by María L. Trigos-Gilbert

To teach is to show and to give the necessary tools to a certain group of people like in an elementary, in a high school, or at a college level. Through the years most of us look at education as if teachers get prepared to give daily sermons to their students. Education goes beyond any given educational instructions.

What is to teach?
Education means information. Now the crucial question is the following: What do we do with the compiled information that has been given to us during all of our school years? Some people just use it as an aim at their work places while some people look at it as an enrichment that makes them more useful to our society.

Academic Studies vs. Practical Studies
Some teachers fail to remember that their main purpose is to instruct and prepare their students with some practical information. Some students question the benefit of such education because they do not connect such education to their professional life or work places. These students’ concern are due to the fact that they perceive their studies as abstract formulas that will not take them anywhere. Thus arises the controversy of how beneficial our schooling indeed is in our daily life. After college students get a bachelor degree, and they look at their diplomas with mixed feelings because they constantly hear how useless or meaningless it is to get that famous bachelor’s degree.

An Ever Ending Education
College students are reinforced to get a master’s degree or a Ph.D. after they have spent four years or more getting their bachelor’s degrees. They get frustrated when they apply for a job and find out that those materials learned are next to useless. Why is it so? It is so because our academic system is focusing more on the generality of so-called “common knowledge” that we as individuals should know before and about the time that we graduate from our colleges? Certainly this is very discouraging, and the worst part is that is not as bad as it may get in our near future. If this sounds scary, it is because this reality is more serious than we could possibly picture it.

Our Memory Fails to Remember Abstractionism
It is true that our memory fails to remember a lot of the abstractionism that we learn through our school years. Chemistry, Physics, and even more Math or English seem as foreign as any other given subject to us. If you are going to be a foreign language teacher, the main concern should be in learning the things that you will be teaching. This is not the case in most of our universities in the USA. Students take at least twelve hours of science, and being direct those hours are spent more upon their careers than in scientific courses. In the end those courses are nothing more than general knowledge refreshers that should have been learned while attending high school. There is where our general knowledge should come from.

You Have the Right to Disagree with Me, but…
Some of you may disagree with me, and I think that it is fine to disagree with me. Please be sure to at least revise your thoughts because I am not talking without experience since I am one of those college students and at the same time one of those foreign language tutors. My life is spent around the college that I attend and at the two schools in which I tutor. I see every day how people learn and should learn. My mind gets tired of witnessing how most of the students, including me, drag against the things that are being taught. Students are always discouraged when they feel that their only purpose is to memorize their material. Of course, it should not be that way. Yet you may know that this is the case.

Teachers Are Not Made, But Born
When we were kids, we dreamed about our future. Some of us may have thought about becoming medical doctors, engineers, architects, lawyers, or teachers. The older we grew; the more we understood what we wanted to become, and finally became. Some of us are happy about those choices, even more those choices have made us what we are. On the other hand, teachers are not made, but born. It is very difficult to stay alert, attentive, or updated in the marvelous world of teaching, unless one is fully identified with the whole. When I write THE WHOLE, I mean the students and the material that is being taught. The teachers that we remember the most, are those who have taught us through the years the interaction of life and learning as inseparable parts for the existence of both.

A Teacher Named John
I was a kid when my teacher John taught me the biggest lesson that one may teach in life. He was a devout Christian; he lived Christianity. We were eating our breakfast near each other when he noticed that I was just drinking some juice and offered me part of his sandwich. I refused to take part of his sandwich because I was not hungry but thirsty. Yet Mr. John started talking to me about how hard it was for him during war time in his country. He told me that there were some weeks when he did not have a thing to eat, nor to drink. Certainly I felt deeply touched by his words then and now. He told me about the lack of water to drink and the lack of water to bathe oneself during such a hard time. It was then when he paused a moment and said, “It does not matter how many times a person cleans his or her body if that person has not cleaned his or her soul.” His thought blew my mind because I knew that he was right.

What Did You Learn Today in Your School?
I usually told my parents what my school day was like when I arrived home. Yet that day was a bit different; I told my parents what teacher John said. My parents smiled and nodded their heads and agreed with Mr. John’s words. The truth is that my parents did not explain to me what Mr. John meant. My parents knew that I clearly understood Mr. John’s teaching. Nevertheless, one thing my mother said, “I guess that this is what you learned today in your school.” My mother was right because I little recall any other teaching during that day, but Mr. John’s words. It was not just what he said, but how he said it. He said it with passion and believing it. To become a good teacher in the classroom or outside of the classroom requires passion and faith in what one teaches. At the end that is what life is all about, believing what one lives.

Politically Correct or Politically Barbarous?
I am not sure when in the USA people started using the phrase, “politically correct.” What I am sure, is that it has not been so beneficial after all. At times our attempts to be politically correct are failures or real politeness exchanged for a political barbarity. Let me explain to you what is to be politically barbarous. It is the fact that things have one or two names. Yet somehow we create a sense of infliction when we do not give things or people their appropriate names. For instance, it amazes me when I hear some people referring the black people as African-Americans. Now my question is the following: If one is born in North America (USA), does it mean that this person, whoever he or she may be, is something else or something more rather than just being a North American? I do not have the answer for that question, or even more I may have an answer to that question with another question. How do we call those with Italian blood? Do we call them Italian-Americans? As you may guess, if we take this train of thought, we are going to have a list of nationalities larger than desirable or expected.

You may be thinking that this does not make sense. Bear with me please! I was about to take one of the Latin American kids to give her a bilingual tutoring at one of the schools in which I tutor when I heard one the kids promising to wipe out all the White race of his town. To be specific I am talking about Bonita, Louisiana. I was speechless when I heard such thing.

As I have been called, my names and last names are a map route. They indicate the places that I come from, have been, and will go. For example, my mother is Venezuelan; my father is Spaniard. So if you ask me, “what are you?” I would simply answer that I am a Venezuelan and a Spaniard because I surely will not deny my ancestors. To deny my ancestors is to deny my parents, and to do such thing is to be murder. Nevertheless, since I was born in Venezuelan, such fact makes me a Venezuelan. I do not see any need to be called anything else.

Learning to Do Good
If to learn North American History makes us hate each other, we are not getting the point that should be made from the past. The past is not written to make us hate or refuse beneficial changes. The point is that we learn History to understand where we come from, and to learn from the past mistakes to avoid them in our present time. We may even consider what worked well during the past. So both, the good and the bad, assure us a better future, if we think with a straight mind. If to learn Math makes us greedy, once again we are missing the point. We learn Math to calculate our budgtes, to do business, or to make smart choices when buying or selling something. We learn Math to know when or how time comes and goes. This is the most persistent problem. We at times are learning our History or our Math with the wrong views and the wrong purposes.

We Change as Time Changes
Through the years our needs and wants change, and so do we. This is nothing to be ashamed about; this is the normal human growth. Our environment is a promising factor that contributes to those productive or unproductive changes. This is why parents worry so much about their children’s friends and surroundings. When we become adults, it does not mean that we possess all the maturity that life requires. Good understanding takes time and effort; there is not way around those two important ingredients. Therefore, it should be considered that the needs and wants of this generation may be similar to the previous generation, but never ever the same deal. This is where our school system seems to fall short. Politicians, teachers, and parents must consider this when they give their daily speeches to this present generation. Otherwise, we will be, and so we are in a massive chaos which will take more money, time, or space that it should take in the first place.

Have a Problem; Then Bring a Solution
I am a firm believer that it is nicer to point out a problem with thoughtfulness than to talk about a problem for the mere heck of it. If you have a problem, whatever it may be, you also have the solution, although you may not see it at a first glance. It is a matter of thinking hard, and not hardly thinking. Let us picture a worker that talks to his or her boss about a constant problem at work. Yet the worker forgets the most important detail, to bring a solution that will alleviate, or will get rid off the problem.

North America and the whole world as well should have solution planners and less problem planners. It is remarkable when we get in a round table at the schools that I work at to talk about solutions. Society is made of multicultural families that ideally, but not idealistic should join one another to talk about solutions. This is the cure of the world, and North America does not need placebos. The educational system needs real medicine. Otherwise, it will be flushed in the toilet whether we intend it to be or not.

What Kind of Money Do We Have?
So we have plenty of money to fight in Yugoslavia, but we do not have money to invest more in our schools system? I do not know about you, but it does not make any sense to me. We are talking about millions of dollars that have been already invested and will be invested in a war that at the end is not one of our priorities. I am not saying that I do not care about what is going on in Yugoslavia or Kosovo. I am saying that before I give meals around my neighborhood, I give meals at my house. I make sure that my house is in order before I yell to one of my neighbors about one of his or her possible wrong doings. The contrary is hypocrisy. It is like going to church, and living like wild animals, though I assure that wild animals have their own code to protect each other.

What about Teachers Salaries?
My mind does not conceive that teachers earn so little in comparison to a medical doctor. The message is the following: A medical doctor is more valuable than a teacher. Please pardon me for my frankness. I am not trying to be insulting; I am after your reaction. Of course, a medical doctor is not more important than a teacher. Each person is important in his or her own field. Yet if a medical doctor earns a lot more than a teacher, it makes us think that all of us should become medical doctors in order to have more financial opportunities. The truth is that before a medical doctor, or any other outstanding Ph.D. person became a doctor, he or she was a student in elementary school, in high school, and finally in college. Whatever we choose to do in life, we first have to get instructions, and those come from our teachers. We were born with umbilical cords hanging from our bellies, not diplomas.

Certainly medical doctors or lawyers deserve our respect and consideration. They have earned it with their long hours of study. On the other hand, we must not forget that teachers spent long hours of studying also. How truthful are we if we do not give a real respect for all what everybody does? For instance, at one of the schools in which I tutor, the janitor was cleaning my room when I noticed that he was practically dragging himself upstairs where my room is located. I retrieved the trash can for him, so that he did not have to come upstairs. Remarkably he felt that my status as a teacher did not match my hands reaching the trash can for him. Was he right? Oh please, he could not be more wrong. At home I am always reaching the trash can to throw out the garbage. I am not better than him because I teach. At the end he looks like me: a brain, a body, and a bunch of other things that qualify us as human beings. Therefore, should I earn more than him? Indeed I earn more than him, though I regret it.

How Much Is Enough?
I will not say that a janitor should earn more than I do or less than I do. Though we know that this is the case, a janitor more likely earns less than many other professionals. Is this a problem? Hum, I think that this indeed is a problem. It is so because we have a lot of people on welfare and Medicare. Those two solutions were supposed to be momentarily, but they have become for many people around the USA a way of making a living. So you and I get upset because here we are working at all times and paying taxes everyday. Then the biggy comes in our memorable day, April 15. We do not seem to get ahead; every time that we think we made it. It is just a false alarm. We are still in the hole and as a whole. So far it seems that I have tackled some problems. Do I have a solution or solutions? Well, think about it. If we reduce all the luxury that goes around the White House, and the little White House that each state has, we may collect millions of dollars that could be used to improve education and health care systems.

Our governors think with more enthusiasm about creating a better prison than a better school. Isn’t that odd? Of course, it is. This is not to say that we should not be concerned about building jails. This is to say that I picture this generation and the future one in school rather than in jail. We just do not know. If our governors meet to discuss better jails, it tells me that they are focusing on the wrong material. How could we have a better society? This may sound naïve, but I am one of those who believe in education as you have been reading in this article. I vote for family, and not for famine. I vote for good principals, and not for the principals that some of the governors have become. You know the movie star type. Am I going to be killed for all what I have written so far? You never know!

So let me finish with one of Simon Bolivar’s thoughts, “A man or a woman without education, is a blind person.” What can I say? Check it out!

I truly thank you for staying here with me. I am willing and open minded to your thoughts; therefore, feel free to express your opinions by touching my hotlinked name at the head of this article.