There is no self-made man...or woman. Not in the civilized world. When you stop to think about it, we stand on the shoulders of others in a most profound way.
You are listening to a radio...you did not invent.
We are sharing an elegant language...you and I did not create. The bumper sticker that reads “If you can read this, thank a teacher” barely scratches the surface of the intellectual infrastructure that has brought us to this moment.
You and I would not be literate if literacy depended on us, as children, sitting down to learn each day, on our own, the intellectual skills we now take for granted.
We are here today...as a civilized audience...only because we have as a society set up the system where...every school day, whether we were motivated and eager...or not...we practiced our letters, read harder words, worked more difficult math problems, and eventually engaged in critical discussions. And then we graduate into life, and we think we did it all ourselves.
When college students come to me for advice on a career where they can make a difference in people’s lives, they often think of medicine. “Sure,” I tell them, “a medical doctor saves lives, returns a patient back to health. But the patient then goes home to the quality of intellectual life he had before. If you really want to change lives...become a teacher.”
It is natural, that in our daily practice of our intellectual skills, our reading, our enjoyment of music, our visual discernment, that we forget how we got here.
That is why society from time to time establishes events to remind us. In this case, Kansas is home to THE big tribute to the value of teachers: the National Teachers Hall of Fame in Emporia, Kansas. Ever since 1992, it has inducted a select few for national honor.
This year, from June 16 to the 21st, the Teachers Hall of Fame will honor:
Marilyn Barrueta from Arlington, Virginia, a Spanish teacher helping students understand and accept that culture.
Randy William Granger, an art teacher from Philadelphia, working for greater intellectual and artistic growth in his students.
John F. Mahoney, a veteran math teacher from Washington DC who leads students to build on their successes.
Karen Crow Roark, a resource teacher for gifted students from Arlington, Virginia who generates an enthusiasm for learning that is contagious.
And Merle Saunders from Vale, Oregon, an auto technology teacher who instills work ethics and integrity in his students.
They are examples drawn from the best of America’s teachers. The hall of fame celebrations also provide us with a moment to remember what we have so easily forgotten.
It may not fit on a bumper sticker but:
“If you appreciate music,
if you have a good job because of skills and habits developed in school,
if you can balance your budget, or enjoy reading novels,
then it may be time to use your communication skills, and take a minute...to thank your teachers.”