Great Teachers

I came upon a poet today named Suli Breaks.  His spoken words about education really stopped me in my tracks today.

This is a young man who is intelligent, educated (the two aren’t necessarily related), eloquent and talented.  He looks far beyond the surface and readily questions old assumptions and paradigms about education.

The first piece I listened to is entitled “I Will Not Let An Exam Result Decide My Fate (spoken word)”.  Just over 5 minutes.  If you prefer to read it instead of watching it you can click here.

My children are in middle and high school.  Both ask the same questions I asked, Suli Breaks asked and countless other students have asked, are asking and will likely continue to ask in the future “Why do I need to learn this stuff, when will I ever use it?”

I was never satisfied with the answers I received.  Answers exactly like the ones listed in  the poem.

“You know to get a good job, you need a good degree and these subjects will help you get a degree, we never had this opportunity when I was younger.”

I never reconciled it myself. I don’t have satisfactory answers for my own kids.  Yet somehow, I’ve started to parrot the same answers I was given.  I’ve started to give the same advice I was given.  Even though I didn’t believe it then and I’m not so sure I believe it now.

I tend to adhere to the advice from Steve Jobs, a college dropout, shared in the 2005 commencement address he gave at Stanford University.  I highly recommend you read the entire speech    or watch it on Youtube

One of my favourite quotes from the speech

 “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick. Don’t lose faith. I’m convinced that the only thing that kept me going was that I loved what I did. You’ve got to find what you love. And that is as true for your work as it is for your lovers. Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do. If you haven’t found it yet, keep looking. Don’t settle. As with all matters of the heart, you’ll know when you find it. And, like any great relationship, it just gets better and better as the years roll on. So keep looking until you find it. Don’t settle.”  Steve Jobs

I also like the advice of Alan Watts.    “Therefore it is important to consider this question…’What do I desire’” Click here to enjoy a copy of a beautifully illustrated version of the entire quote, created by Gavin Aung.

If all you’re doing is regurgitating facts, robotically living your life, no matter how much fame and fortune goes with it, I don’t think you’ll be happy, not deep down satisfied.  I’m a firm believer if you’re not happy well, you’re not happy and life just isn’t much fun.   I’m also a firm believer that life is supposed to be more than mindlessly, robotically putting in time to simply get what we need, or to get to the end.

However, as a parent, I see the pit falls of not having a pension plan, or health benefits, or job security or all those things I didn’t think about before, but somehow now seem so important.  But then again, is that necessarily directly tied to our education or at least to the degree that we assume it is?

I believe most of our life’s success is really based on choices we make, opportunities we make and take.  Being present, mindful and going with our gut instinct is pretty important to me. Now maybe one of those choices is a degree.  And let me tell you, I am not about to go to a neurosurgeon who didn’t get his degree and experience.  So I am not anti-education or anti-school; not at all.  However, life is so much more than memorizing and regurgitating facts.

Choices.  Not only seeing them but taking the leap – actually taking the opportunity when it’s there.  Believing in yourself and your dreams.   Gavin Aung recently did a fantastic illustration of a quote by Sylvia Plath from “The Bell Jar”  on the topic of choice and choosing.  The illustration is entitled 130. SYLVIA PLATH: The fig tree   Just a note, incase this isn’t the illustration that comes up, search his archive for the title, it’s worth it, honest.  The entire quote is beautiful and I’ll share part of it here.

 “I saw myself sitting in the crotch of this fig tree, starving to death, just because I couldn’t make up my mind which of the figs I would choose.  I wanted each every one of them, but choosing one meant losing al the rest.  And, as I sat there unable to decide, the figs began to wrinkle and go black, and one by one they plopped to the ground at my feet.”  Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar

The second piece I watched by Suli Breaks is entitled “Why I Hate School But Love Education (Spoken Word)  This one is just over 6 minutes.  If you prefer to read it you can do so here

While this piece is similar to a degree, he really emphasizes that school and education are not necessarily the same thing.

“If there was a family tree hard work and education would be related,

And school would be a distant cousin,

Because if education is the key,

School is the lock,

Because it rarely ever develops your mind to the point where it can perceived

Red as green and continue to go when someone else said stop….

…And then they claim that school expands your horizons and your visions,

Well tell that to Malcolm X who dropped out of school and is world renowned for what he learned in a prison.”  Suli Breaks

Funny thing is I remember one of my teachers telling me exactly that when I asked “When will I ever use this!?” and he replied “But it broadens your horizons.”  I still remember answering “My horizons are broad enough thank you”.  I used the same answer with my own kids not very long ago.  And exactly what did I mean?  I think it’s time I find out.

I love it when people see things in a new way.  I love it when they are willing to take the time to discuss it in an engaging way.  Today I feel like I’ve been educated, I’ve been engaged.  My horizons have been broadened and the only classroom threshold I crossed was the classroom of life.

I hope every person, every student grabs hold of life and lives it and is conscious about the choices they make and why.    So, is education the key?  I think so.  But is education, as we narrowly define and execute it, the key?  I don’t have the answer for that.  In truth, only each person can ultimately answer that for themselves in my opinion.  I’ll leave with one last quote from the commencement address by Steve Jobs,

“Again, you can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.” Steve Jobs

Here’s trusting that when we do connect the dots the picture of a beautiful life is revealed.

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