Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Always Learning

"Life always gives us exactly the teacher we need at every moment. This includes every mosquito, every misfortune, every red light, every traffic jam, every obnoxious supervisor (or employee), every illness, every loss, every moment of joy or depression, every addiction, every piece of garbage, every breath."

Charlotte Joko Beck

Mrs. Saafir was Muslim and wore a traditional Muslim turban every day. She was intimidating and had a strong personality. She was my sixth-grade teacher. There have been many influential teachers in my life. I've learned from extremely knowledgeable and intelligent professors, teachers and leaders. But Mrs. Saafir stands out in my memory more the most. I was a young, impressionable child and she scared me like no other. But she also challenged me and, in some odd way, knew I needed that. She shared, without hesitation, of her religion without pushing it on any of us. She knew that educating her students on the differences in life was what education was about.

Many, many years ago, while still quite a young woman and just a year or so into my college years, I stood in the front yard of my church youth leaders. They wanted to talk to me about something they were gravely concerned about. It seems that I hadn't been spending enough time with God. The time I had been spending in my classes at Phoenix College, after long days at work in my first full-time, post-high school position, was simply too much time because it took my focus away from God. Their limited knowledge of education was apparent. They lived in a tiny, two-bedroom home with their three children. They were nice enough, but even in my young adult mind, I knew they wouldn't understand the importance of education, let alone higher education, even if I took the time to explain and break it down to them. While I don't blame them for their opinion and ignorance, I do regard them as the leaders who encouraged me to push forward with my education, which I know was not their intention at the time.

Some might think I use my college education as a platform in which to stand and proclaim I am better than those without. A perception that is far from the truth. Others might think that I use it to forget where I come from. Again, far from the truth. I do not think college is for everyone, nor do I think a person is better with a college education than those without. What I do think, believe and know from personal experience, is that education, whether formal or informal, is the key to freedom. Freedom from a sheltered life. Freedom from ignorance to the ways of the world and the people who dictate around us. Freedom from the constraints put upon us by dogmatic religion, politics or persons.

I make no apologies for where I stand in my views of politics, religion and life in general. I may not shout my beliefs from the rooftops, but if you ask, I will share. I have been and will continue to be a lifelong learner. Sometimes my education comes in the form of structured learning in a classroom environment. Other times, my learning comes from one-on-one teachings from friends, family, colleagues, teachers or leaders. Wherever my learning comes from, I'm open to it because I have a passion for learning and intellectual, emotional and spiritual freedom.

Mrs. Saafir may not ever know the impression she left on a chubby, Hispanic, sixth-grader with an inquisitive nature way back in 1983, but she definitely left a mark. She encouraged me to question everything, try to understand things and always be open to differences in people and life in general. She was the right teacher for me, at that time in my life. 

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