us. I think caring about someone, having them understand you really want the best for them as persons rather just as vats of information to be filled opens new horizons for the humanity of both the teacher and student.

An e-mail friend on another list said it best. He reminded me, that teaching is like a roundtrip. You get paid back for what you give. Or, as Popeye, the Sailorman, once said, "Youse gets out what youse puts in." I think he's right. The best teachers are givers who look beyond themselves, beyond the limits of their subject and the confining walls of the classroom and the boundaries of the campus, who are outwardly oriented, and don't allow much time for ego.

These exchanges got me reflecting on what Jerry Garcia called that long, strange road of change that I have experienced since my epiphany over four years ago that started me on my inner journey. I suddenly realized--or at least was reminded by an e-mail friend---that the fear, grief, anxiety or whatever, which exploded that fateful day at my son's school, about which I write in the published collection of Random Thoughts, had challenged the very nature of my personal cosmos and invaribly, as it had to, that of my professional universe as well.

I say professional universe as well because I came to the realization that I can't separate me the teacher from me from the person. I act according to what I think things mean and who people are and who I am. Who I am is critical, for who I am will produce different results from what appears at first to be the same teaching technique. Differences in what we perceive ourselves to be, students to be, and education to be will result in different judgements about the same things. We can't be told to organize a class in one way when we ourselves are quite different people. It may not fit with our experience, our personality, or our inability to offer an alternative. We have to understand how our personal view and experiences influence our teaching,

Each of us live in an ordered universe which is unique and personal to us. This universe is build upon our connections with ourselves, other people, things, events--past and present. I can strive for my potential only to the extent that my perception of myself and others is broadened and deepened, and then broadened and deepened still further, and constantly broadened and deepened. So, "that's me", "my personality"--as I painfully learned--is always or should be always changing. I found that I had to at first argue against myself and then later merely engage in an ongoing conversation with myself, for I was and still am changing and the old ways of doing things were beginning and still are causing serious inner conflict or at least a nagging conscience. I realized that if actualization of my potential was possible, it could come only if I sharpened by perception, sentience, awareness and consciousness of myself. I realized that my teaching was an intricate pattern of relationships with the students in which my motivations, desires, belief, need and dreams are intricately woven together in the fabric of my self-knowledge and defintion. If I wanted to know and define myself as an individual and professor I would have to examine the patterns of my relationships with myself and the students. I saw that I needed to guide, define, select, evaluate, systnesize, not what's out there, but what's inside here. If it remains meanningless, it escapes our awarness. We miss it. It doesn't register. We can only unlock that part of ourselves and participate in the richness of what it is to be truly human.

To learn about myself, I learned that it requires a constant awareness of myself. That involves an attack on self-depreciation as well as as well as self-inflation--both of which are probably self-deception-- and observing and evaluating--as best we can--as well as how we act out what we believe.

So, the task it is not a simple or easy--maybe that's what makes it worthwhile--one of replacing elements of those lost relationships. That's probably not even possible. No, the task is to rebuild one's entire universe, to create both new meaning and new life.

From my own experiences, I understand how people who are put or put themselves in wrong life situations or acquire outlooks can really lose their soul and spirit, how life can leave scars, and how tough it is to possess a spirit strong enough to struggle not to be defeated. We're all fighting to fill voids. Times of suffering are not just past events; they're life-long struggles. The voices are never silent. They're like tire marks left on the soul. Learning can be a kind of rekindling of hope. a lighting up of dark experiences. And so, it is our responsibility to practice a social gospel in whatever form is required, not a bell curve or academic abortion. And, I am talking about me as well as them.

Maybe, as I struggle to do that I better understand and relate to students--and other people--who find themselves in adverse, debilitating, restricting, denigrating life situations not completely of their own making, but which I faithfully know they are capable of remaking even if they don't. I started thinking that maybe that's why I find myself more sympathetic to students who face the same task, students who come to our campuses as the first in their family to go to college, students who are removed from their families for the first time, older students leaving careers to begin new ones, students entering a significant new phase of life and having to rebuild their entire universe, students bearing the weight of personal abusive baggage, students hearing and heeding degrading, depreciating, denigrating voices. I think you're right. These scary and challenging changes, which I have experienced--and am still experiencing--and rocked the very foundations of my being, and those students are facing, these shared experiences, form the "real" basis for connections, compassion and love that is the foundation for support and encouragement, as well as the nutrients for growth and development.

Among the ways, I have closure with my classes is to bring in two apples and a knife. I cut one as most people cut apples, length-wise, and showed them the hard-to-eat core and indigestible pits. I told them that so many people including themselves believe that at their center is such an unappetizing core and pits, and some in the class hold themselves back because of that attitude. Then, I say, "but what if you and I cut the same apple a different way", and I cut the second apple cross-wise and showed the STAR that appears at the center. I tell them that I believe that at each of their centers is a star and it is for them to believe that a star exists at each center, One way I have closure with my classes is to bring in two apples and a knife. I cut one as most people cut apples, length-wise, and showed them the hard-to-eat core and indigestible pits. I told them that so many people including themselves believe that at their center is such an unappetizing core and pits, and some in the class held themselves back because of that attitude. Then, I cut the second apple cross-wise and showed the STAR that appears at the center, and told them that I believe that at each of their centers is a star, but that isn't enough. It is for them to have the courage to wonder why I see what I see, to risk believing that a star exists at their center, to have the courage to cut their own apple cross-wise and seek that star.

So, one of our roles as educators is to create an environment in which the student, with our involved support, can cut the apple the right way, in which such recognition, acknowledgement and expression of those inner feelings and subsequent cosmic reconstruction can occur for both ourselves and our students.

Have a good one.


Louis Schmier  (912-333-5947)
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