By Simon Li
Thank you for twelve years of instruction.
Thanks to you, I am able to read and write. Thanks to you, I am able to write this letter. Thanks to you, I can type. Thanks to you, I learned math. Thanks to you, I am able to compute derivatives, integrals, and the like. Thanks to you, I know about the French revolution, the American revolution, and the Russian revolution. Thanks to you, I know about Shay’s rebellion, about Bacon’s rebellion, about the whiskey rebellion. Thanks to you, I learned about enzymes and substrates and catalysts and rocks and minerals. Thanks to you, I can play the violin. Thanks to you, I know how to read sheet music, to identify intervals, and to sight read.
Thanks to you, I joined clubs. Thanks to you, I made friends. Thanks to you, I fell in love. Thanks to you, I feel prepared for the future. Thanks to you, I learned hard work, time management, and social skills. Thanks to you, I am the person I am now.
I can’t wait to see you again for the next four (and this year).
All the best,
I’ve been waking up in the crack of dawn for you. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, Friday. Half the time, I can’t even get up. Half the time, I hit the snooze button. Half the time, I wish I could sleep in. Half the time, I get to school right at 7:45, terrified that I will be marked tardy. Half the time, I can’t stay awake during first period. Half the time, I can’t stay awake at all. Half the time, I go home and sleep for two, three hours. Half the time, my eyes are bloodshot above dark eyebags. Half the time, I stare at the clock and wished time would move faster. Half the time, I wish I could be doing something else.
Sorry, did I say half the time? I meant every single day.
I’m not sure if this is sustainable for me.
I don’t like the drilling method that is used. You know, how someone lectures in front of me, expects me to absorb everything you say, and spit it back out on a piece of paper in the future. I am not just an automaton, waiting to be programmed. I am a free, independent self. I am an organic part of this world. Emerson said that we are students of words. I say that we are students no more: replaced by machines, capable only of churning out test scores and grades. What exactly have I learned in these last twelve years?
I have been trained well in memorization. Yet, I despise it. I receive input and spit out a result. Feed me the digits of pi, and I can produce 1510 digits back. Yet what is pi? 3.14159265358979323846…? What does this number signify? Based on memorization alone, I cannot tell you.
Is this truly learning?
Some critics of you have asked for more spelling and math in recent years. I think we are doing just fine in those areas. I am simply asking for more creativity.
Please think about it.
Paulo Freire said that “Knowledge emerges only through invention and re-invention, through the restless, impatient, continuing, hopeful inquiry human beings pursue in the world, with the world, and with each other.”
In other words, knowledge can only be found through dialogue, through critically thinking and viewing the world. It rests not on the basis of drilling information, but on interaction. We are part of the world after all, so we must act thusly.
Think, just for a second, on how we learn language. Was it dictated by a higher power? Crammed into the body and expelled on a test? No. We learn language through interaction with others, through restless exploration.
How can we expect to learn without interaction?
How can we be afraid of interaction?
How can I be afraid to be wrong? My hand, stretched into the air, trembles every time I am unsure of an answer. In-class discussions are a minefield, to be carefully trodden through, to let others lead the way and take the blow. Only when I am completely sure of an answer, when I am clear of the shame and degradation, will I answer.
We act like gods, ascended from mere mortals. We act as if the knowledge is absolute. Both of us.What we learn is eternal and forever. Why else would I be afraid to be wrong?
But haven’t we been stripped of our humanity?
I know this to be false. We are as much of a god as the birds that chirp outside the window. We are both human. I know that goodness exists within us—so maybe it’s time to reclaim our humanity together.