I went out a bit late this morning. I am allowed. We’re between terms here at the University, and I decided to sleep in today–recuperating from a weekend of heart-stopping basketball. It was a glorious, sunny morning heralding in the transition from the hard winter to a soft spring–made nicer by the fact UNC is in the Final Four after demoting some Kentucky colonels to buck privates and preparing to barbecue some Hogs and make some Bruins into throw rugs while visiting Seattle next week. Anyway, it’s suffice to say that this morning was one of those serene times that reminded me, as I told an e-mail colleague, that each day is a gift and how I spend it is my “thank you” for it.

I have to admit that I was thinking about my last Random Thought, about the overwhelming response to it, and the swamping number of requests for my syllabus and “stuff” exercises. The volume of responses while gratifying caught me off-balance because I thought the Random Thought was so blandly pedagogical. Guess I was wrong. Goes to show. While I was loping away, swatting at the first mosquitos of the season, the joke of the man, the five dollar bill and the lamp post once again popped into my mind. I’ve told a few people, whose requests I have already answered, the joke as a warning that the wad of material I was sending them did not have any automatic curative impact as if it was a divinely blessed piece from Lourdes or Conyers, Georgia. It’s an old and trite joke, but it has a deep meaning for me and my teaching. Do you know it? Well, it goes something like this. Henny Youngman can tell it much better:

One night a man is on his hands and knees under a lamp post obvious looking for something.
“What are you doing? Can I assist you?” a passerby asks.

“I’m looking for a five dollar bill I lost over there in the living room in that dark house,” the searcher replies.

“Well, what are you doing out here?” the passerby asks with a bit of surprise in his voice.

“The light is better over here!”

I told you it was old and I couldn’t tell it properly, but I lied when I said it was trite. It wasn’t until almost five years ago, at the age of 50, after being in the classroom for almost 25 years, that I had discovered that I had been under the lamp post and didn’t even know it. Through the last few years of soul-searching, I have discovered that what I do in the classroom emanates from something that is deep inside the darkness of MY spiritual and emotion innards, not outside there in the light of someone or something else. I can try a new syllabus. I can suck on tootsie pops and play music on my boom box and dress in jeans. I can experiment with bonding and trust exercises. I can explore new teaching strategies. I can even utilize new technologies. But, I am like the paddle tied to the ball by the rubber band. It is me–the paddle–that drives the ball and directs it, and whatever I do, that ball always snaps back to me for more energy and direction. Everything I do is a part of me and therefore an extension of me. And if whatever I do is not me, if I merely go through the motions, if I have not reflected upon and articulated why I do what I do, if I have not bought into what I do and have not assumed ownership for it, if it is not of my essence, the students will sense it. They will hear far louder what I truly am then what I proclaim and how I act. They will see that I am consciously or unwittingly merely going through the motions expected or demanded of me by either others or myself. My eyes, body language, vocal tones will tell them that I am more talk than substance, more chic and fad than commitment.
If I am changing what I do, it is because who I am is changing. If I now make a big deal of each and every student, it is because I now unswervingly believe with every fiber of my being that each and every student is a big deal. If I focus on individual REAL PEOPLE in my classes instead of stereotypical STUDENTS, it is because I now believe that in the classes there only are individual real people, each with a hidden strength and dignity and pride but who don’t realize they are real people because they have seldom be granted the respect of being real people, who don’t know who they are, and don’t understand what they can do. If my students slowly struggle to be real with themselves, others, and me, it is because I now am much more real with myself and with them, and somehow let them know that it’s ok and safe to start struggling to go inside themselves, to start asking questions about themselves and coming up with new answers, to start struggling to be real and to start struggling to become who they want to be and are capable of being. Let me go out on another one of my limbs and say that from my experience that there is a power in being real that is conducive to learning. I do not believe that students will learn as well and as much from a teacher who sits and pontificates behind separating walls of image or authority, with whom they cannot connect, whom they fear, whom they do not like, or whom they do not respect. And, a teacher cannot teach students as well from behind such muting, thick redoubts, with whom the teacher does not connect, about whom the teacher does not care, whom the teacher does not like, or whom the teacher treats with disrespect.

The most exciting evaluation I ever received from a student had nothing at face value to do with the operation of the class, and yet it had everything to do with it. The student wrote, “You are for real! I couldn’t believe my eyes one day when I saw you walking holding hands in the mall with your wife. You were smiling like you always do. Then, you let go and put your hand on the back of her waist and slowly dropped it until you were lovingly caressing her butt! I was flabbergasted that a professor would act that way. She pushed it away. You playfully put it back. She playfully pushed it away. The two of you were teasing each other and giggling and cuddling. You leaned over and pecked at her earlobe. She turned and kiss you on the cheek, and then you two held hands again and went into a store like that. You two looked like a pair of teenage lovebirds. It was fabulous. You’re just like us! And I guess that’s why I felt after that I really started believing that you were a teacher of students and not a distant history professor and I could be honest with you and I guess with myself too.” When I read that, I said to myself out loud, “How about that.” I have a copy of that page taped to the walls in both my office and ersatz study here at home as a reminder.

I would be presumptuous, however, to tell anyone specifically how to teach because each morning I get up and uncomfortably acknowledge as I walk that I am not yet the teacher I want to be, and don’t have a magic elixir to put in my orange juice when I get home so that I will be transformed into that teacher. That is why, among other things, I talk to my shadow self on these treks and share with you our conversations. The thought that there is always so much to do and in so many ways yet to improve does not offer me any peace or ease. But I am never bored. Each day, I have to get down on my hands and knees inside, where it’s sometimes damp and dark and spooky, grope around, and discover all those hidden wonderful things about me. You and I are far more unactualized than we are actualized. Learning and growing don’t stop with the granting of the diploma or the bestowal of the hood or the publication of a book or the acquisition of a reputation. They are never-ending, life-long processes of growth and change, not a destination. I think realizing that I am limitless is a hell of a scary and exciting challenge to continue to find out all of that hitherto wondrous potential about me, develop it, not to be afraid to fall, accepting imperfection, failing, getting up and going on, and continuing to search and discover and change and grow.

I know, but not without pain and anxiety, that I do not, cannot, touch all the students. But, I care enough for each of them never to stop trying. I never know which ones I will touch, if any, how I will touch them, to what depth I can touch them, and when whatever I do will manifest itself. I wrestle with and agonize over the realization that I may be little more than one finger in a leaky dike, that I am going against the current, that I am confronting 12 years of learning habits ingrained by an educational system that generally does not educate once it gets passed about the 7th grade, against personal and social baggage, against a society that sees education more as a provisioning a work force than as a source of viable citizens and growing human beings, and against the neutralizing impact of my more traditional colleagues. But, each morning I get up and remember three things. The first, and maybe the most important, is the serenity prayer. If you don’t know it, learn it, and to paraphrase the biblical injunction, engrain it upon your heart, speak of it on the way and when you rise up and lay down, write it on the doorpost of your house, and on the gates of your cities. It goes like this: grant me peace to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference. The last is the hardest and most humbling to acquire and live by. The second thing I keep in front of me is to remember that to touch one person in however a small way is not a small thing. And finally, I realize that the greatest mistake I could make is to do nothing just because I thought that whatever I could do would have small results or no results at all. That keeps me going when I falter, keeps me sane when I get frustrated with either myself or a student, picks me up when I am convinced I blew it, and keeps me sucking Tootsie Pops.

Make it a good day.



My god! What a williwaw out there this morning! It was a rough walk this morning. It was windy out there at 4:30 this morning. Temperature 41 was degrees. Goodness knows was the wind chill factor was. There I was, huffing and puffing against an oncoming wall of air, being pushed and pulled sideways by gusts every time I passed a side streets, being bombarded by an incessant horizontal rain of pine needles and twigs. Drops of chilled sweat hovered over my tearing, dried eyes. I constantly bent into the wind in an effort to save my leaky, Rudolph-like nose. Blown cold penetrated my worn gloves, frayed long-johns, thinly-lined grubbies, hooded sweats, muffler, knitted UNC hat. Not even the still warm glow of UNC’s victory over Iowa State and entrance into the Sweet Sixteen could counter the unexpected numbing wintriness of early Spring. It’ll probably be in the mid-70s by noon.

As I struggled to keep my mind off this chilling torture, some weird stuff was popping into my head, maybe more into my spirit. I don’t know why. Maybe it was because between the heart-stopping, buzzer-beater basketball games this weekend, I had been reading the students’ journals and the evaluations the students had written in them about themselves, me, each other, and the class. It’s also probably because I usually get reflective and pensive at the end of each quarter as I review and confront myself with those uncomfortable and demanding “why” and “who” words: why did some things worked, why did some things not, why I may have to change my ways, why I may have to be more flexible, why I connected or didn’t connect with a student, why I may have to take more risks, who is each student now, who was he or she at the beginning of the quarter and, above all, who am I.

I think these challenging words are critical in teaching because as one of my students so astutely commented, “I don’t think you can separate the person from the teacher.” How true. I have discovered that if I ask myself a string of “whys” and “whos”, I force myself to realize that I subjectively see things are as they are because I choose to make them that way. These words constantly remind me that underlying my actions and ideas is ME. Who I am as a person significantly influences the outcome of whatever technique I use in class and how I relate to each student. The who I am is important because I operate from deeply held beliefs. It’s a way I see the world. It a complex web of idea which includes a view of the nature of students and influences both my judgement and actions. But, I won’t let myself forget why erasers exist, that I put on my pants one leg at a time like anyone else, that I haven’t won a medal in the sport of water surface walking, that my values are not objective Newtonian self-evident truths, and even if they are, that they may or may not be suitable and workable in present form in any given quarter with any given student in a particular class. I force myself not to take for granted that my beliefs are an unchangeable part of the natural order of things or that I have to be a chameleon, changing my colors but not my essence to apply in different ways me and my ideas as the unique person of the different student in differing circumstances may require. And so, knowing that I and my values influence my judgement and what I do, I always subject them both during the quarter and especially at the end of the quarter to examination and force them to remain open to change. The real questions are to be asked of me inside me, not of that outside there.

Anyway, all this was tied in with the fact that strangely I was really thinking about what I call “The Climb,” when several years ago I had to challenge myself to see what I really made out of by free climbing a ninety foot sheer cliff on a wilderness retreat that was part of the program of my son’s school. Actually, it’s not all that strange since a day hasn’t passed that I haven’t thought of those moments when I had that spiritual experience of becoming one with the rock. You just don’t forget that kind of seminal moment that alters so completely both your personal and professional life. And when I feel myself weakening or faltering, when I sense my courage failing, I take a look at a piece of the safety rope from that climb that hangs on the wall in the spare bedroom I call my study and remember my self-made motto: “You climbed. You can do anything.”

I don’t why, maybe it was being in the midst of that awful, uneducational process of assigning final grades, but this morning it suddenly struck me how much teaching is like that climb, how reaching for a near-invisible handhold on a sheer cliff is not appreciably different from reaching for a hold on my soul and reaching out to touch the soul of student, how becoming one with a class is not very much different from having become one with the rock, how both climbing and teaching required and still demand the courage to confront myself.

You know, there’s a lot of technique involved in teaching. It’s as precise an art as painting, dancing, playing an instrument, or climbing a cliff. Teaching, like climbing, however, is more than muscular exercise or brain calisthenics; it’s spiritual aerobics. There almost aren’t the properly fitting words to describe the higher meaning of either that climb or teaching.

I find that the art of teaching, like that those few moments of rock climbing, is really a form of meditation, a meditation through movement among the spirits and souls and minds of students and myself, as well as the subject. Contact with people helps me to focus on my own life: it helps me to explore my own nature; it teaches me to become a better person. Teaching is personally challenging. It tests my courage and commitment. It gets me out of myself, and the reward is a stunning view of humanity.

Teaching, like climbing, is a series of practical and emotional navigation problems. In that climb, I vividly remember how I fearfully had to navigate the rocks. Nervously, I constantly had to ask myself, as I cursed beneath my breathe: there do I put my hand, there do I next place my foot, do I go up or sideways, how the hell do I move up that cliff without falling down it. In teaching, I no less constantly and nervously have to ask myself: who are each of these students, where is each of them today, what technique do I use here, what method do I modify there, when do I back off, when do I get in a face, when do I challenge, when do I acquiesce, when do I talk, when do I remain silent, when do I do this or that, when don’t I, how do I do this, how do I do that, do I trust them, and do I trust me.

I remember that before I climbed that cliff, to prepare myself for that unknown, I mentally tried to climb it. Likewise, before going into each class, I prepare myself for that unknown. I unwrap a tootsie pop. And as I quietly lick it, I mentally teach, emotionally see each student, imagine the things I want to do and want happen, prepare myself for what might and probably will unexpectedly happen, ready myself to let what will actually happen–whether I like it or not or want it or not. As I do this, I find my whole mind and body relaxing and preparing itself. I then take a few conscious licks on the tootsie pop, take a couple of deep breaths–right from the diaphragm–and head for class with my boom box playing, still with some queasiness in my stomach.

Like that cliff I climbed, every student is an individual challenge who has to be confronted cerebrally, emotionally, as well as spiritually. Teaching for me is not oratory or flash; it’s dedication to myself and humanity, though oratory doesn’t hurt. Teaching for me is not intellectual power or knowledge, though intellectual power doesn’t hurt and knowledge is very important. Teaching is for me, above all, caring about myself and the student as well.

For me teaching is not so much a job, a craft, or even an art as it is a conduit to personal awakening of both myself and the students. For me, teaching is almost meditative. I guess I don’t have to sit cross-legged, close my eyes, and touch my thumb and forefinger together. There’s a spiritual quest to teaching, the attainment of a oneness with myself and humanity. It’s not a great lecture, or a technique that goes right or the turning on of a student that teaching is all about. There’s a greater meaning in attainment of that oneness.

Teaching, for me, ranks up there with motorcycle maintenance. I don’t think a course has any lasting meaning, true meaning, if it only provides information and does not change both the teacher and the student as persons. That’s what teaching must be about. Not to cover the all the material, not to have a technique succeed, but to experience that oneness with the students, oneness with myself, oneness with the nature of all things, and, most important, guide the students to learn how to achieve a oneness with him- or herself. That’s the greater meaning of teaching, to go beyond exploring the subject, to explore my nature and aid the students in their own exploration of theirs, to provide a way of growing, and that something really happens.

Becoming a teacher has made me a better person, a kinder individual, a more patient guide, a more sensitive and more aware human being. I discovered a genuine sweetness beneath my professorial nature worth exploring. That’s why I am always sad when the quarter ends; that’s why I can’t wait to go into class next quarter. Strange thoughts today.

Make it a good day.



Nice walk this morning. The air was crisp. The pattern of stars sparkled clear and bright through pinpricks in the sky’s black velvet cover. I even heard some early birds chirping above me in the overhanging branches. I guess they were out early to get those worms. Anyway, I was thinking about a rather abrupt message I had received yesterday in which the person took exception to what I had to say about caring for students and challenged me to define what I meant by caring. On my walk this morning I decided that I can’t! I won’t. Why does everything have to be analyzed, quantified, defined? That doesn’t certify its’ existence. Why can’t we just experience something without screening it or imposing limits in such a way that it becomes what we want it to be rather than what it is.? Caring is one of things that if you haven’t felt it you won’t understand it no matter how many dictionaries you’ve read, studies you’ve analyzed, numbers you’ve crunched. Caring is an outlook, not merely a word. It’s is a verb, not a noun. Its a deed, not merely a professed statement. It’s living, not just speaking.

But, so many of us–far too many of us–and until about four years ago myself included–think it is sufficient to issue either a private or public proclamation of caring for students. Yet, it is under the disguise of such pronouncements about being student oriented or student centered or of caring about students that the greatest violations of students by teachers so often occur. So often, too often, caring about students comes with a host of qualifications. “I will care about you if you’re like me.” “I will care about you if I think you belong here.” “I will care about you if you do well in my class.” “I will care if you mind your place and behave as I say.” “I will care if you accept what I say.” “I will care about you if you believe what I believe.” “I am centered on you as long as you do what I want.” “I am oriented towards you if you meet my standards.” “I will care for you if you don’t waste my time.” “I will care for you if you make it easy for me.” Or, “I will care if you’re ‘bright’.”

I think the real mark of whether someone truly cares about students is not how many times they profess, “I care about students”, but by the number negative moans and groans, forlorn sighs, snide snickers and sneers, laugh ats, cut-downs, and diminishing grimaces; by the amount of denouncing shakes of the head, the demeaning discussions, and derisive recounts of student bloopers; by the number of times their sharp tongue waggle “They don’t belong here.” “They won’t do this.” “They won’t get me tenure.” “They won’t get me a promotion.” “They can’t do that.” “They don’t know.” “I could be in the library.” “They take up so much time I can be doing other things.” “They shouldn’t be here.” “They’re not college material.” Or, “They don’t count.”

These teachers are what I call “Sunday carers”, announcing their concern Sunday, but during the week, subtly or overtly, by word or gesture, consciously or otherwise, they blame, shame, order, boss, ridicule, belittle, threaten, control, and/or bribe students; they tell the students to distrust their own perceptions, disown their own feelings, doubt their worth, and question their future. I am not talking about earth-shaking events, but a series of small things: inconsiderate behavior, a thoughtless comment, a chilling gesture, a disrespectful response, a word left unspoken, or a demeaning sneer. Most of them are insignificant annoyances. None is important in and of itself, but we allow them to become a pattern, to irritate and fester.

On the other hand, the truly caring teacher honestly believes that each student does count, gives caring unconditionally, and is concerned with the goings on of things “out there.” The really caring teacher consciously struggle to say through everyday actions, “I care about you NO MATTER WHAT!” With kind eyeballs, compassionate body language, and a sensitive tongue, that teacher tells the student–shows the student–“I see you.” “I hear you.” “I’ve got all the time for you.” “You’re important, the most important thing on this campus to me.” “I give a damn about you.” “You’re not alone.” “I will help you.” No, the really caring teacher does not merely announce “I care,” the caring teacher cares enough to enact his/her caring. The really caring teacher doesn’t behave in a contradictory, self-defeating manner–or, at least, consciously works hard, gets dirty, cracks some nails, gets bruised in the struggle not to–listens to his or her own words, sees his/her own behavior, looks into the eyes of the students, respects the process of encounter, has a faith that the students will get there sometime, and, above all, understands that caring occurs only through the process of real communication. The caring teacher looks at him- or herself honestly and consciously with a dedication to themselves to change and grow.

I’m not talking about big scenes. I’m talking more often than not about little things, little ways of showing that you really, sincerely care. A little smile here; a slight nod there; a kind word; an encouraging word; a positive gesture; a supportive gesture. Sometimes all it takes is a “Mary, you changed your hair today.” “John, you down today? Have a tootsie pop.” “Jim, you’ve got another ring in your ear.” “Judy, how’s your father doing?”

But, sometimes, I recently learned, little things can turn out to be big stuff. I had a quiet student. He’d sit there straight faced day after every day. He merely jotted a word or two in his daily journal entry, nothing that would allow me to flesh him out. I talked with him, cheered him on, and encouraged him. But, I got the feeling that everything that came out from me as “you are” and “you can” went into him as “you’re not” or “you don’t.” One day a couple of weeks ago, as I walked into class with my boom box lovingly playing some Sachmo and Ella duets. I saw his eyes brighten ever so slightly. We were to discuss the chapter on ante-bellum southern culture. I don’t know why, but without thinking, I threw him a tootsie pop and said, “J.R. what can you do?” I don’t know what I expected. Well, to be honest, I expected him to say, “what do you mean?” Or, “I don’t know” Or, “Nothing.” Or, just the usual silence.

“I can play some mean drums,” he said as he sat up. “Did you know that jazz is really slave music?” Talk about being caught off guard and taught a lesson about underestimating a student. For the next thirty minutes he talked excitedly about music and the black experience. Everyone sat mesmerized. Then, a member of his triad said, “Hey, maybe we can use that and do our final exam in music.” He sat up even straighter. His demeanor started to change since that moment. It was slight, ever so slight, but it was change.

Students are no different from us. They need a feeling of achievement, to be recognized for doing something well. Somebody’s got to point that out and occasionally give a pat on the back or hand out a tootsie pop and say, “Good job.” Just think of the difference between telling a student “you’ve missed 8 of the ten” and saying “you’ve got two right. Now let’s work to improve on that.”

I think if you really want to know who cares for students, look at the eyes of the students. I remember that someone once said that the mark of a person is not that he says he is friendly towards people, but whether he is someone’s friend. And so, I think the mark of a caring teacher is not the whether a teacher says or does not say, “I care about students”, but that the students care for the teacher.

Make it a good day.



Spring is in the air. So it the pollen. My red Mercedes (my “baby”: a 450 SEL with 165,000 miles on it), like everything around here, is slowly getting jaundiced. But, we had a laundering rain yesterday that left yellow-bordered puddles lining the sides of the street that almost made me want to stop and pan for gold. I wish I had windshield wipers on my glasses this dark, cloudy morning as I cut through the misty drizzle that was hanging in the air. As the clouds decided whether to drench me or not, I was thinking of a first year student in one of my classes, whom I’ll name Judy, who came into my office unannounced early yesterday morning before my 8:00 a.m. class. She really got me thinking about things I haven’t thought about before.

I was sitting there, listening to Pink Floyd, as I was struggling to finish the homework in my Russian class, writing a six-page letter in Russian to my teacher. Judy suddenly appeared in the doorway with exasperation written all over her snarled face and stiffened parade stance. I looked up. “I hate this place. I hate registration,” she screamed in a murmured breath through her clenched teeth and tightened lips without even saying an “hello.” My students know they can come to my office unannounced because I tell them that I always put them before things and will drop whatever it is I’m doing to help them. “I’m just a name to everybody around here. Nobody gives a damn about me until I write a check. My adviser sucks! The way she acted to me made me feel like I was interrupting something more important than to talk with me. I felt like I was just a f—— folder to her! Grrrrrrrrrrrr!!!! (that’s what she said).” And she stomped her right foot so hard I thought she was going to put it through the old floor.

I got up, grabbed two Tootsie pops, and gave her one. We went out into the hall, sat down, and I listened. After she was finished, I went back into my office, made a few phone calls, got irritated with the bureaucratic response, but ultimately got things set straight.

As we both left for class, something started nagging me. I felt like an pesky gnat was flying around me all day and I couldn’t quite grab on to it. Then, this morning on the streets it hit me. I realized that maybe the reason that so many of us don’t teach the whole student is we don’t see the whole person. We just see disjointed little bits and pieces. And for some reason, I thought of my son, Robby.

I started thinking all those troubled years ago and began to see how all those people who came into contact with him looked so differently at him. How each of them–myself included–as a truck does to a character in a cartoon movie, had squashed the full wonder of his wholeness into a flattened, dehumanized, one-dimensional poster image. How each person made him appear differently. The school counselor saw him as a problem of apathy; the school psychologist saw him as an unused high IQ; the special ed teacher saw him as a learning disability; one of his psychologist saw him as a “behavioral response”; one of his psychiatrists saw him as an “incurable condition”; a physician treated him, in his words, as a “chemical deficiency”; the school principle saw him as an administrative problem; the Vice-Principles saw him as a disruptive, rowdy head-banger; the teachers saw him as an enigma or a frustration or a pain in the neck or an inconvenience or a disciplinary problem; the police saw him as a delinquency case. At times, my wife and I, in spite of our effort to see the wholeness of him–when we were at our wits end, when the pain was most acute, when the fear for him was the greatest, the depth of despair the deepest, and when the anxiety the highest–saw him as a problem child and a disruption of the family. And I’m sure others would now see him only as a high school dropout, a loser, a construction worker, or a wasted life.

We each used only our eyes to see him instead of our hearts. What bit or piece each of us saw was influenced and limited by the labeling of our selective pre-conceptions and perceptions, by our standardizing values, by the walls of our self-definition, by the restricting patterns of our thinking, by our expectations, by our apathy and laziness–maybe fear as well–and by our models of perfection. We saw him–judged him–though the myopia or tunnel vision of “our” rather than by the inspiring uniqueness of “his.” We each saw only one facet rather than the sparkle of whole diamond that was him.

I not sure it’s much different when we look at students. Each of us, influenced by our personal and professional perceptions, values, expectations, models of perfection, and laziness, as well as the academic circumstances, flatten the student into this or a that problem, dehumanize him or her as a this or that issue, make him or her lifeless as this or that activity, stereotype him or her as this gender or that race or this religion or that culture.

We dump each student into a shallow mold, maybe because we feel more comfortable doing it and because it’s easier. We see each student only as a social security number, a signature on a tuition check, something that fills a seat in class, a name on a financial aid form, a part of the enrollment count, a major, a football player, a “bright” student, a member of the band, a “necessary annoyance”, or a barrier to higher professional achievements. And, as with Robby, we lose sight of the student’s potential total wonder.

What is essential about each student? Is it the color of the skin? Gender? Age? Country of origin? Style of clothing? Social status? Accent? Intelligence? Major area of study? Fraternity or Sorority? SAT scores? An earring or a belly button ring? GPAs? What is it? Today, this morning, I realize that most of us, myself included, so often use only our eyes to see what is essential, and the students, like Robby, are being seen superficially with only eyes. Like Robby, we look at the students, but we so often are missing so much of them that we’re missing the essence of them. He, like the students, was probably everything each of us saw, but he, like they, is a hell of a lot more, magnificently more! He is more than the sum total of his parts. What is truly essential about him, and each student, is invisible to the eye and, I think, is beyond the power of words to define, but not beyond the ability to experience.

I always say that the heart of education is the education of the heart. And so, I believe, it is only with the heart that we can truly see. So we’ve got to teach them that they are unique, that there is no one like them throughout the vast universe, that what they are will never again occur in history, that if only for that reason they should take pride, that they are a special thread in the fabric of humanity without which the fabric would be less than it could have been. That’s hard for many of us because we don’t believe it, and we cannot teach what we don’t believe or know. We cannot give what we don’t have to give. So much difficult “unlearning” is required in learning; so much heavy garbage has to heaved away that I and others have laid upon ourselves and others. I have a clearer understanding–I think–that what is essential about Robby, and each student–about myself–is so vast and wondrous, and what is visible to the eye is so limited and small. There is so much more about him, and each student, that is yet to be undiscovered then what is already discovered. That they, you, I are not static, that it doesn’t matter where each of us are at any given time, for are we always becoming, always changing, always growing. And, that’s the wonder of it all–the incredible uniqueness and potential of each one of them–and of me. And, the more I see of each student, like Robby, the more I see there is so much more to see.

Make it a good day.



I was born in 1940. In terms of time, that was just a short while ago. In terms of technology, it is in the far distant primordial past. It was a time before anti-biotics, plastics, ball point pens, cellular phones, orbiting satellites, head radios, transplants, fax, electric typewriters much less computers, television, satellite dishes, fibre optics, soft-ware, jet planes, vcr, virtual reality, word processing, e-mail, xerox, Nikes, dacron, space travel, pocket calculators, ICBMs, video games and an endless list of technological marvels that have changed the vocabulary of our speech, the face of society, as well as both our personal and professional lives.

As I remember, I was in classes during the tail end of the chalk and pencil era of education when leaking fountain pens ruined shirts and tattooed our fingers with black or blue splotches; when chalk dust covered our clothes, stuck to our fingers, and whitened our lungs. We measured using a wooden ruler, later a slide rule, or booklets of printed trig values. We added with our fingers. Copying meant shuffling messy finger-blackening carbon paper and thin onion sheets. The U.S. Mail and the telephone was how most of us communicated with each other. Telex and telegrams combined the two. It was a time before camcorders and tape recorders, before video tapes and cassettes and CDs. It was a time when the letters we knew most were LSMFT (Lucky Strikes Means Fine Tobacco), not VHS or FTP; when DISTANT LEARNING meant you had to travel a few miles to go to school; when DOS sounded like something the Katz ‘n Jammer Kids might say; when GOPHER was a pesky animal who dug up your father’s manicured lawn and yard; when WORLD WIDE WEB would have conjured up images of a B horror film filled with scary giant spiders invading from outer space; when we would have thought that NETSCAPE was some kind of scenic watercolor; when we would have assumed that INTERNET, BITNET, TELNET were new ways to catch fish; when CD were the third and fourth letters of the alphabet we kids were struggling to memorize in song; when TIN was something that cans were made out of; when FAX sounded like something you memorized for a test and quickly forgot; when MOSAIC sounded like a divine commandment, a grand production of Cecil B. DeMille, or a tiled bathroom; and when LISTSERV may have been reservations at a restaurant. At that time, MAC would have been a truck; APPLE would have been something in your eye, you brought to the teacher, that kept the doctor away, or you ate; PASSWORD would have been a game you played at night with friends or family; BOOT would have been something you wore on your feet; NOTEBOOK would have been a wire-edged school book; LAPTOP would have been something your girl sat on; BYTE would have been something you did to your lover’s neck or a sandwich; RAM would have been an animal that ate my favorite sweater at Central Park’s Children Zoo; a LURKER would have been a sexual pervert; SURFING would have been riding the waves at the beach; POSTING would have been building a fence or mailing a letter; BAUD would have sounded like something risque; FOOTPRINT would have been an impression you left in the sand at the beach or the mud on the school playgrounds; VERONICA and ARCHIE would have been mischievous high school comic book characters. It was a time when COMPACT was something small, HACKERS were perverse and sensational murders, LINKUP was a way to button the french cuffs on your shirt sleeves, HARDWARE was nails and metal fittings, and DOWNLOAD sounded like something I did on the warehouse docks to work my way through school. The only banks we knew lined rivers and lakes, or were places to save money, not to store information.

The only technology in the class room I remember were bulky and cumbersome 16mm movie projectors that the teachers always had trouble threading, reels of film which constantly broke and burned, manual film strip projectors with their rolls of film strips, maybe a crude manual slide projector, and an awkward phonograph player that always seemed to play scratchy records. Beyond my sight was the hand-cranked, messy mimeograph machine that produced eye- straining, faded and blurred blue or black homework sheets. At home, I may have pecked on a manual Royal typewriter with the forefinger of each hand using what we called the biblical method of seek and ye shall find.

It was indeed a long time ago, a time before the new technological language, a time when erasing was done with a pencil- head or a colorful block of soft rubber on paper, or a velvet block on a blackboard, instead of a delete key. It was a time even before “white-out”, and an error on a typed page meant either a messy erasure that left a soft gray haze surrounding the correction or a re-typed page.

But, you know, however marvelous are these new educational technologies, I think how we often forget that WE humans, with our emotions, with out creativity and imagination, with our wisdom and humor, even when we forget names or miss an appointment or bump into a wall or get off the elevator on the wrong floor, are still the most marvelous of marvels. We forget that how we connect with each other on the electronic information highway and how the other technology works is a very technical thing, but how we use that connection and react to it is a very human thing. We forget that teaching is a very human act. And we forget that the educational technology is only important if WE use it to serve us and to make both us and our students more human.

Make it a good day.