I’ve finished reading a book printed in the mid 1980’s by Cliff Schimmels called “I Was a High School Drop-in.” Dr. Schimmels, who has a Ph.D. in Educational Philosophy, was a college professor who taught students how to be teachers in secondary education. Sometimes, as he was lecturing his students, he would realize that when he would teach his students about this way or that way to motivate students to learn, he was only guessing. As he says on the front flyleaf of the book, “I really didn’t know what high school learners needed or wanted from a teacher…I could never know for sure what was going through the student’s mind.” So, he decided he would become a student himself to see first hand what it was like being in high school.
He got permission from a principal that he knew to enroll as a freshman in high school. Teachers also agreed to have him in class as a student. Teachers were also instructed to treat him as any other student. Schimmels went through the enrollment process, selected his classes, and started to school as a freshman, not knowing anyone else in the school. His book is an account of that six week time period when he was a student.
I didn’t have to go far into the book in order to pretty much immediately pick up on the notion of perspective. As an educator, Schimmels had one perspective on what it meant to teach and learn at the secondary level, and taught his own students in that way. However, as a student himself, lugging books, being assigned a seat in class, having to study and take tests, navigating the crowded halls during breaks between classes, enduring the physical education class, not having time for lunch, and all of the other that goes with being a student, Schimmels gained a whole new perspective on what it meant to be a student, and more importantly for him, on what he needed to teach and emphasize to his own students at the college level.
He talks of the difficulties in making friends, doing the correct assignments, finding time to read all that he is supposed to read, not having time to shower after phys ed, getting demerits for not bringing his gym clothes to class, standing in lines, understanding the confusing system used to number classrooms, having to carry all of his books around all day because he doesn’t have time between classes to go to his locker, and a myriad of other things that adults may never see, but students are keenly aware of.
One incident stands out. Schimmels was assigned a locker with a combination lock by the school already on it, and was given the combination to open it. When, after several days he found his locker and tried to open it, it would not open. He tried several times, then asked a student passing by if he could help. The student, a senior, tried as well but couldn’t open it. They concluded he had been given the wrong combination.
Schimmels went to the office to get the correct combination and was told he needed the serial number imprinted on the back of the lock. He went back to his locker and found the number, but couldn’t read it because it was so small, and it was likewise awkward to try to hold the lock up, read the number upside down, and write it down all at the same time. He accosted another older student who was going by, and asked him for help, saying he couldn’t read the number. “Of course you can’t,” the older student said. “You take a piece of paper and a pencil and trace the numbers off onto the paper.” Students, Schimmels said, have ways of coping with the rules, procedures and annoyances that staff never sees or understands.
What Schimmels is experiencing is a different perspective on secondary education. His Ph.D. has given him one perspective…his experience as a student has given him another, sometimes completely different perspective on the same experience. Is one perspective correct and the other one incorrect? No, they are both correct. They are both valid. They come at the subject, however, from two completely different viewpoints. And in so doing they see things differently.
Perspective is present in virtually all of our interactions with our world. It is shaped by our world view and in turn helps to further shape our world view. Perspective is why eyewitnesses to the same incident don’t always see the incident the same way. Perspective is why some people are Democrats; some Republicans, and some are Independents or other political party affiliations.
Perspective is what gives rise to differences of opinion in a committee meeting, or between family members. It is what drives discussions, debates, ideas, and opinions. Understanding that someone who may disagree with you does so, not out of spite or evil intent, but because they are coming at a topic from a different perspective is a great way to break down the communication barriers and have a frank and open discussion of differences with a goal of arriving at a mutual conclusion.
The old adage of walking a mile in someone else’s shoes might be appropriate here. It means before judging someone, you must understand his experiences, challenges, thought processes, etc. Many times, the best way to do that is to immerse oneself into a situation as best as one can, much as Schimmels became a student in order to see what it was like from a different perspective.
OK. I need to wrap this up. Are you beginning to see the value of appreciating the differing perspectives that relate to an issue? Are you beginning to understand that, “My way or the highway,” is really a rather ignorant and selfish way of interacting with the world? Giving grace to other opinions and ideas is usually not weakness…rather, it is maturity and good judgment. Giving grace provokes much better and more productive discussion of ideas than bullying and self-righteousness ever will.
Many people, with good intentions, try to help various social ills such as homelessness, hunger, poverty, and the like. They come at the problem with their own perspective of what needs to be done without actually understanding the issues at hand. Before helping the homeless, it might be good to have a better understanding of the homeless culture and all that goes with that. In helping those who are chronically hungry, perhaps it would be productive to talk with the hungry, understand their struggles, and walk with them for a time as they work just to survive.
And even in the arena of absolutes, where there is just one Way and one Truth, and I’m thinking of the Christian here, gracefully and lovingly discussing Truth with a seeker is much more powerful than forcefully shoving that Truth upon a perspective that doesn’t yet see or perceive. Beating someone to death with the Truth only results in a dead spirit and dying human being.
I applaud Dr. Schimmels for taking on the role of a high school freshman in order to gain a different perspective. His teaching was forever changed by what he experienced during that six-week period.
We too need to step out of our comfort zones…out of our routine…and out of our world views and experience life through the lenses of others. Those experiences will enable us to give grace and forgiveness…qualities often sorely lacking in society today.