The other day I talked about prayer and being a witness taking courage. Then, I went to a dinner.
One of the keynote speakers talked about being shot not once but twice because she wanted to be educated, and those doing the shooting, didn’t think women should aspire to such things. I sat thinking about how easily we opt to read or to enroll in school, or to dream beyond the day. We in this country, do not fear the future, nor do we consider whether others are displeased by our seeking something more for ourselves.
For her, seeking itself, every day, every moment of every day, was an act of defiance, of personal bravery, not only of herself, but of her whole family and those who sought to educate her. Everyone involved in teaching her, in encouraging her, in dreaming with and for her, faced possible brutal consequences from forces that hated the very idea of her dreams. She, and others like her, were steeped in courage. I sat in awe.
We need to rediscover the value of every mind we reach, every soul we encounter, of the treasures that each person brings to the world because they are. As a society, we also need to teach that education isn’t simply a means to an end –a job, but a doorway to a bigger better self, and a bigger better society that seeks truth, beauty and justice because it knows these things are more valuable, more important, more necessary for life than any salary.
Going back to when I first began teaching, a student came in one day and slammed her bookbag against the wall.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“What’s the point?” she raged. I could think of a thousand answers but asked, “What do you mean?” which turned out to be the right question.
“Who wants to grow up to be a maid?” she asked.
Her question echoed long after I left that school. It echoes to this day, when students disinvest in the course work. “What does it matter?” the despair that comes when education is only viewed through an economic lens.
We must teach vocation –the dignity and value of work itself, irrespective of the paycheck. As a society, we must illustrate to the generation that does not grasp the fullness of the library they carry in their pocket, the value of wonder, of curiosity, of discovery, of deep dives into a field, of delight that comes from learning more than you planned, better than was assigned. Vocation is doing out of love more than just what you like, because it both must be done, and because you understand doing whatever it is well, is part of making life better
As teachers, we must seek to impart the reality, that all education is a gift, and that no all are so lucky or blessed as to receive that gift. As teachers, we must instruct our students in the notion that they are the architects of the future they hope for, but also the builders, the decorators, and the people who must maintain it. Grow up to be people who never stop growing up, who always aspire to more, hope more, and understand that every step is an act of defiance against those in the world who would rather some do not succeed so they could try less and control more.
We need to teach people that we do not soar by making others crawl or kneel. We do not win because someone else has less. We do not become a beautiful people by deciding some are beyond redemption, or by cheering anyone who picks up a stone to throw. The world will either burn or heal, based on whether we recognize we are adding to the flames, or seeking to soothe the wounds. It will be healed or burned, one soul at a time.
My mind cast back to the dinner, and to the idea of a world peopled by men and women like the ones who walked through blood, gunfire and broken glass, expectations, poverty and hardship, racism and sexism and violence. They represented the world we want to build, and how magnficient and possible it is, even when there is so much surrounding them that says otherwise.
We have no excuse with all that we have, not to try.