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Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"And you shall teach them diligently to your children," -- Deut. 6:7
In his "Guide for the Perplexed", Maimonides tells us that the perfection of a person is the achievement of knowledge of God and God's creation. In this single statement, he includes metaphysics and science. In every aspect of life, knowledge is key to success and empowerment. The process of acquiring knowledge is education.
This nation's Founders knew that democracy cannot succeed without an educated electorate. For example, John Adams wrote, “Liberty cannot be preserved without a general knowledge among the people.” Adams' remarks were validated by history. In the French Revolution, what was intended to be democracy, very rapidly degenerated into mob rule.
Moreover, education is necessary for humanity to achieve its Cosmic role as observer.
There is the story of the recent graduate, who had studied overseas. He decided to take a leisurely trip home by ship. One day, he sat on the deck reviewing the notes of his studies. A sudden gust of wind blew all of his notes out to sea. Looking forlorn, he said to himself, "Four years of education gone in a moment".
Education is not merely the absorption of information by listening and reading. It is the process of developing the ability to recognize and apply information. Education is the process that allows us to learn from our mistakes. This requires that education also makes it possible for us to recognize our mistakes.
Ultimately, education is the part of learning that we absorb into ourselves and, through it transform ourselves. Rabbi Schneerson taught, "Man alone is capable of transcending the very bounds of self." The means of achieving that transcendence is education.
The desire to learn is an inner drive. No teacher can produce a learner. Only the student can produce a learner. The initial requirements are aspiration, motivation, discipline and ambition. The role of family, teachers and society is to stimulate the drive to learn.
Education does not only occur in the formal classroom. It enters every aspect of life. Athletics provides a fine teaching model. The coach or trainer provides the athlete with the information and motivation necessary to achieve successful performance. Then he/she demands the discipline and effort needed to attain that performance. It is the latter that transforms the trainee into a successful performer.
Poverty is not necessarily a barrier to education. It can be a challenge to motivate success. A most dramatic recent example of this is the story of the world-renowned pediatric neurosurgeon Dr. Benjamin Carson.
Dr. Carson was born in Detroit, Michigan, and was raised by his single mother, Sonya Carson. He struggled academically throughout elementary school, and emotionally with his temper. Then his mother reduced his television time and required him to read two books a week and produce written reviews for her. His mother would mark up his reviews and grade them. He started to excel in middle school and throughout high school. He then went on to Yale University and the University of Michigan Medical School. What Carson did not know, at the time, was that his mother could not read. She was a remarkable teacher. She understood the true nature of education. The measure of any educational process is in the outcome.
John Adams also wrote, “There are two types of education… One should teach us how to make a living, and the other how to live.” He recognized that the two were inseparable. The genius of Sonya Carson is that she understood that. And, she taught them diligently to her children.
Carson's story is not unique. The City College of New York (CCNY) provided children of immigrants and the poor access to free higher education based on academic merit alone. Within a generation, its graduates not only lifted themselves out of poverty, many rose to the heights of society as authors, businesspersons, physicians, scientists, scholars, etc. It produced nine Nobel laureates.
What was its secret? It was nothing more than requiring its students to earn an education by meeting and maintaining the highest academic standards. It also provided its students with a faculty that could deliver an education of the highest quality.
CCNY did not accept the current malicious myth that the poor were not capable of achieving elite status. It provided the opportunity for a high quality education. That provided the incentive to achieve. In turn, that led to demonstrably successful outcomes for its students. They did achieve elite status. Outcomes are the only valid measure of the success of any endeavor.
We have had a demonstrably successful model of how to eliminate poverty through education for over a hundred years. The question remains. How did we bring down the United States from first in education in the industrial world to twenty-fifth? And, we did it in just one generation!
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