Hello from my back patio on the mini-acre,
It is astounding to me that I am staring straight into the face of another semester, another academic year, and the reality of completing my career in academe, at least in a formal manner. As noted in another post, my more-than-wise father once noted how time will seem to pass so much more quickly as we age. Again he was correct. If I were keeping track, I think he has a perfect record.
As I write this, the world continues to seemingly spin out of control. In an unprecedented action, the FBI has raided the residence of a former President. I do hope this was, and is proven to be, warranted. I do believe it has the potential to create a revolution in this country. However, Attorney General Merrill Garland does not strike me as a shoot-from-the-hip person. Doubtless, the next 90 days until the election will prove interesting. I was a late adolescent person at the time of Watergate, but it is interesting that even former President Trump compared Monday to that event. Certainly, Monday’s FBI actions are no small event. The consequences are multi-faceted and it will be interesting if both our elected politicians and/or the public will allow process to occur. I doubt it as Minority Leader of the House McCarthy has already fired metaphorical shots across the bow of the sailing DOJ’s ship. I am quite sure the spin on either side will happen. I am reminded of a sign I saw in Cape Charles last week. It read: OMG -GOP-WTF. I do not believe the majority of the Republican Party follows lock-step with our former President, but I do believe that the majority of the GOP is about anyone-but-a-Democrat. I also must note that many Democrats believe the Republican Party is Trump before anyone on the left. What all of this means is simple: both parties are dysfunctional. The consequence is not good. Perhaps the most unfortunate thing is it keeps the former President in the news, which is what he needs. Enough on that, but that is where I am on the large events, or at least one of them.
Small events, at least on the national or global stage, have little consequence for the immediate as they are singular in their kairotic effect. I experienced such an event over this past 24 hours. Though comparison and face-to-face experience, I was able to see how different individuals can be. Furthermore, it was helpful to compare units and backgrounds. Certainly my choices had more consequence than I expected. Another learning lesson and facing the reality of how in a big picture we are all cogs in a larger process has been clearly illustrated. What I have learned is even though meetings occurred because of the same chances and decisions, those met are individuals, and we need to allow them to be so. The more important thing, which is something I have reminded some of, we are products of our surroundings, of those who raise us. It has taken me hard work to see the good in some of my own background, but I have been able to do so. The clear reality of those influences have hit me in the face this summer. It has been yet another important lesson. As is always the case, there is both positive and negative in the experience, but what we do with all of it is a personal choice. I think more importantly I am reminded of the importance of agency. We have power in every situation. The question is if we know the best way to manage it?
As I think about my life in the academy, there is a great deal of overlap. We too often allow external factors to control not only what we do, but also control our attitudes and emotions. Various constituencies believe they understand both the external needs and the internal processes, legislating changes or mandating actions that have little or no pedagogical practicality. And yet things move forward, and the train picks up speed with little in its way to slow it down. As I have noted in the past, the reality that education is a business endeavor, like most anything else in our free enterprise system, is not lost on me, but neither is the foundational purpose of the academy, which is to teach both the liberal arts (to be a global citizen) and vocational (in Luther’s sense of vocation) understanding, to foster critical thinking skills, to develop analytical capabilities, and to thoroughly prepare students to go into the world to actually make a difference. During the past week I have observed students who arrive early to their semester. What is readily apparent is how unprepared more and more students are to enter the academy. This does not mean they are bad people, but it begs the question of why high school graduates seem more and more incapable of managing basic introductory courses? While the reasons are complex, there are two simple reasons that come to mind: standardized testing and less rigor in high school academics. Behind these points are a myriad of issues, but the small changes turned into larger issues and the issues have created a systemic and profound problem, one with generational consequences. I have former students, ones who made me proud to say they graduated from Bloomsburg University. They have left the teaching profession in disillusionment. That is a devastating thing, not only for them, but for the multitude of students who will miss out on their passion and ability, but a passion extinguished. I know of other amazing teachers who have struggled mightily with what they face daily in their classrooms. I find myself asking again and again, what happened to the best and the brightest going into the classroom? Our current systemic issues have, too often, pushed the best and brightest away because what they will face cannot be justified either by what they will experience, how they will be supported, or what they are paid for their struggles.
The misperception about what it requires to be in a classroom, to offer strong, pedagogically-sound instruction takes more than knowledge. It demands the understanding of students’ abilities and how students are varied in both their ability and learning styles within the same classroom, even in the same row. How can one individual instruction and manage the overall needs of a class at the same time? Even when I have taught a class multiple times, there is more than a few hours a preparation. Likewise, teaching the same material year in and year out become monotonous. Point is I put a lot into a course before it ever begins. I have people ask why I am willing to go to such effort. It is what I believe I owe my students. It is my own expectations to do the best I can..
All of this returns to me to the focusing title. It is all the small things that have much larger consequences when they are accumulated. The lack of critical thinking and careful analysis of a situation leads too often to shallow-thinking-knee- jerk responses. Extreme response by anyone over-simplifies an issue or currently seems to lead to a self-aggrandized belief that one is more intelligent than anyone else. One is more well-intentioned, one is more in tune with the altruistic hopes or needs of the world. In reality, all fall short and the consequence is a country on the edge of catastrophic drought, shorelines that will be swallowed up by rising water, a world where demagoguery and a thirst for power, for a bygone world, creates global instability. Where suspicion overrides cooperation and millions of people die needlessly from the next germ that enters our fragile world-wide community. Where in our communities violence, rage, and hate snuff out another life or twenty because there is so little help for those who struggle with a host of maladies or addictions. If I sound a bit cynical, please know, I am not, but I am hurting as I read about a person who had died before our semester has even begun, or when someone is unstable enough to go around a block so he can run his car into a group of people, who are already grieving, and then after hitting his mother with a car, finishes murdering her with a hammer. These tragedies occurred not somewhere else, but in our little group of towns. It can happen here, or somewhere, or anywhere. The how and why are not really answerable. It is our reality. It is who we have become.
I do believe it is founded in our lack of care and love for the other; it is in our individual failings to consider the other before ourselves. It is a lack of willingness to see ourselves as community. There is so much more we are called to do. Can we see our lives vocationally? What does that mean? Simply stated: can we see our lives as most faithfully lived when we see all we do as service to the other? That is where it all begins. As I begin another year, I hope I can both convince and support my students to be the best versions of themselves, by doing the same in front of them. It is imperative that we begin with small, but potent choices, and practice a life of charity, of providing for, or giving to the other. It is those little things that can revise our current path.
It is continually astounding that I never seem to get everything done I hope to do, be it a year, a semester, a month, week or day. I planned to complete this before the semester began and we are a week in. Currently it is a Monday morning and before 7:30 a.m., and I am sitting in the parking lot of my dentist’s office. I thought my appointment was at 7:00, but better early than to miss it. It is cloudy and humid, and another 90 degree day is in store. As I started this post, former-President Trump’s residence was searched by the FBI. Since then, details, issues both large and small have come to light. More cannot be revealed. What seems apparent is the former-President will do what he does because he can. Little deters him from whatever action or behavior he feels at the moment. Consequence, at least for others, is not generally on his radar. I am not trying to take a political position in this description, but rather to lay out the idea of action taken and consequence experienced. While I am not a particularly powerful person, actions taken, which seem unimportant or only self-consequential seldom are. How I feel, my ability to think and manage after 160 students this semester. In other words, I do not live in an impenetrable bubble, affecting no one. What astounds me, even though I believe I have some political astuteness, is the far reaching power of the Office of the President, and the extended consequence even after someone is in office. It is disconcerting to me as a 60-something that I never considered the long-term repercussions, the profound significance as carefully as I do now. Perhaps that really is wisdom setting in.
As always, thank you for reading,