I fear I am about to get myself into trouble with a compendium to my latest reflection on what students need. It’s about what so many faculty need. Perhaps, desperately need. Why trouble? It’s because while so many of us academics are so quick to talk about students, we are so hesitant, to say the least, to talk about ourselves. Nevertheless, here goes.

       After a month, I still have a “Lily hangover.” I guess it’s because Lily-South was my first outing, since my cerebral hemorrahage, reminding me “gratio ergo sum,” that is–if my Latin is correct–loosely, “I am thankful, therefore I am.” That is, how grateful I am for each breath I still take. Anyway, being a Lily old timer, a professor e-mailed me asking, why I talk so much about the Lily conferences and what was the one thing that stands out most from my years of engaging in the national and regional Lily conferences on college and university teaching that makes them stand out. I’ve been pondering an answer for days. Actually, there are two things that stand out. The first is the creation of an uplifting and empowering environment for information, affirmation, education, and especially for edification that is the beauty of the Lily regional and main conferences. Over the years, they have done so much for me. Magically and miraculously, there’s no need for entry signs to read, “No egos allowed.” Uplifting is the name of one Lily game. Nourishment is the name of another Lily game. At these gatherings, you can see all around you, whether in formal sessions or schmoozing in the halls or talking around the meal tables, in the early morning and late into the night, the people offering positive support and encouragement for each other to engage themselves as strangers quickly become colleagues and friends.

       At Lily so many people feel it’s a safe place to let their guard down a bit, momentarily come out from behind their pretenses, and let their inner selfs briefly rise to the surface. So few of these often surprisingly open and honesty after-session, over-the-table conversations center around classroom teaching methods and techniques. And, those which did, were always peppered with such hesitating and even fearful utterances “Oh, I’d be scared to death to try that” or “I don’t have the confidence for that” or “Oh, I couldn’t do that” or “They wouldn’t let me” or “I don’t have tenure” or “I’m too shy” or “That’s not me” or “I have a family” or “I’d die” or “I don’t believe” or “Do you know that they would say?” All this brings me to the second thing about Lily. I had had a quick, few seconds exchange with Stewart Ross of Minnesota State at this past Lily-South conference during a plenary presentation by Ed Neal of UNC. I whispered to Stewart, “A lot of what he’s saying is so spiritual.”

      Stewart quickly replied, “Maybe people need spirituality to fill the vacuum.”

      I’ve been thinking ever since about that comment and some things said by Todd Zakrajsek of Central Michigan during his presentation on classroom apathy and motivation, as well as by Bill Johnson during his presentation on dreaming. It’s the heretical thought that we academics are just as human, just as fallible, just as suffering the sling and arrows of outrageous fortune, as the students. So many academics come to Lily looking for methods and techniques and technologies, and so many find, often to their amazement, that they want something more. They’re seeking something beyond themselves because they’re feeling forced to settle for something that is less than themselves as they get caught up in the trappings of assessment, accreditation, tenure, research, publication, promotion, and a host of other academic rites that give at best lip-service to classroom teaching. The “got to” chase for academic recognition and security seems to instill so little joy in so many of them. It’s like, as it is said in Ecclesiastes, chasing the wind. In conversation after conversation, people whispered, almost as if they were afraid others would hear them, that they have a “clone-ish” feeling, that they are losing that war e.e.cummings described against others who are fighting to make them into people those others want them to be.

      Empty and meaningless institutional mission statements aside, in often fearful resignation that embodied Thoreau”s “quiet desperation,” they sighed that they are void of an inner happiness and serenity, that they are being “forced” to compromise themselves, that they’re looking over their shoulder when they enter the classroom, that they really did not want or want to do what the academic tradition and values were dictating to them what to want and to do, that they really didn’t want to focus on what the academic world was spotlighting, that the quest for the demanded generic academic achievement of degrees, tenure, and promotion–and even mandatory scholarship–did not really bring very much lasting fulfillment, that in reality most institutions aren’t as open minded as their mission statements state and are too often inhospitable to those who challenge old ways of thinking and doing things, that the stress has made them impatient with students–and others, that the pursuit of those off-the-shelf achievements and recognitions left so many of them hopelessly frustrated and/or even fearful. There was a realization that standard definitions of academic accomplishment that satisfied recruitment committees, tenure and promotion committees, administrators, as well as accrediting agencies, were not truly all that personally satisfying.

      I have heard so many people say in so many words that even if they successfully had struggled academically to survive, they really didn’t know what they had survived for other than a guarantee of a job, a title, a salary level, a publication, a bit of reputation. So many people realized that though they may have acquired the means to live academically, they lacked a meaning to live for. In many ways, they are reflective of what was reported by PBS’ in its indicting “Declining By Degrees”: life without living, means without meaning, having while having not, being owned without owning. They forlornly revealed that inner vacuum they themselves had created by surrendering their selfs and their responsibility, often at the expense of students, with blaming accusation that the devilish “system made me do it.” And, perhaps worst of all, they sadly and haplessly had convinced themselves that they could not do anything about it.

      Vision! Difference! Integrity! Purpose! Meaning! That’s what so many who attend Lily, and those who don’t, find themselves looking for. They have a yearning for a clear personal vision, an almost desperate hunger for meaning, an inner burning desire to make a difference, a thirst for authenticity, and a search for a connection with a real, meaningful purpose that would yield joy, excitement, satisfaction, and fulfillment.


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About Louis Schmier

LOUIS SCHMIER “Every student should have a person who wants to help him or her help himself or herself become the person he or she is capable of becoming, and I’ll be damned if I am ever going to let one human being fall through the cracks in my classes without a fight.” How about a snapshot of myself. But, what shall I tell you about me? Something personal? Something philosophical? Something pedagogical? Something scholarly? Nah, I'll dispense with that resume stuff. Since I believe everything we do starts from who we are inside, what we believe, what we perceive, and what we do is an extension of ourselves, how about if I first say some things about myself. Then, maybe, I can ease into other things. My name is Louis Schmier. The first name rhymes with phooey, the last with beer. I am a 76 year old - in body, but not in mind or spirit - born and bred New Yorker who came south in 1963. I met by angelic bride, Susie, on a reluctant blind date at Chapel Hill. We've been married now going on 51 years. We have two marvelous sons. One is a VP at Samsung in San Francisco. The other is an artist with food and is an executive chef at a restaurant in Nashville, Tn. And, they have given us three grandmunchkins upon whom we dote a bit. I power walk 7 miles every other early morning. That’s my essential meditative “Just to …” time. On the other days, I exercise with weights to keep my upper body in shape. I am an avid gardener. I love to cook on my wok. Loving to work with my hands as well as with my heart and mind, I built a three room master complex addition to the house. And, I am a “fixer-upper” who allows very few repairmen to step across the threshold. Oh, by the way, I received my A.B. from then Adelphi College, my M.A. from St. John's University, and my Ph.D. from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. I have been teaching at Valdosta State University in Georgia since 1967. Having retired reluctantly in December, 2012, I currently hold the rank of Professor of History, Emeritus. I prefer the title, “Teacher”. Twenty-five years ago, I had what I consider an “epiphany”. It changed my understanding of myself. I stopped professoring and gave up scholarly research and publication to devote all my time and energy to student. My teaching has taken on the character of a mission. It is a journey that has taken me from seeing only myself to a commitment to vision larger than myself and my self-interest. I now believe that being an educator means I am in the “people business”. I now believe that the most essential element in education is caring about people. Education without caring, without a real human connection, is as viable as a person with a brain but without a heart. So, when I am asked what I teach, I answer unhesitatingly, “I teach students”. I am now more concerned with the students’ learning than my teaching, more concerned with the students as human beings than with the subject. I am more concerned with reaching for students than reaching the height of professional reputation. I believe the heart of education is to educate the heart. The purpose of teaching is to instill in all students genuine, loving, lifelong eagerness to learn and foster a life of continual growth and development. It should encourage and assist students in developing the basic values needed for learning and living: self-discipline, self-confidence, self-worth, integrity, honesty, commitment, perseverance, responsibility, pursuit of excellence, emotional courage, creativity, imagination, humility, and compassion for others. In April, 1993, I began to share ME on the internet: my personal and professional rites of passage, my beliefs about the nature and purpose of an education, a commemoration of student learning and achievement, my successful and not so successful experiences, a proclamation of faith in students, and a celebration of teaching. These electronic sharings are called “Random Thoughts”. There are now over 1000 of them floating out there in cyberspace. The first 185, which chronicles the beginnings of my journey, have been published as collections in three volumes, RANDOM THOUGHTS: THE HUMANITY OF TEACHING, RANDOM THOUGHTS, II: TEACHING FROM THE HEART, RANDOM THOUGHTS, III: TEACHING WITH LOVE, and RANDOM THOUGHTS, IV: THE PASSION OF TEACHING. The chronicle of my continued journey is available in an Ebook on Amazon's Kindle in a volume I call FAITH, HOPE, LOVE: THE SPIRIT OF TEACHING. There a few more untitled volumes in the works..


  1. It seems to me this problem is not unique to academia but to a vast sweep of the traditional upper-middle class professions. Wherever there is a “ladder”, an unspoken expectation is that those who rise disassociate themselves from people who do not rise- — not only from those who fail but from all classes of people who are outside of a narrow (and arbitrary) band of occupations.

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