On Wednesdays my school holds a town hall meeting to discuss issues related to school or current events. Topics can be raised by both teachers and students. This week’s topic, which addresses the value of education, was suggested by one of the faculty and I was asked to present some brief remarks at the beginning to get the ball rolling. Here is what I came up with:
Today’s topic is the value and importance of education. As I was thinking about this last night I thought about those students that I’ve taught both at this school and elsewhere that seemed to value or took advantage of their education. The short list of students that came to mind has little in common. Their performance on standardized tests range from mediocre to perfect board scores and their grades fall all over the spectrum from straight A’s to averages that in a few cases warranted their dismissal from school. In the end all of these students have one thing in common. To one degree or another each of them has acknowledged that the classroom and the school at large is a place where they can explore questions and subjects that stand to reveal something important about the world and their place in it.
Whether they realize it or not, what each of these students has acknowledged is the role of luck in their individual lives. Think about it. None of us in this room chose to be born or when we were born, nor did we choose the color of our skin, sex, or even our own families. And if you look closely you will see that most of what you believe about the world, including your religious and political views has been shaped in large part by conditions that you have not chosen. The true value of education is that it has the potential to put you in a position where you can choose to look beyond the confines of this limited world view. To do this, however, requires a certain amount of discipline, maturity, and a healthy dose of humility. It involves nothing less than admitting the possibility that everything you believe may be wrong. Students who value education use their time in the classroom and elsewhere to reinvent themselves by taking seriously the proposition that the teenage years are much too early to set ones beliefs in stone. Experiences are limited and there is a universe out there that has much to teach if you are willing to look.
I’ve found over the few short years of my teaching career that relatively few students take full advantage of what is offered in a school like this. Most are comfortable doing what they are told in the hope of arriving at the next station in life where they will once again be comfortable being told what to do and so on. Let me leave you with a little secret: Schools are designed to allow for mediocrity to pass through its doors. I am always just a little amused when I hear from students at the end of the year that they only had to exercise a minimal amount of energy and focus to get through school. They wear it as a badge of honor. What those students fail to realize is that the system is set up to allow for this. They’ve achieved nothing beyond what the multitude have already celebrated. Schools can only present opportunities and possibilities to their students, but in the end it is up to each individual to choose whether the offer will be accepted.