Thomas Jefferson wrote, “an educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.” And leaders have understood that concept through the ages, with various twists on the idea of education.
“Let us think of education as the means of developing our greatest abilities,” John F. Kennedy wrote, “because in each of us there is a private hope and dream which, fulfilled, can be translated into benefit for everyone and greater strength of the nation.”
Education shouldn’t stop with a formal process. It must be a lifelong pursuit. Children have to be educated, but they also must educate themselves as they grow and understand, and become adults.
If you think about it, people who achieve great things are life-long learners. People of great accomplishment do not sit back and let things happen to them. They go out and make things happen. They pursue new or improve existing skills, insights, and ideas. If they are not learning, they understand they are not growing.
So they continue to march toward personal and professional excellence through learning. Champions in sports take failure as a learning opportunity. “Man’s mind, once stretched by a new idea, never regains its original dimensions,” according to Oliver Wendell Holmes.
Abraham Lincoln discussing the importance of education said, “not presuming to dictate any plan or system respecting it, I can only say that I view it as the most important subject which we as a people may be engaged in.” Lincoln was right. I suspect his passion for education, which he got from his step-mother, was due to the fact he was largely denied a formal education.
Greek writer Nikos Kazantzakis suggested that ideally “teachers are those who use themselves as bridges over which they invite their students to cross, then having facilitated their crossing, joyfully collapse, encouraging them to create bridges of their own.”
And Mark Twain warned us to, “Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions.” He then added “small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great.”
“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world,” offered Nelson Mandela. Yet Martin Luther King, Jr. took that a step further by adding: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character – that is the goal of true education.”
To make America great again or to compete in a global economy, our students must continue their education beyond high school, either formally or informally. We must give our students the tools they need to succeed in life, and in the future. G.K. Chesterton sums it up best: “Education is simply the soul of a society as it passes from one generation to another.”
What are we passing along to the next generation?
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JC Bowman is the Executive Director of Professional Educators of Tennessee, a non-partisan teacher association headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee. Follow him on Twitter @jcbowman. Permission to reprint in whole or in part is hereby granted, provided that the author and the association are properly cited.