Vol.16 #1 W 1974
when you climb a mountain
|and all about temptations and distractions||
sometimes losing sight of the summit
with tiring mind and tiring body
with swollen head and glowing pride
to stop and rest and not go on
to not go on
|there lies the summit|
|I packed my bag last fall
with books and hopes rather than ropes and spikes
and pushed through the low lands
to begin the long climb toward another degree
and what peaks and valleys did I travel
After finishing my Masters degree in Mathematics in 1969, 1 postponed beginning a Ph.D. program in Mathematics to follow my interest and desire to work with people and attempt to bring some change to the general educational system. For the next three years I worked as a mathematics specialist, teaching math on the elementary school level and working with preservice and inservice training of teachers. After debating whether I should pursue an advanced degree in mathematics or education, I decided education would be best for me and entered GSE-UCLA in the Fall of 1972.
The first week of classes was very depressing-the reading lists were long and overwhelming and I felt that my background was inadequate for the program I was in and that I would not be able to make up this handicap. To cope with these feelings of insecurity and depression I wrote a list of my positive attributes-those things which had secured me a research assistantship, and more importantly, those facets of my background that prompted the School of Education to accept me in the first place. I tried to make my position clear, listing both pros and cons, and I wrote in my diary on Friday, September 29, 1972, "one of the things I must face at the university, and everywhere in life, is the fact that I'm not the smartest or fastest or best person in the world-I am a good leader in many ways, so get unhooked."
I hoped and believed that if I were patient and "kept plugging away" that in time I would begin to develop the necessary academic background and achieve the level of competence I was both accustomed to and felt to be desirable. I simply needed TIME, that precious intangible.
The following Monday I made an important decision. I felt I was trying to do too many things in the time available. To re-establish priorities I wrote out all my commitments and ranked them, making sure that I didn't omit the enormous amount of time and energy necessary at home. (Not only were there necessary readjustments stemming from my return to school, but we were expecting our second child early in the next year.) I decided that dropping one class would ease some of the pressure and provide more time for my other commitments. This seemingly "easy" solution was complicated by the fear of never finishing the course requirements in reasonable time and by my calling myself a "failure" because of dropping. In retrospect I see now that I used the term "failure" to encompass a general insecurity and lack of self confidence. I began to feel that I should have stayed with math for the start in the new program had been traumatic.
The quarter continued and I completed the courses, struggling with the required work. I seemed to have missed the point in much of the reading, and I found that my lack of background did not allow me to relate the ideas as intended. In class I often had difficulty following the discussions, frequently being either confused or simply lost. I was not comfortable about returning to school and began to question whether my time could be more valuably spent outside Moore Hall. It was during this period that four of the original nine who started in my specialization in September dropped out.
The brightest spot in this quarter was a paper I prepared which I called "A History of a Paper." In that paper I attempted to analyze some of my difficulties in writing the required paper for the course. These difficulties basically related to my becoming comfortable with the relationship between education and my cognate area, mathematics. I had changed from mathematics because I wanted to acquire the necessary tools to help bring about change in education, and I was fearful that if I concentrated on math education I would not gain the broader perspective that I desired. However, in working through the paper I came to realize that I could use math as the vehicle for change and "realistically, schools hire math specialists and not 'change agents.' Possibly the most effective way for me to be a 'change agent' is to be a math specialist in disguise." In conclusion, I wrote, "I feel so confident and comfortable with my feelings about mathematics education now, I find it hard to believe that I actually ever doubted my working in that area."
The Christmas recess that followed was spent in long hours of reading, working at my assistantship, revising my book (I am coauthoring a mathematics textbook for teachers due for publication in 1974), and soul-searching. The high spirits didn't last long. I seemed to be walking an emotional tightrope between confidence and despair. My diary recorded the conflict.
Monday, January 8. Vacation (ha, ha) is now over and tomorrow I begin my classes. I've had a rough time over vacation with the same old problem-should I stay in the program? What is it that's eating me? I am suffering from feeling very uncreative, very down and left out. I'm not able to produce on the level I was last year. In Compton and in the college classroom I was able to really produce. I felt very creative and had many opportunities for ego satisfaction. Now I'm suffering from not having an appropriate background, being unable to participate on the level I would like and unable to produce on the level that I've previously and desirably produced. It is very frustrating not being able to keep up-I know how the lost kid in a classroom feels-not able to participate, feeling put down by the situation. I feel so far behind with the reading and I read so darn slowly that I simply want to quit-give up. But I know that if I simply begin and keep trying that I'll succeed. I will be able to accomplish this difficult task. I think the task is more vast than difficult. I've got to do some reading each day and then possibly I can get partially caught up.
Friday, January 12. I cannot sleep-too many things going through my mind-my book, school . . . Let me turn to the important and difficult problem of school. What is my motivation for seeking the degree? Well, I want it! Why? I don't really know!?? For a long time I've wanted it. How important is my degree for my future? If I shouldn't get my degree, what consequences face me? What are the options open to me?
2. changing areas
3. going aimlessly along without specific degree objectives, taking courses that interest me.
I want to study Piaget, Erickson, and others. I want to do consulting, I want to grow. But meeting school requirements is not growing-or is it? I am not a quitter. I do not quit things which are important to me. I've spent $227 to be at the university this quarter. Am I going to withdraw, request the money back, or stay put and take classes toward something? I'm not sure that I want to be part of the college and university program as it now exists, I have definite ideas which need to grow and mature and I can only let them grow via the tests of time.
Kevin just woke up for water. In another couple of weeks I'm going to be a father for the second time. I want time to spend with Kevin and the new baby. I want to be free of the excess and what seems to be senseless pressures of school.
Thursday, January 25. The third week of school is about over and I'm feeling much better about what I'm doing. Things are not as bad as they seemed a few weeks ago. I'm doing some reading each day at school and somehow staying ahead of the game sufficiently. I am beginning to see some interrelationships between my reading and more of the total picture. One thing I must admit about the UCLA School of Education that pleases me is the warm friendly attitude of most of the staff. Most are, have been, very willing to be helpful with whatever problem or problems seem to arise.
Sunday, March 10. I feel very good about my degree program at this point in time. I think that the hard feelings I had last quarter were due to the newness, the unfamiliarity, and the lack of productivity. I did not know where I was and I had no sense of direction. I could not see the forest for the trees. I needed the quarter to get familiar with the various aspects of the field and now I have a much better orientation toward the entire program. If I can maintain the productive feeling I am now enjoying, I will have no trouble getting my degree.
To help orient myself I became an active member of GSAE and participated as a student representative on GSE Faculty committees. Through my activities with GSAE I was able to acquire accurate information concerning the policies of the School of Education and to present a student's point of view towards policies being developed. My attendance at both faculty and committee meetings provided a worthwhile insight into the workings of a School within the University as well as an opportunity to meet several professors I probably would not have met otherwise. It seems ironic that so many graduates go on to become university faculty but have never seen what being a professor really involves -the time "behind the scenes." My self worth and ability to contribute were enhanced by my involvement-I was given the opportunity to make my position known and, if acceptable, made part and parcel of the workings of the School of Education. I feel my time was well spent in GSAE work, and my feeling of being a part of what's happening around Moore Hall is due to my involvement.
With the ending of the winter quarter I felt I was coming out of a dense part of the forest and into a new clearing from which once again the summit was in full view. During the Spring recess I reevaluated my progress through the program, my priorities and time allocations and then after a very thorough discussion with my wife I decided the time was right for me to attempt my first written comprehensive, the breadth exam, which was to be offered in approximately ten weeks. I faced the very real possibility that I might fail the exam and thus have to repeat it. But I had failed exams before and was not afraid of that outcome. Even if I did fail I felt that my time would be well spent since I had to learn the material anyway and I would have had the experience of taking it once. My self confidence was again beginning to soar.
Once these decisions were made I set to work expending tremendous amounts of energy studying the material for the exam. I became part of a study group of students who were planning on taking the exam either this spring or next fall and as a team we met and discussed the readings and gave each other assignments. Much time was lost because of my inadequate background, and at these points the true value of a scholar in a field became apparent and most appreciated. In a relatively short time a professor could clear up an ambiguity which I might spend hours trying to decipher. Through my reading and discussions I began to understand and see relationships which had previously escaped me and on April 17, 1 wrote, "I have been very pleasantly surprised by my quickly becoming comfortable with the School of Education and the program that I am in. I was sure that I would have a very long wait until I could feel productive and able to play with the material. But I have been able to and my old creative feeling is again growing. I don't think it will be too long before I will have enough background to be able to start pulling together ideas and seeing the relationship between the various isolated segments that I am now encountering. I can remember the old fears-they are all gone. It is only a matter of time before I work through the present feelings of inadequacy. They will be gone before long. Next year will be fun and easier for me. This quarter is really becoming enjoyable. Piaget is like the hardest math problem I've ever encountered. Perhaps even harder! I still don't have the necessary techniques for studying and doing research papers, but I feel I am getting better."
Even with this revival of confidence, the next several weeks were among the most difficult in my life. My diary is full of very depressing passages, mostly related to how I was treating my family. I was spending seven days a week studying and practically ignoring every other responsibility.
when the summer rose grows
too does my heart
with the little children running free
and the wind sweeping away the night
let the wind cross the hills in peace
let the sun shine without tears
let us all cross the mountain without losing hope for tomorrow.
we are all men and strong .
be not fearful of the night
the moon is made of hope, not tears
the morrow is soft and will comfort thee
let us not lose sight of yesterday
it is the yardstick for tomorrow
and the base for today
past time pass
let tbe leaves remain on the tree yet another day and tomorrow
do not hurry me to my death
it will come in due time
It is appropriate to mention here a major problem which I have not yet resolved and probably never will. As an individual who is deeply concerned about child rearing practices and who wants to share the responsibility and joy of raising his own children, I was plagued by the conflict between spending time with my family and my school commitments. It seemed that no matter how much time I did spend at home, it was never enough. Kevin would never be 16 or 18 or 20 months again, and both my wife and I felt we were needed more now with a sibling arriving than when Kevin was the sole center of his universe. When the baby arrived, the need and desire to be home was even greater. Stacy was born February 1.
May 13. I feel as though I have really been losing out at home with Kevin and Stacy. Even though I put Kevin to bed every night, I don't feel like I am really with him. I am spending so much time studying.
I find interesting the number of avoidance activities I engaged in when under this pressure. Suddenly I had hundreds of dissertation topics to choose from, questionnaires to examine, a colloquium series to organize, unnecessary preparation to do for Compton, course curricula to design, and future books to plan, unnecessary hunger pangs-the list is endless. The May 13 entry goes on, "It is true that I waste a lot of time but that is necessary when one is using so much energy to produce what is being produced. I need a lot of energy to study-it does not come easy to me and I must work very hard at studying and getting ideas into my head."
There was never enought time.
The breadth exam was the morning of May 24. I left the exam exhausted and with a tremendous pressure in my head. I felt as though I had passed. I chose to write on the question I was most comfortable with first and the one I expected to give me the most trouble last. Ironically, I felt I did best on the last question and poorest on the first. Maybe some day I'll find out-I'm curious.
"I am pooped," I wrote on June 4. "I didn't realize that I would be so let down after the breadth exam was over. I just cannot get up a head of steam to finish my class work." I had done all the studying that I wanted to do for a few weeks and I really wanted to get away, but my neglected responsibilities caught up with me. I spent the remainder of my quarter indulging in some of the avoidance ideas I had previously thought up, and somehow completed my course requirements, the work for my assistantship, and the work needed for my book.
These thoughts were collected and written approximately one year after beginning my program at UCLA-and have I changed in that year? No. There have been no profound changes in my personality, my feelings of insecurity with respect to how much I know, my frustration over the time I must spend away from being a father and husband. Yes. I now have a far better understanding of myself; I am a better reader, more critical and thorough; I am academically stronger, more powerful with respect to what I know and more flexible with respect to how I use my knowledge. Yes, I feel very confident with my program, with knowing where I am going and why, and most importantly, glad about what I am doing. I know now, too, that I'll never have enough time to do all that I want.
Open your petals
Let me come in and touch your beauty
Shake off winter
Know your life is one of giving
May it be long.