How does that saying go? In the strangest places at the strangest times in the strangest manner. Yesterday I had a luncheon coffee clutch with my friend James Martinez from the College of Education. It was the first time in over a year that I stepped on campus other than going to a gallery opening, concert, or play. And, as luck would have it, I met the new Provost and invited him to join us. While we were talking, a student came up to me who had been in first year class that last semester before I reluctantly retired. Fall, 2012. She was one of those people who wasn’t inclined to take risks, who claimed she wasn’t creative. Now, she a junior ed major who wants to help others “like you did for me.” I gave her my website to read my RTs. I hope she does as she said she would. And, as we were leaving, another student, who had been sitting at the table behind us, saw me, jumped up, and yelled, “Dr. Schmier,” and rushed over. After she came over and introduced herself, I remembered her unhappiness. She, too, was now a junior who had been in one of those last semester classes with me. As I recollect, vaguely to be sure, she and her parents were a bit at odds. They wanted her to major in something she “could use.” She wanted to be an art major.
“What are you doing now?” I asked, expecting her to tell me she was majoring in something like accounting.
“I’m an art major!” she told me with a beaming smile.
“What’s your medium?” I asked.
“Metal work,” she replied as she proudly stuck out her hand to show me the ring she had made. ”The sculpture project we did in class did it for me and gave me the courage to get my parents to come around. I’m so happy and excited now. Thanks for helping me believe in myself.”
“You know my email address.,” I said quietly. ”Email me. I want to see your work. That’s not just a courtesy ‘ya’ll come see us, ya hear.’ I mean it.” I hope she does.
Damn, I miss that. Anyway, I have a question. Why is it that so many of us forget that every master was once a novice, that every professional was once an amateur, that every professor was once a student, that every one of us–every one of us–needed and had someone believing in us, seeing us, and helping us get where we are and who we presently are? My helping hand was Birdsal Viault. Who was yours?
One of my way-out-on-a-limb answer to that question is that virtually all of the classroom bemoaning, pity-party, “ah me” with having in class “don’t belong” students, “they won’t” students, “in my day” students, “they’re letting anybody in” students, “need to be weeded out” students, “don’t have time for” students are a result of blinded and deafened–and unkind–mindlessness. Even blanket, GPA induced, adoration of “good” and “honors” students is the consequence of mindlessness. Mindless presumption. Mindless perception. Mindless assumption. Mindless manipulation. Mindless expectation. Supericial. Shallow. Manipulated. Self-serving. One way or another. Directly or indirectly. Consciously or subconsciously. Obviously or implicitly. And, you won’t give it your soul; you won’t give all you’ve got. No reason to do so. Student and professor.
We really don’t know who is the person, the human being, in that class with us beyond maybe a name. We don’t now each student’s story, a story which, as Rachel Naomi Reman would say, tell us about each of them, that helps us make sense of them. We haven’t read it. We don’t walk in their shoes. We don’t understand the resignations, frustrations, angers, even apathies in this context. It’s their stories that tell what each student is made of, not the transcript or SAT score. To get a peek at the meanings hidden in each chapter of those stories, is why I had students journal me confidentially each day.
Most of us, however, don’t approach the unkind feelings in that way. Instead, we conger flattened images of them. We let the real person fall by the wayside. We draw up all sorts of attributions about them, and usually fall into the abyss of what the psychologist call “attritubiton error” that causes us to lose sight of the student’s humanity. Nevertheless, supposing they’re this or that kind of person, we sew a label on them. We look at them and hear them and respond to them according to the label. They read that label, accept it, act it out, and live up to it. It’s almost impossible for anyone to tear off the label.
You know, if you go back and read my TEACHER’S OATH, it’s about recapturing the soul of education. You’ll find it’s not about pedagogical qualities or technological qualities. It’s about qualities of human relationship–and profound spiritual qualities. When we currently educate, we only educate a very small fraction of the whole person. We practice segregated education, not integrative education as we should. When we recognize that and treat everyone as a sacred, noble, and unique individual each is, when we feel sacred, noble, and unique, we feel a deep happiness. When you have people going to class with this real feeling that goes beneath the skin and transcript, when they really feel good about themselves, the work becomes exciting, fun, meaningful, and nurturing for them. And, you have a better chance that they’re going to do more work, accomplish more, and learn more. That is true for students; it’s true for faculty; it’s true for anyone.
Yeah, I know what some of you are going cynically and defensively think and say: “new agey,” “flighty,” “touchy-feely,” “soft,” “fluffy,” “tosh,” “cheesy.” But, when you don’t love, you don’t respect; when you don’t respect, you don’t love; when you don’t love and respect, you don’t see and listen to; and when you don’t see and listen to, as Ellen Langer would say, you’re mindless–blind and deaf–of what is going on around you–and inside you; and, consequently you don’t respond in a meaningful way to what is truly going on, only to a distorting label. Love, respect, see, listen: conjoined quadruplets.
This has gotten me to think about a theme for a series of linked conference presentation I always wanted to give, but never did. It would have consisted of three integrated sessions. But, that’s the rest of the story. Later.