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We are Loaned to One Another

John F. Schwaller

We exist
we go among flowers
Already, we go away from
the trees, the earth here.
We are loaned to one another.
Tiya xochitica
Tlalticpac ye nican

These are words from a Nahuatl poem of the fifteenth century. They are some of my very favorite lines. When I came to UMM last winter for my job interview, this selection formed the centerpiece of my formal presentation. Today, nearing the end of my first year with you, I come back to them.  The concept of being loaned to one another is as fresh and powerful then as now. In my lecture last year I related this concept to the core values of the liberal arts education. The concept signifies that each of us has an independent will, yet for our mutual support we cooperate with one another.  More than this, in the setting of the liberal arts education, we are each of us teachers and learners. Faculty have a primary responsibility to be teachers, but in the classroom, with colleagues, and in their scholarly pursuits, faculty are themselves learners. It is the essential circularity of the academic process whereby investigation brings about learning.  Faculty learn lessons through scholarly activity and creativity that they then distil and bring to the classroom. Faculty use the classroom as a place to test new ideas on students. The student ­ teacher dialogue expands those lessons, and frequently provides the seeds for yet new learning, furthering even more scholarship and creative activity.

The Conference Title of this program, "Opening the Door: Sharing the Craft of Teaching," exemplifies the central concept. Faculty members also have the responsibility to share techniques, insights, and strategies of teaching with one another.  As faculty members we have deeply committed ourselves to the learning and teaching process. Reliance on the skills and techniques acquired in graduate school will really only suffice for the beginning of our career. After that we need to continually search out new techniques and insights to bring them into the classroom. Frequently we do this observing our colleagues at professional meetings.  Occasionally we get to sit in someone else's classroom.  Occasionally we have guest lecturers or master teachers in our own classrooms, but all of these are "hit and miss" opportunities. By consciously searching out distinguished teachers and then imposing on their good citizenship, we can continue to acquire innovative teaching techniques.

Here at UMM we are especially fortunate to have one of the largest concentrations of winners of the Horace T. Morse award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching.  That this is the group that provides the structure for this conference is only appropriate.  More than perhaps any other group, they recognize the importance of learning from colleagues in their pursuit of excellence in the classroom.  This meeting will allow us to hear a distillation of the wisdom gained in just such experiences.  Twenty-eight faculty joined as partners in an effort to share their experiences in the classroom.  These partnerships were not of mentor and neophyte, but of faculty colleagues voluntarily seeking the advice and counsel of one another.  "We are loaned to one another."

Allow me to return to the vision of the classroom that I introduced earlier.  As we all know, research, teaching, and service are the three essential elements of our academic world.  It should come as no surprise, then, that it is the classroom that links these three components of our efforts.  As I have already noted, the classroom is the point where research and teaching coincide.  Faculty members gain inspiration from their teaching, to test in their scholarly endeavors, and then bring them back into the classroom.  While popular myth holds that there are good teachers who do not engage in creative activity or scholarship, my experience is quite the contrary.  The best teachers tend to also be the best scholars.  Service becomes the logical outgrowth of teaching and creative activity.  The sharing of knowledge with the profession and the public at large, for final validation and criticism is an essential part in our system of research and creative activity.  Similarly, faculty members recognize the important contribution that the service of others has made in their lives and feel the commitment to service themselves.  Ours is a self-regulating system, whereby service becomes the motor to keep it going.  Lastly, this event is a forum where teachers work to serve one another in the improvement of classroom teaching.  The notions of service, teaching, and research and creative activity are all parts of a cycle of growth and discovery that lies at the heart of the academic enterprise.  The service is based on the notion of assisting one another for the betterment of our academy and society in general.

Let's return to the Nahuatl poem.  The Nahuatl is simple yet elegant.  It begins "Tiya xochitica."  In Nahuatl there are only stems that can be used as verbs or as nouns, depending on the prefixes and suffixes placed on them.  "Tiya" is the simple first person plural of the verb to go, "we go."  "Xochitica" is a adverbalized stem.  "Xochitl" is the singular absolutive noun form of the stem, meaning, "flower."  But here it is used in a adverbalized form, which taken with the verb "tiya" implies to be going around among flowers.  "Cautehua" is a stem meaning to leave or abandon something.  It here carries the prefixes indicating the first person plural and the presence of a definite object.  The suffixes indicate futurity, so we translate the word "ticcautehuazque" as "we will abandon it."  The next word, "tlalticpac," tells us what will be abandoned, namely the earth.  "Tlalticpac" is related to the simple stem "tlal" meaning earth or dirt.  "Ye nican" means "already here," referring to the time and place wherein the poet is speaking, not a futurity but an immediate need and condition; not somewhere else, but right here.  Lastly comes the "punch line," the summing up of the emotional content of the whole poem in a single word.  Nahuatl is a fascinating language because one of the ideals is the single word sentence.  Using suffixes, prefixes, and embeds (word stems buried within others) we can literally put the full content of a sentence in one word.  Here the word is "titotlanehuia."  "Tlanehuia" is a transitive verb used here in the reflexive.  The verb stem means to loan something to another.  The use of the verb in the first-person plural reflexive means that we are loaned to one another.

 Indeed the whole academic enterprise, but certainly the activity of teaching, is truly a situation in which we are loaned to one another.  We mutually support one another, and we happily share our strengths and insights with one another.  Each of us is extremely bright and clever, but by sharing all those insights and intelligence we come out with a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.  "We are loaned to one another."