Scars, Stories and Students

Hunt down a wildebeest, frame a house, plow a field, tear down an engine block, and prepare a meal from scratch. There was a time when we were expected to know how to do these things. It was life of physical labor. It was a life that could leave a scar. Getting a scar is painful. Scars are visible manifestations of struggle, triumph, defeat, and sometimes mistakes. But, scars also embody stories. And, storytelling in one our most cherished and effective means of passing along knowledge and wisdom. Indeed, scars can be considered one of our oldest teaching tools. All a child, grandchild, or apprentice had to ask was “How did you get that scar?” With that simple request, a sleeve would be rolled up, a story shared, and a life lesson imparted.

Today, there is a relentless removal of the physical from our daily lives. Almost everything is pre-packaged and ready-made. We live a disposable lifestyle. If something breaks, most of us do not attempt to fix it. We dump it and go buy another one. We no longer need to know how to fix, harvest, chop, mill, and sew.  In turn, there are fewer and fewer opportunities to get scars. That is a good thing. However, are we losing something?

Given that we no longer need to worry about teaching our young people how to do these things, it would seem that scars have lost their educational value. Indeed, I tell my students to be creative, make art, become a thought leader, start a blog, spread your ideas, and blaze your own trail into the creative class. But, without scars, my counsel rings hollow.

If my students ask me what I mean by “go be creative,” I can point them in the direction of the most recent TED talk. But, TED talks are packaged perfection. They are speakers on a stage in clean crisp clothing, articulating every word correctly, and executing choreographed movements precisely. Endless effort is invested to make the talks look effortless. It is made to look easy. It is an air-brushed reality. The painfully creative process is kept behind the scenes. All we see if the perfected final product.

It is a world without scars. There are no signs of struggle. There are no signs that a mistake was once made. There is no opening for anyone to ask “How did you get that scar?” And, without that opening, there is no opportunity to ask question like: “Who did you turn to when you lost confidence?” “How did you overcome self-doubt?” “What inspired you to get back up?” This unblemished universe is unwelcoming. Yet, I expect my students to reside and thrive in this world.

So, let me be absolutely transparent with my students. This blog is my own personal fight club. Each time I sit down to write, I step into the arena to battle my demon. He is mean. He is nasty. He is ugly. He circles me. He whispers in my ear and tells me I am no good. He says things like “Remember that one post that no one read. No one is going to read this one either.” He knows how to push my buttons. And, as I get closer and closer to finding the theme of a post, he gets meaner and meaner. Ultimately, we come to blows. We kick, punch, scratch, and bite each other. And, the blows do not stop until I click the publish button. Then he evaporates. That is it. He is gone. He is exorcised. Well, that is, until the next idea I have comes along.

Yet, here is the thing.

There are no physical signs of my struggle. There is no evidence that I was in the arena. When I show up to class, all my students see is the final version of a post. Yet, in my mind, I am limping. My body is bruised and battered. My knuckles are jammed and bloodied. And, there is a new scar running down the side of my face. But, none of my students see those things. None of my students can walk up and say “How did you get that scar Dr H?” And, without that question, there is not opportunity to teach and lead and share my story of struggle. Indeed, they may believe that there was no struggle involved. That belief is destructive.

An important part of Tribal Teaching is being vulnerable and sharing your stories of struggle with your students. We used to do this with our scars. I only have two visible scars. So, I blog to make my other scars visible.

Shawn Humphrey, the Blue Collar Professor (@blucollarprof)

3 Responses to “Scars, Stories and Students

  • Great thoughts as usual! This is an encouragement .

  • Just want to let you know, Shawn, that your demon is fake.
    Because I didn’t only read this story, I also read the one no one is supposed to have read. And I’ll keep reading you. You just keep on writing.

    Camille

  • Shirley Martey
    4 years ago

    Browsing through Twitter, I accidentally came across this blog. This was an excellent read. you are right…I have been fortunate to hear stories from my professors that have given me excellent perspective on my own life. The scars revealed in these stories have been valuable for the fact that my own life experiences have been minimal but I am starting to face the kinds of challenges that show me how crucial it is to speak to adults who have been through it all. I look forward to reading more of your posts

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