School Days: Learning to Make a Difference

By Cathleen Elise Rossiter

Norman Rockwell - Studying
Norman Rockwell – Studying

“Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.”

George Washington Carver

School. It can be a touchy subject for a lot of people for a lot of reasons. Anyone who has been packed up and shipped off to school for twelve or so years, will have encountered his or her fair share of experiences good and bad that set the course for his or her taste for learning, oftentimes for the rest of his or her life.

I met a long-time friend of mine for coffee a while back. We first met in high school, I following my prescribed path through the public school system, she trying to make the most of a situation in which she did not want to be. Back then, I can’t think of anyone who would have known that my friend hated the situation her parents had placed her in.

After winning an academic  scholarship to her school of choice, her parents refused to let her attend the school because of their own fears and limitations involving their experiences with school – “This family’s not smart, she has no business going to a school like that,” “We’ve made a comfortable living with our public school education so it’s good enough for our kids,” “Sure, she’s smart compared to the kids in her small town class but she’ll never be able to measure up to the kids in that school”. This not-so-smart friend of mine recently graduated from Harvard with an impressive ranking and having made substantial contributions to her field of research.

Norman Rockwell - Inventor
Norman Rockwell – The Inventor

As we were talking, we discussed the tremendous role that others play in one’s sense of self and confidence in one’s abilities, as well as how much damage others can do to your psyche when they live, not only their own lives but yours as well, out of built up fears and misconceptions. We talked about the life choices we made based on what others had to say or had done to us that we regret. Ultimately though, we realized that we both have chosen to take the responsibility for our lives and educations, making the most of the opportunities before us. We both realized that we embrace education in any and every manner in which it presents itself to us, that we have always done this. We both realized that because of our tenacity in our unconscious pursuit of learning and becoming better people, it allowed us to discover our passion for learning later in life and have consciously pursued it ever since. Education for us truly has been the key that has unlocked the golden door to freedom.

The Problem We All Live With - Norman Rockwell
The Problem We All Live With – Norman Rockwell

Although the opportunity to have a basic education is de rigueur for many people around the world, so many others have difficult struggles to obtain a fraction of a fraction of what we take for granted. As school begins here in the U.S.A., keep in mind that your experiences, fears, and desires regarding school, education, and career is not the same for the children you encounter. Their experiences and attitudes may be far worse than you can imagine, or they may be far better. What matters is that we listen to them, truly listen. Read between the lines. Pay attention to words and behaviors,  to what is said and what is not said. Try to revisit your own experiences, deal with them and use those experiences to help someone else obtain their key to freedom a little more easily. Your support and encouragement may be the defining difference that changes lives.

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