AND SO?

         It’s been quite an emotionally draining week of struggling to come to terms with unexpected and tragic loss.  The heavens were sorrowfully weeping with torrential tears at the funeral with the sudden arrival of an angel in its midst.  It was the heart-wrenching wailings and tears that made me think about a recent David Brook’s oped piece, “What Suffering Does.”  Having had an unwanted but seminal volcanic epiphany in 1991, having survived a bout with cancer in 2004, and somehow “miraculously” having come through an unexpected massive cerebral hemorrhage unscathed in 2007, I know what he is talking about:  there’d be no bravery or courage if everything in life was without challenge and all was hunky-dory anymore than there would be any learning without failing.  But, I wouldn’t use the word “suffering.”  It’s too narrow for me.  I prefer the broader and more inclusive term “experience.” Yet, I don’t think suffering or experience have much intrinsic worth.  I mean, so you’ve gone through stuff; or, as have I, you’ve looked into the abyss.  So what!   What are you going to do with it?  Is it a spur?  And, if so, what are you going to learn from it?  How can you better yourself because of it?

You see, using Brook’s word, while there is a lot of suffering around and in us, there  also can be lot of dealing with, coming to terms with, casting off, overcoming, and getting up and keep moving within us as well.  That is to say, experiences need a catalyst to acquire a meaning.  That ingredient is “And so?” honest reflection.  That honest and deep reflection, that looking at yourself in the mirror,  gives you a shape-shifting option: to see how what you might let bring you down can give you a leg up; how it can morph challenge from barricade into possibility and opportunity; how it can transform mill stones into dream catchers; how it can offer the ability to bring the blessing of gift out from under the weight of curse; how it can offer a power to choose the way you see life; how it can offer you the way you live life; how it can give you a strength to push away adversity; how it can give you a power over frustration and disappointment;  and how it can give you the strength and courage not to succumb to views and demands of others.

But, for too many, looking back is TMI. How many of us really want to hear the past voices of ourselves?  Not many.  I sure didn’t want to on that fateful day in September, 1991.  In fact, I sobbed.  Of course, the truth is that you can’t help it.  As an historian, I can tell you that the silent and unseen, buried, rationalized away, or otherwise past is always present.  More often than not, reflection is a hard, maybe painful, autobiographical interview and confession.  Sure, you’ll hear stories that might surprise you, tighten you up, make you shudder, hurt, hurl pangs of pain, tear your eyes up, induce a shudder, cause a nervous laugh, and/or create a smile.  But, you’ll also may be able eventually, as did I, to empathize and even sympathize, to see possibility, and to seize opportunity.  Each chapter in your story will help explain parts of who you were, are, and maybe will become.  For me, reflection is crucial, for it pulled and still pulls me deeper into myself, beneath the surface of daily routine, to plug into the passion of my soul.  It’s a reverse macro lens that broadens into a wide-angle lens.  Reflection can take a negative cursed experience and give it a positive blessed bent if you ask yourself, “How can I grow and learn from it?” It gives me a living serenity prayer, better knowing what I can and cannot control.

Now, reflection is not something you can be phlegmatic about or bog yourself down in wonky talk about “vision” “priority,” “empowering,”  ”authenticity,”  and “meaning.”  For me, having “down and dirty,” “foot in the real world” reflections on my experiences has given me a holistic serenity with which I have deeply engaged, with which I have become enmeshed, and which has allowed me to live at a place closer to self acceptance and peaceful power.

Louis

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A DANGEROUS GAME, II

Someone asked me as a result of my last RT, just what’s the dangerous game I had a mentioned?  As I just told a few people, my answer was, “It’s a game of fear and anxiety in which you play with your self-esteem, your self-confidence, your self-respect, your self-satisfaction, your individuality, and your independence.”  I should have included “integrity” and “authenticity.”

To my friends of the Jewish faith, Susie and I would like to wish you a wonderful Passover.

Louis

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A DANGEROUS GAME

Here’s another something that flashed across my mind as I was talking with Richard Middle-Kaplan of Harper College:  If you’re afraid of what others will think and say, the solution is simple.  Sit; don’t do a thing; don’t say a thing; don’t chance a thing; don’t be anything.  But, keep this in mind, playing it safe is probably the most dangerous game you can play.  Personally, I’ve found that all satisfaction and fulfillment, all sense of accomplishment, as well as all meaning, comes from daring to begin and having the courage to continue.

Louis

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THEM AND US

I was briefly e-talking with Richard Middle-Kaplan of Harper College.  In the course of our short exchange, a bunch of stuff flashed across my mind.  Here’s the first of them:

If you want students to be serene, confident, fearless, happy, and accomplished, practice love and respect and belief and empathy and hope and compassion and sympathy.  If you want to be serene, confident, happy ,and accomplished, practice love and respect and belief and empathy and hope and compassion and sympathy.

Louis

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A CHANCE MEETING

 In response to my last reflection, one professor wrote in what seemed to be a demanding tone,  ”….let’s just stick to technology and pedagogy…..”

I wasn’t going to respond until an answer unexpectedly happened my way yesterday.  I was disobeying my beautiful Nurse Rachet and working, braced knee and all, the drive-through line of the synagogue’s corn beef sandwich sale fundraiser.  A black Lexus pulled up.  I leaned through the open window.  A smiling young lady leaned over holding two tickets.  I exchanged them for two sandwich boxes.  Then, as if not caring that cars were lining up behind her, she hit me square in my heart.  I wasn’t ready for it.  ”Dr. Schmier.  You don’t remember me, do you.  I was Sally Sax (not her real name) in your class twelves years ago.  You came to the hospital to visit me when I was really sick and missing class.  I was surprised to see you. I wondered why you came since I wasn’t a very good student.  You told me not to worry about a project presentation my community was making and to just focus on getting well.  You said, we’d work something out so it wouldn’t hurt me.  After you left, I cried.  For the first time that I could remember, I felt worthwhile.  I felt loved.  I felt I mattered because you showed that you noticed me that I mattered to you.  I decided right then and there to start believing in myself and turning myself into the person you believed I could be.  I still am.  And, I’m teaching what you taught me to my children.  I never said anything about this in my journals or to you.  So, I think it’s time to say, ‘thank you.’  I’d come out and give you a big hug if there weren’t so many people behind me.”

I just silently leaned on the door for a second, speechless.  The ache in my braced knee disappeared.  I could feel a tear forming.  Then, I said a quiet “thank you.”  It was enough.

With that, I backed away, she smiled and drove off.  When I told my Susie, she asked if I remembered Sally.  I answered, “No.”

But, I couldn’t get Sally out of my mind.  This morning, as I was reading David Brooks’ oped in the NY Times, and writing a comment, it hit me.  I remembered; and, I remembered that I could never figure out why Sally had suddenly blossomed after she came back from a week in the hospital.  Now I know.

So, to this professor, I say,  no.  I won’t.  I can’t.  I’m someone who speaks to people about living a deep, meaningful life, professionally and personally.  Though I’ve never have ignored technology and pedagogy, but I’ll focus more so on people.  Hippocrates said something to the effect that it is more important to know what sort of person has a disease than to know what sort of disease a person has.  It’s not different in the classroom.  We each have self-fulfilling views of both ourselves and students.  We shouldn’t see students merely as avatars of GPAs, stripped of their intrinsic worth of being a human being.  We are at our best when we present education as personal transformation and development rather than as ritualized test-taking and grade-getting.  So, I’m not just asking you to consider living and teaching according to the dictum of my “Teacher’s Oath.”  I’m begging you.  Technology and methodology are important, but not more than is tindividual person.  There are a lot of people like Sally out there.

Louis

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MISTAKES

I was doing the NY Times Sunday crossword puzzle this morning cursing this distracting and restricting hip-to-ankle harness on my left leg from serious arthroscopic knee surgery.  Part of the puzzle’s solution was a quote from Thomas Edison.  He once said, “”I have not failed.  I’ve just found ten thousand ways that won’t work.”  We academics would do well to heed him, to see that failure is not a sign of weakness, that it is not an indication of incompetence, that it is not a black mark on the personhood or professionalhood, that is a mark of strength, and that it is an act of learning.

 We wouldn’t do a damn thing, we wouldn’t try something new, we wouldn’t experiment, we wouldn’t change’, we wouldn’t grow, if we looked for or waited until we could do something so well all the time that we wouldn’t make a mistake or that no one could criticize us.   No matter what we say and no matter how hard we try, none of us is perfect and can be a perfectionist.  We’re all fallible human beings, our resumes and titles notwithstanding.  And, to paraphrase Confusius, our greatest glory is not in never failing, but in learning from, rising above, and going on every time we inevitably fail.  If we could do that, than an “oops” suddenly morphs into an exciting and illuminating “aha.”  Alas, in our academic climate, so few academics learned that, and fewer still have helped students learn that.
Louis

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TEACHING AND LOVING

I read something posted by a mid-western e-colleague.  One thing he wrote got to me, “I love to teach because I’m so dedicated to my discipline, but those students…..”

You know, so many people say, “I love to teach.”  To them, as I did with this professor, I ask, “Do you love each student?”  ”Are you dedicated unconditionally to each of them?”

You see, loving to teach is one thing.  To unconditionally love each of those to whom you teach is quite another thing.  To be “dedicated to your discipline” is one thing.  To unconditionally be committed to each student is quite another thing.

If your idea of what teaching is all about doesn’t get you to unconditionally believing in, having faith in, having hope for, and loving each student, if each–each and every–student doesn’t matter or isn’t important to you,  if all the students see is your scholarly resume and don’t feel sincere compassionate and caring leadership, you should stop grading yourself on a generous curve and the students on an uncharitable one; you should question yourself, not the students.

Louis

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AC, PART II

In the name of AC, I wish we could banish these very real, negative, shackling statements from our classroom and campuses:
Student:   “It’s not me.”  ”I don’t like to do that.”  ”I’m not comfortable with that.”  ”It’s hard.”  ”I can’t do that.”   “I’m not used to that.”  ”I don’t have the time.”
Prof:        ”It’s not me.”  ”I don’t like to do that.”  ”I’m not comfortable with that.”  ”It’s hard.”  ”I can’t do that.”   “I’m not used to that.”   ”I don’t have the time.”

Louis

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AC: “ACADEMIC CORRECTNESS”

We all talk about the “joy of learning.” Well, if we’re serious, and if I could, I would banish two sets of fear-ridden, stifling, enslaving questions from our campuses in the name of AC: academic correctness.

Student: “Is this important?” “Is this going to be on the test?” “Will this affect my grade?” “Why do I have to take?” “What do you want?”
Prof: “How do I grade that?” “What if it doesn’t work?” “What will others think and say?” “Will this affect my getting tenure?” “What do you want?”

Louis

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I.C.D.B.T.

I was developing a special decal that was a play on one of my “Schmier’s Word For The Day” that I still have hanging over my computer. It never came to pass, for I came up with the idea during what unexpectedly proved to be my last semester in the classroom. I had planned to give it to any student who with more than a modicum of hubris proudly pranced around like a peacock “I’ve done my best” or sighed defensively “But, it’s the best I can do.”  The decal was going to read:  I.C.D.B.T.!   Can you guess what the initials mean?

Louis

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