Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Joy in the Congo . . . and everywhere there is a dream

This is my 29th year as an educator, including almost nine years teaching high school English in two districts, five years teaching middle school, six years as a high school assistant at two high schools and now eight years as a high school principal.

My passion has always, always been on engaging others in an unrelenting focus on learning.  My life has been an unrelenting focus on learning.

I grew up in a lower class household where no one had attended college.  There were no books to speak of in my southern Ohio Appalachian home, no games except for two board games, Monopoly and Video Village, lots of decks of cards and poker chips, and no homemade cookies or bedtime stories.

No one I knew read, and no one talked about the importance of learning or school.  Life was hard,  money was short, and survival overtook all else.

But in second grade I received a certificate from my teacher for winning the class reading contest and a whole new world was opened to me.  I could read, and I loved the worlds it opened to me.  I got a library card and spent endless hours reading everything I could get my hands on.  I found a drug store a few blocks away with a kind store manager who would let a poor kid read Superman comic books at no charge and in school excelled at reading and writing.

The best hours of my life then were the hours I spent at school, and I lingered longingly after school rather than go home.

I decided to be an English teacher not only because I could get lost in The Old Man and the Sea, Hamlet and the English Romantic poets, but because I wanted to create a classroom as my favorite teachers did, a classroom where students who didn't want to go home could learn that school and English class could be the best hours of their day.

A class where if students could learn to love learning, it would take them to any world they wanted to go.

I still believe that.  I believe that our greatest job as an educator is to love learning so much that we can create a a class, a school and a world where people will want to love to learn, thereby changing their lives as my life has been changed.  After all, I have spent my whole life in school.  And I have spent my whole life learning.  And it has made all the difference in my life.

So what does that have to do with the title of this blog, Joy in the Congo.

Everything.  I urge, encourage, cajole, and impart to you a video that sums up everything I believe about learning and life itself.

This video, Joy in the Congo, was shown on 60 minutes Sunday night.  It is the story of an orchestra in a slum in the Congo, an orchestra started by a dream and culminating in the creation of this special orchestra and the joy of learning it has created in the hearts, minds and lives of everyone in the orchestra, but also in all of us who can listen to this orchestra.

The joy of looking in the eyes of people who have learned to sing and play classical music for the pure joy of learning.  The joy of learning and the difference it has made to their lives and the lives of the audience who live in a slum in the Congo.

And more importantly, the recognition in the minds of those of us who have also been forever changed by learning in our lives that we have also embarked on a life's mission of the importance of learning.  Why? Because it awakens in our souls the impact of learning in our own lives, the spark and fire that it has lit in our souls, and we hope, in the souls of the teachers and students in our buildings and in our lives.

For if there can be Joy in the Congo, there is surely the potential of joy in every student, every day, in every classroom, in every school, in this world.

Watch the Joy in the Congo, and carry its message to others.