This I Believe

Betty - Nashville, Tennessee
Entered on July 18, 2006

I believe in the transformative power of education. Every society on this planet recognizes the power of education. If it were not so, people would not invest their resources in the education of their children. According to the study funded by the World Education Forum in 2000, nearly 100 million children in developing countries do not go to school. Imagine how the quality of life in these countries could be changed if free and compulsory education existed for all these children.

My parents grew up under those conditions in Cuba. My father had an 8th grade education and my mother had less. My father was born in the poorest sections of Havana, Cuba in 1929. In 1940, my mother was born in Gibara, a small town in Cuba. My father learned to read and write, some basic arithmetic, and a trade. As a young adult, he worked the shipping docks along Havana and as a shoemaker’s apprentice. My father made the first shoes I ever wore.

My mother’s education was less formal. Her sister taught her to read and write. Since I have become a teacher, my mom and I talk often of her life as a child, and especially of her education. My mother has always wished she could have gone to school.

When my parents immigrated to the United States in 1958, their transformation through education began. Once my siblings and I entered school, it was through us that our parents learned to read, write, and speak English. I remember my mother would read my “Dick and Jane” readers when I was young.

Today, my parents speak English. My parents read the newspaper in English, write a letter in English, and balance the family checkbook. The more they learned through books, magazines, and newspapers, the better their English became. The more my parents spoke English, the more involved in their community they became. They were more confident about the future than their peers who did not speak English. When they became American citizens, they read the newspapers and discussed the candidates. On Election Day, they knew whom they were voting for and why.

Education transforms people profoundly, freeing them to live without the limitations of ignorance and poverty. Education changes a person. They see the world and their place in it differently, just as my parents changed when they learned to communicate in their new country. Life transforms us when we learn from one another, support one another, and celebrate with one another. Life transforms us now, every day, if we are open to be changed. There is always something new to learn, as my father says.

Teachers are tools in that transformative process. Great teachers create the classrooms that encourage students to learn deeply, not just by rote. Great teachers change their students for the better. Teachers who transform students are teachers who build on what students can do, instead of what they cannot do.

I am a teacher, and I believe in the transformative power of education.