Educating the human family

August 13, 2010

Last week I went to a volunteer’s site to observe her teach. Even though I didn’t see her actually teach (because the schools changed their schedules), I learned a lot from her. She’s the kind of teacher who gives her all to her students. She overlooks no student. Using different hands-on teaching aids, she makes lessons interesting so the students who are used to teaching techniques that are primarily auditory don’t fall asleep. I may have paid more attention in my classes if teaching aids that were more tactile were used.

Lately I’ve been thinking about the purpose of education. I remember back in 1st grade I was wondering why my folks were sending me to school. What’s the point of schooling? When I asked them, they said that I go to school so one day I can get a good job. I asked them what’s the point of a good job. They replied that I can buy what I want and be happy. I told them I didn’t want anything. I remember thinking how can money buy happiness? It’s not something you purchase in a store.

I believe schooling should be more than just getting a well paid job. My high school teachers emphasized preparing oneself for a career that’s meaningful. Good schooling helps people discover their strengths and weaknesses. People get degrees to prepare them for the “real” world where they can get jobs that may satisfy their living needs. As they progress in their careers, the work eventually define them. I notice this tendency especially among my fellow Americans to equate one’s self-worth by what they do (which makes sense since we’re an individualistic and egalitarian society). People also grade themselves based on how much they earn. A price tag. Here in Uganda people seem to equate their self-worth a bit differently (which makes sense in a socialistic society). One’s family background, gender, grades in school, one’s oratory skills, and respecting authority seem to matter. These are mere symbols. That appears to be something that defines us as a species. Symbolic thought. But really? How can you put a tag or a value on a human being? Why is their need for a hierarchy? When I look at our closest relatives (chimps, gorillas), I can see how it may be in our nature to be this way. At the same time, I believe we are all equal in an atomic level and we’re all members of one species regardless of who we are–sure, our family is beautifully diverse and we may carry out our needs and desires in different ways. At the same time, we are all created equally even if we have different skill sets or talents. Why use those to put another one down? We all evolved from the same soup (I’m thinking early life here). The value of each person should be the same since we all came from one essence (lack of a better word). Regardless of the developmental stage we’re in, we should treat everyone in an equal and fair manner. I believe that’s a basic human right.

I find myself in situations (at home in the US & Uganda) where people assume that I’m younger than I’m and treat me like a young child. Perhaps we should evaluate how we treat children. The past weekend I was at the American Recreational Association in Kampala. The moment I stepped in the entrance, the senior woman guard was talking down to me. Why is there need for that? She gave me a tirade of criticism because I didn’t bring my ID. I respect that she took her job seriously but I found her conduct completely unacceptable. I told her that she was being unprofessional in the most polite way I could; last several months I’ve learned to sublimate my anger when I’m faced with a difficult situation because I’m more likely to get anywhere if I speak in a calm manner. She responded that I should be more respectful as well which in this context means that I should have been quiet while she gave me her lecture. Then I remembered a Gandhi quote where he said that businesses exist to serve the customer instead of the customer stooping down to whomever is in power who sells a trade/item and responded with it. In the end, I got in after the Security Coordinator at Peace Corps talked to the guard.

Perhaps the purpose of schooling should be to point out how we’ve similar origin regardless of the different developmental stages we’re in, the disparity of our incomes, our nationality, color of our skin, diverse cultural heritage, and whatever other symbols we put on ourselves and others. Perhaps we should think of ourselves as residents of the planet first before any other descriptors. We’re more likely to survive on the same planet if we learn to treat each other as one human family (treat the other person the way one wants to be treated while keeping in mind our differences in customs and practices–treating people the way they want to be treated–remember this being called the platinum rule in a multicultural class).

Education should unfold the full potential of life in everyone and not make people prisoners within themselves and other complexities that our intelligent brains have developed.

When things don’t make sense even if I can somewhat comprehend the reasons behind them, I think of this song. The lyrics are simple, true and meaningful. Thanks, K’naan and team.

“When I get older, I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag

When I get older, I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back

Born to a throne, stronger than Rome
But Violent prone, poor people zone
But it’s my home, all I have known
Where I got grown, streets we would roam
But out of the darkness, I came the farthest
Among the hardest survival
Learn from these streets, it can be bleak
Except no defeat, surrender retreat

So we struggling, fighting to eat and
We wondering when we’ll be free
So we patiently wait, for that fateful day
It’s not far away, so for now we say

When I get older, I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back

So many wars, settling scores
Bringing us promises, leaving us poor
I heard them say, love is the way
Love is the answer, that’s what they say,
But look how they treat us, make us believers
We fight their battles, then they deceive us
Try to control us, they couldn’t hold us
Cause we just move forward like Buffalo Soldiers

But we struggling, fighting to eat
And we wondering, when we’ll be free
So we patiently wait, for that faithful day
It’s not far away, but for now we say

When I get older, I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back

When I get older, I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back

(Ohhhh Ohhhh Ohhhhh Ohhhh)
And everybody will be singing it
(Ohhhh Ohhhh Ohhhhh Ohhhh)
And you and I will be singing it
(Ohhhh Ohhhh Ohhhhh Ohhhh)
And we all will be singing it
(Ohhh Ohh Ohh Ohh)

When I get older, I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back

When I get older, I will be stronger
They’ll call me freedom, just like a Waving Flag
And then it goes back, and then it goes back
And then it goes back

When I get older, when I get older
I will be stronger, just like a Waving Flag
Just like a Waving Flag, just like a Waving flag
Flag, flag, Just like a Waving Flag.”

When I feel down thinking about humanity, future of the planet, other species who suffer because of our selfishness, I recite the Serenity prayer:
“G_d grant me the serenity
to accept the things I cannot change;
courage to change the things I can;
and wisdom to know the difference.”

Not too long ago one of my favorite instructors told me that we cannot force change. Change has to happen from within a person, community, and nation. We can sow the seeds of change; wait patiently for the seeds to germinate (some may). A change from within is longer lasting because it comes from self-awareness and inner discipline.

Meanwhile I’ll recite the Serenity prayer.

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