I know. Thinking, feeling, reflecting introspectively, writing a lot lately. But, it's not just that student who has really gotten into me or that I'm still feeling the gift he gave me. There's more that I'm not ready to talk about yet. But, still echoing in my soul are his words, "You didn't give up on me." Give up? Me? Never! As the Talmud says, ˇ°You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it.ˇ± So, I am a guy of many second chances. And though I may not always 'win,' and I don't, I never surrender. I never stop believing, having faith, having hope, and loving. I always say that my favorite passage in Scripture, my guiding north star for all my feelings, thoughts, and actions that I use not to "thingify" teaching, to ritualize or ceremonialize it--or anything in life--is Micah 6:8. It's my favorite. It reminds me to "humanize" what I do, that what really matters is people. But I don't think it's the most important passage in Scripture.
Micah rests on what I believe is the seminal biblical passage. Take the whole of the New Testament, the whole of the Old Testament, the whole of the Koran, the whole of the Midrash, the whole of the Talmud, the whole of all the Jewish and Christian and Islamic writings, however often misused and abused and perverted they may be by imperfect followers. It all rests on one passage and one passage only. The rest is commentary. It's among the opening passages of the Old Testament. Maybe the fact that it's among the opening passages reveals its significance. Genesis 1:27 gets my vote: "In the Image of God they were created." The spark of the Divine in us all. Imperfect, but godly, all of us. Bar none. Sacred, noble, valuable, worthy, unique. All of us. No exceptions. No conditions. No exclusions. No judgments. No ifs, ands, or buts!
"In the image of God were they created." A simple but profound and challenging and elegant statement. But, really. Do we believe it? Do we see the angel ahead of each student, reminding us with the proclaiming, "Make way, make way, make way for someone created in the image of God?" We all believe we are decent folk; I know we all want to be decent folk. But do we believe in all the people who populate our campuses and classrooms? Do we act as if we believed everyone is made in God's image? Do we feel as if we believe everyone has a unique potential? Perhaps the easiest answer to that question is how we talk, and how we act, towards each student. If we really believed that every student is created in God's image, if we truly did, then simple decent feelings, thoughts and behavior toward each of them would flow. We'd be nurturers for all and weeders of none.
So, I ask, is an uttered "I care" simply a comforting platitude or an expected sound bite? I think we would act differently if we really practiced caring and acted caringly, rather than just mouthing it. Do we mean "I care" when we disengagingly say, "It's not my job?" Do we mean "I care" when we haughtily say, "I don't have time?" Do we mean "I care" when we say disparagingly, "They're letting anyone in?" Do we mean "I care" when we negatively act in a way that reveals "Students nowadays can't.....don't....?" Do we mean "I care" when we annoyingly say, "This generation....in my day when I was a student?" Do we mean "I care" when we resignedly say, "Well, you can't get to all of them; so why try?" Do we mean "I care" when we're more interested in and care about informing and credentialling than transforming? Do we mean "I care" when our hearts and minds are in the lab or archive? Before you answer any of these questions, keep a few things in mind:
First, how did you feel as a student when you were treated as if you were far, far less than angelic? Second, how do you feel when as a faculty or staff member you are not respectfully treated by colleagues or administrators?
Third, the more we can be honest with ourselves, acknowledge our own imperfections, the more we can accept those imperfections in a student. That is, we can have empathy, sympathy, and compassion. You know, I learned that humility does not mean self-effacement; it does not mean thinking of ourselves as worthless or useless. But rather it means being honest with ourselves and accepting our limitations. Once we know and accept our own limitations, we can more readily accept that in another human being. Fourth, if you believed and lived Genesis 1:27, I bet you'd notice each student. You'd feel differently about and speak differently to and of each student. You'd find the time to spend more time with each student who needed your time. You'd complain less about students. You'd give more. You'd accept each of them both as she or he is and as she or he can be. You'd forgive them for not being mini copies of us, for not being perfect, for not doing everything we want them to be all the time. You'd accept each of them both as she or he is and as she or he can be. You'd work harder to help each one help her/himself transform her/himself. You'd be a person of unending second chances. I bet eventually you'd teach fully, and urgently, and carefully; you'd see teaching as an essential part of your professional life rather than apart from it or an intrusion on it. Fifth, what would you do if a student came up to you and said, "I'm giving you one more chance. I'm important. I'm worthy. You don't pay enough attention to me. You aren't interested enough in what's happening in my life. I'm giving you one more chance. Notice me. Care about me. Help me." And finally, each time we can generate empathy and sympathy, have passion and compassion for, encourage and support, have belief in, faith in, hope for, and love a student before judging or blaming or weeding out, we change the world. And, as we continue to strive to change the world just that much more we can leave it better than when we found it.
So, "in the image of God were they created." It is an awesome notion that gives us tremendous energy and tremendous responsibility. It's the unlimited source of unlimited dedication, commitment, perseverance to transforming rather than merely informing and credentialing. Once you believe each student has an astonishing inner light, you'll fight to keep her or him away from the dark. And, you'll fight even harder to drag him or her out of the dark and to help her or him be the crack in her or his own dawning.
Make it a good day
Louis Schmier http://www.therandomthoughts.edublogs.org
Department of History http://www.therandomthoughts.com
Valdosta State University
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