I have long dreamt of a time when all students learn at high levels and every teacher is empowered to help her students do so. I dedicate my life to making this dream a reality. It is the basis of this blog and my twitter handle— @shiftparadigm.
When the dream becomes elusive and doubts arise, I grow weary and lack strength to push-on. In those darks moments, righteous souls from earlier eras—who stood true against overwhelming odds, met daunting challenges, and moved humanity forward—provide the youthful vigor I need to push on. They are the people Bob Dylan challenges us to become.You know about whom I write. Their names—Adams, Mandela, Rousseau, Sweitzer, King, Mother Teresa, and so on—are on the honor roll of human history. All stood upright and courageous in the face of overwhelming odds to fight oppression, inequity, and ignorance. Only the educated are ever truly free was their common bond.
On the honor roll, a gold star is next to the name Mohandas Gandhi. It is there because in my absolute darkest moments, when the winds of changes shift, his is the story to which I turn. His life inspires and energizes me as does no other.
To a world rife with war and hatred, Gandhi brought a non-violent alternative. Its application helped nearly a quarter of the world’s population shuck the shackles of oppression and ignorance. Not surprisingly, at the height of Gandhi’s efforts—an era before the Internet, satellites, cell-phones, and televisions—people around the globe waited with baited breath to read the latest news from India. Every major newspaper from London to New York, San Francisco to Tokyo and Paris sent journalists to India to report about the civil disobedience of the Indians led by their gentle prophet, Gandhi.
There is a story, I do not know if it is true, about one such reporter. His assignment, interview Gandhi, then report back as soon as possible. Day after day—train stations, market places, along the highways and byways of India—he tirelessly pursues Gandhi. Week after week, mile after mile, to no avail.
Then one day, finally, face-to-face with the Mahatma stands the reporter. “I’ve travelled tens of thousands of miles to meet you,” he says to Gandhi. “The readers of my newspaper want to know what’s happening here in India.” Gandhi looks at the weary, sweat stained man standing before him. Feeling uncomfortable in the pregnant moment, the reporter says, “What message do you want to send them?” Solemn, still, and looking in the eyes of the reporter, Gandhi, says, “My life is my message.” With that, he turns and walks away, leaving the reporter with his long sought after story.
Invariably this story about Gandhi gives me strength to push on. It is a steadfast reminder that my actions speak louder than words. And that sometimes, as in the cases of Adams, Gandhi, Mandela, Rousseau, and others, actions speak volumes.
Gandhi’s lesson to me is that you need not question who I am, what I stand for, or what I am made of…all are visible in the way I live. Servitude, humility, and sacrifice, the themes of Gandhi’s life are as readily apparent today as they were at the time of his death. Each of us, birth to death, in our own way, walks a challenging path. Along that path, the challenges we encounter change.
Going deeper, looking back at my path, I see that in my youth, talk of “my life as a message” challenged me to dream. The messages of my students and colleagues’ lives showed me an educational system failing most of them and countless others. A system that works for all students and teachers—a shifted paradigm—was the audacious dream I dared to dream. Brazenly, I thought time is on my side and there is plenty enough to attain the dream.
Now, on the backend of life, with my biological clock ticking, unrealized dream, and the field of education as screwed-up as ever, I am, yet again, considering giving up. Enough, I could say. Like other people my age, I am entitled to retire. Forget about writing books, posting blogs, giving speeches, and leading workshops. Kick back, smell the roses, relax. Let other brings the dream to fruition by creating the necessary organizations, designing the requisite software, engaging disaffected teachers, and raising money.
So here I sit, pondering whether to push on. Wondering how would Adams handle this situation? What sacrifices would Schweitzer and Mother Theresa make? What ideas would Rousseau pen to paper? What steps would King take? How much would Mandela endure? What would Gandhi do? No doubt, each of these great souls was tempted many times to give up. If they were here with me now, I am certain they would admonish me to adapt to shifting winds, pick up the pace, joyfully purge complacency, and go deeper. Despair, doubt, and age—they surely would say—are no match for desire. Push on!
I am conflicted as to what to do next, an uncomfortable place for me. The dream of an educational system that works well for all students and teachers burns strongly in my heart. Its inevitable realization is likely happening sooner with than without me. Here, between the dream and its realization, is where I will write the message of my life.
Note: This is the eighth post in the Learning Lessons series. Please click the follow button on the right side of the blog page to be notified of future posts.