I just came in from a meditative walk thinking about a bunch of journal entries I’ve been reading since I came back from the Lilly-North conference. Aside from the ravages of H1N1, aside from Homecoming Week, aside from the coming of that silly Fall Break next week, and aside from all the “abnormal” slings and arrows of “normal” student life, lots of highly personal and deeply distracting, debilitating, paralyzing, heart breaking “stuff” is going on inside students and outside the classroom at the moment that’s darkening the climate of the classroom: an unwanted pregnancy, a frightening lump and prospective biopsy, an accidental death of a father, a brother fighting in Afghanistan, a sister overdosing, a sudden divorce proceeding of parents, an unexpected hospitalization of a grandfather, a close aunt diagnosed with terminal brain cancer, a brother in a serious car crash, a saddening funeral of a close friend, a tearful placement of an Alzheimer afflicted grandmother in a nursing home, a broken engagement, a mother discovering she has breast cancer, a chronic auto-immune disease, and on and on it goes. It’s sapping their strength. It’s grinding down their spirit. It’s obviously having an impact of their ability to focus. It’s undermining their performances. How do I know? I’m reading their daily journal entries in which they choose to talk to me about what’s preying on their minds, hearts, and souls.
If we are interested in student accomplishment, how can we not struggle to be empathetic, how can we not care, how can we ignore all this “outside/inside stuff” that effects the student, how can we say that none of this is of our concern, how can we not get involved, how can we not deal with it? Most of us are not that uncaring, cold, and distant. Yet, in the intellectual climate of ivied academia, too many academics believe that a classroom education is solely about transmitting information and developing analytical skills, and that the other “stuff” too many of them denigrate as “touchy feely” either has no place in academia’s hallowed halls or should be left to others.
Eighteen years ago, as part of my epiphany, I slowly began to realize that we academics have to be cardio-centric, for at the heart of an education is the education of the heart. Think about it. Thoughts are useful; information is important; analytical skills powerful; but, they’re not the whole of either education or life. And, their power is nothing compared to feelings. Feel about it. Whether we go ahead and take action depends on whether we feel like it or not. It is how we feel that pulls us and pulls on us, creates our reasons, generates our attitudes, and powers our action. It’s not what we know. Whatever we avoid, whatever we engage, we avoid or engage because we don’t want to or want to experience the feelings that we assume it will bring. Have a desire to feel frustrated, annoyed, upset, discouraged and angry? Then you will find plenty of excuses for feeling joyless and blaming others for having dealt you a bad hand. Want to feel alive, empowered, enthusiastic, passionate and joyful? Then you will find plenty of reasons coming at you from every direction. What I mean is that if you want to reach out and touch a student, if you want to make a difference in a student’s life, if want to help a student perform, if you want a student to transform, you must realize information and reason does not appeal to or move either us or a student. Emotion does all that. It’s the engine. It’s the pusher. It’s the resonator. It’s the adrenalin getter-upper. Emotion stirs people; emotion drives attitudes; emotion spurs moods; emotion guides actions; emotion powers movement. We are primarily feeling people who think and act. It’s that “appeal to a person’s emotions” thing.
I once heard John Madden say that a lot of people think the game of football is played on the field. They’re wrong, he said, it’s not just about ability, talent, and technique. There’s more to it than the X’s and O’s of a play. Most of the game, he asserted, is played in the hearts of the players. And, when a player isn’t playing with his heart, he’s not into the game. So, too, in the classroom, at the end of the day the heart is where most of the academic game is played.