When I was in 9th grade I was at that point. I was tired of school, spoiled with my suburban education, and was a little brat. Enter Mrs. Mary Starr Kelly and Kurt Vonnegut's tale of Harrison Bergeron. The story is a classic about conformity and breaking the mold. After we finished the short story we all had to write essays. Being a pompous little punk I penned a fairly unseemly little essay about how having 30-odd freshmen write an essay on a short story about conformity, wherein we would be judged by a rubric of compliance, was tantamount to nonsense (though, I may have used stronger language). Mrs. Kelly not only gave me an "A" on the assignment, she made me her TA and I was seated at the teacher's desk from then on. She took over my academic schedule and placed me in AP classes and as her TA for the next two years in AP European History and AP World History. I wouldn't be on the educational trajectory I am on today if it wasn't for Mrs. Kelly.
While the kudos go to Mrs. Kelly for that brilliant intervention and dishing-up of a piece of humble pie to a student sorely in need of it, she has constantly taught me to be courageous in my learning -- to write that essay, to teach classes on European history as a sophomore, and grade essays on Islam and world religions written by my classmates.
She also pushed me to "go to night school." So much of education these days requires certain readings and rubrics. This is fine and good, but we should never settle for reading simply what we are assigned. Instead, we should continue to learn at home even when we aren't doing "homework." Check the bibliography of a good book, follow the footnotes, and trace the genealogical history of an excellent work to extend your learning beyond what is required. Don't conform to the contours of the educational stream you're on, paddle to the side, dock, and explore the world around you. Be adventurous in your learning and you'll never be the same.
That's what it means to be humble and courageous in our learning and our teaching. And that is still my prayer as students and teachers from preschool to post-doc start their terms this week. Go get it.