Brief Reflections on Education


So, recently I was asked to speak on something about which I am passionate in front of my Unitarian Universalist congregation.  It occurred to me that I haven’t posted in a while, so I figured I’d shar it with everyone.  I’m partial to draft 1, but 2 was chosen.  What do you guys think

Draft 1:
I was asked to talk about something that I’m passionate about. About 15 different things came to mind, but I settled on education. I know what you’re thinking, in this country lately we’ve been talking a lot about education reform in all the ways in which our educational system is failing the youth of America. But I would like to briefly talk about education in a more positive light. You see, to me education is a pathway to compassion. We study math, English, history, and government; at some point though, we tend to denounce these subjects as useless in favor of “more practical pursuits.” I ask you: what could possibly be more practical? We learn English, in order to be able to communicate in both written and oral form, we learn history so that we are able to see the patterns and trends that societies that have come before us have taken; we can be aware of our past, so that we can then see the possibilities for our future and hopefully steer what could be seen as negative beginnings toward more positive outcomes. We learn mathematics so that we can learn to reason our way through problems, as well as the frustration those problems may present, and through those frustrations we learn perseverance. We learn about American civics so that we can understand, given the context of the other three subjects that have mentioned, how to participate in our government to affect positive change.
But to my mind education has an even more powerful benefit; through the adequate acquisition of these core skills, we are able to practice a broader sense of empathy. It has often been said that open minds lead to open hearts. The skills we learn during our educational endeavors ultimately lead us to embrace a broader perspective than when we first began. This enables us to better understand not only the joys and sorrows that we face, but the joys and sorrows, trials and tribulations of our brothers and sisters across the globe. When we are able to do that, we’ve achieved two things: one being that we will have effectively created a global spiritual community, and the second and possibly most important, we will have managed to make ourselves a more compassionate people, and it has been said that compassion is the highest form of wisdom. Thank you.
Draft 2:
I’m 15 years old and spending my lunch period in my history teacher’s classroom. His name was Greg Parker, and this is where all the kids went who didn’t think it was a good idea to have their lunches devoured by hungry, ravenous gulls. I’m playing chess, I had since made a habit of playing chess for money. I slide my queen to H8 and that’s checkmate. My opponent has nowhere else to go, and I have a free lunch coming my way, free french fries always taste better. But today, I received an important lesson about the importance of a subject that I would’ve otherwise thought worthless, and by extension the whole of my education. Mr. Parker comes up to me, and says “Mr. Brady, I know you don’t have a very high opinion of history, most kids your age don’t. But you’re bright kid, so I’m going to to tell you something, the reason we study things like math and history, even though we may not use them directly, is so that we can look at the patterns of the past and the present and have a better idea of what we should do about them.
It’s been roughly 14 years since that day, and I’d like to think that that day played a significant role in me becoming the best under credentialed tutor in the humanities you can find. I work with kids and people going through lower division undergrad work in college, I tutor in Spanish, English, American government, and when I’m feeling adventurous maybe even some mathematics. My work on the fringes of education has taught me that patience is more than a virtue, it is a necessity, and one that I admittedly find myself in short supply of at times.
But being a tutor means you are in a constant state of learning, you can never allow your knowledge to become stale and it forces you to always see things from someone’s perspective other than your own. That’s what it’s done for me, it’s helped me realize that I can’t unknow what I’ve learned, and when I’m able to see things from  perspectives other than my own, as I so often tell my students is necessary, I’ve come to understand that compassion is the most fruitful byproduct of education. And it’s the greatest gift I can give any student; the ability to see in themselves the interlocking of each of these subjects that he or she may be studying, and how it leads to a broader sense of empathy for both them and me. And it’s through this work that I’ve come to realize that education is the gateway to compassion, the building of a global spiritual community, and as someone else much smarter than I once said, the highest form of human wisdom. Thank you.

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