I've spent the last week at my grandmother's condo in the beautiful (and usually temperate) Ft. Lauderdale. As those of you in the New England area know, this week is February vacation, where students and teachers have a five-day respite from school.
This year my wife and I got together with my parents and sister for a rendezvous in Florida. The plan was to soak up some Vitamin D and enjoy a break from the frigid temperatures of Massachusetts. While it has been sunny, it's also been unseasonably cool. The average temperature for this time of year is a toasty 78 degrees. It's averaged about 65 since we've been here, which has been a bit of a bummer, but it's still been warm enough for us to get out and enjoy the surroundings.
The above photo illustrates the view across from the balcony at my grandmother's place. She lives in an area of Ft. Lauderdale that's divided by a series of waterways - a la Venice - and home to a number of gorgeous multi-million dollar residences. Most of the homes here easily start at $3 million. I've jogged around the area and have been blown away by the overt opulence. Beamer, Mercedes, Lexus, Porsche, Range Rover, and Lamborghini camp out in the driveways of these estates, many of which are behind iron gates.
To the right of my grandmother's balcony is a boat docked in the canal with the name "Insatiable." It's a fitting metaphor to describe the lavishness with which some of these people live. Would I like to one day have a residence on the water? Sure. But it would need to be modest, as there's a certain point where the accumulation of material goods becomes offensive.
The arc of our lives depends largely on the environment we're born into. The social norms of behavior, the availability of resources, the cultural and familial values, all of these are as important as one's work ethic. Am I a hard worker? Yes. Am I successful? Yes. But there are millions of Americans who work as hard as I do yet are floundering economically because they don't have a means of upward mobility.
Education truly is the great equalizer. However, millions lack access to fundamentally sound learning opportunities, and many of those who are so fortunate take it for granted. Life really isn't fair. Those who deserve more often have to give the most. And sometimes those who are undeserving are given the keys without any gratitude or appreciation for what they're able to drive. Knowledge is the ultimate key to rising in the system, but even that alone is no guarantee you'll be able to ascend to a respectable place.
As I sit on this balcony and appreciate the soothing sounds of water and the orange glow of the setting sun on the palm trees, I realize I'm fortunate. Yes I've worked hard to get to where I'm at, but I was also positioned to succeed. I was born in a safe and prosperous country to parents who took their responsibilities seriously and whose families valued education and its role in helping one become a happy and productive member of society. It was assumed I would go to college and eventually pursue an advanced degree. That was the norm of my family, and as such, it was easy to accept that as what my reality should be.
I think one of the greatest gifts an educator can bestow upon his students is the gift of vision - to help them conceive of a personal reality that stretches beyond the borders and limitations that have been placed on them or that they have placed on themselves. And one of the greatest challenges educators face is the sense of entitlement and infallibility that those who have been given the keys feel they've earned just for showing up. It's a constant challenge to balance the multiple personae necessary to motivate and educate a classroom of students. On some days it's an impossible task, yet on others, when all parts are playing harmoniously, there is nothing more rewarding or satisfying.