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BLOG: A speech to retired teachers

The following is the text of a speech that 13WHAM anchor and reporter Adam Chodak delivered Wednesday to the Pittsford District Retired Teachers Association:

Much of what Im going to say you already know. After all, youre the ones who taught me.

Its been 14 years since I was a senior at Sutherland.

In that time, Ive studied at one college, worked at six news stations, lived in three states, owned 2 dogs and married one girl. Im also a dad of one lively toddler.

Here I am at 32 and I still have no idea what Im doing.

What I mean by that is those big questions like why I am here, what happens after Im not here those questions remain as mysterious to me now as they did when I peered out the bus window on my way to Allen Creek Elementary School.

But answers to other questions the less metaphysical questions have taken shape in that time.

Ive concluded that education is derivative. It doesnt stand alone in a vacuum. It is the outgrowth of something else.

History teaches us education is the product of necessity, of our desire to survive, self-preservation. In 3,000 BCE the people of Egypt learned how to channel water in order to irrigate crops. The subsequent teaching of that skill to others along the Nile resulted in the birth of civilization.


In the modern era, we still see self-preservation driving the push for education. We hear things like, We need our kids to be better in math so we dont fall behind other countries or Youll need to earn a paycheck.

But we also see something else. Some other sources. And this is where you come in because you werent the ones encouraging me to do better by saying things like, Learn this so you can get rich or The fate of our republic rests with you. And, even today, I really hope thats not the case.

No, many of you understood there are other elements that fuel education. One of them is curiosity.

We inherently want to know more about the world around us, the bodies that move us and the mind that makes us us.

Curiosity is there at birth, but needs to be cultivated. Through you, we received some of the pieces of the puzzle for example, we learned where other countries were located through geography. But, more importantly, we received the tools to collect the other puzzle pieces ourselves.

You along with our parents taught us to read. You encouraged us to ask questions. The librarians guided us through the labyrinth of books.

I think when it comes to curiosity, my teachers clearly expressed the value of it, then provided the right tools to quench that innate thirst for more knowledge.

Now, heres the third motivator I see behind education: the desire to lead a fulfilling life. You could call this happiness.

Its with this source, I see potential for development in our education system.

Its not that building blocks to this fulfilling life arent being presented. They are. Kids learn how to play the violin, they learn another language, they learn to sing, dance, paint, cut wood, sew, analyze literature, appreciate the beauty and complexity of nature, balance a checkbook, think critically, and even have safe sex.

All this before college.

Where we fall a bit short I think is relaying to students the point of all this.

Its not just so American painters are better than Italian painters, or our mathematicians outsmart the Japanese mathematicians or businessmen and women work harder and accumulate more wealth than their competitors or counterparts in other countries.

Yes, we dont want to lose our edge as a country and cash can be king. But thats not the only purpose of education.

Its not just about indulging our curiosity, knowing the history of this or the origin of that or what the inside of a frog looks like.

Its also about living that fulfilling life, whatever that means to you.

For many, it means a combination of rewarding work with decent pay, art, comfort, health, friends, family, Friday night parties with engaging conversation, a home, movies and TV, the news, laughing, lounging, traveling, sometimes pets, and reading, which is just another word for continuing education.

And heres the thing: you helped prepare us for that. And, in my case, you did an A-plus job.

Example: I took 6 years of Latin and I barely remember Vini Vidi Vici, but because of those classes, I traveled to Italy on a school trip, then took Italian in college, then headed back to Italy during a backpacking tour of Europe.

Now I dont know Italian anymore, but my travels led me to Spanish, which Ive been studying for 8 years and I absolutely love, even though I still struggle to order a meal at a Mexican restaurant.

What Im getting at is K through 12 can give you so much of what you need to live that fulfilling life. Kids shouldnt think theyre picking all this up only to be exchanged for a diploma. When you walk across the stage at graduation, before you grab that piece of paper, youre already carrying your reward.

Im not saying this reward this groundwork to lead a fulfilling life isnt being promoted, promised and emphasized today. In many ways it is, but I fear its being drowned out.

Drowned out by what?

Well, those other sources preservation of self and country and curiosity - are promoted as well and as I talked about, they are real and valuable and should be used to motivate students to learn.

But then there an invented source of education out there, one that perhaps has some flimsy connection to the other sources, but overall, in my eyes, is antithetical to education and, therefore deleterious.

And thats the college application or, as we call it outside academia, the resume and cover letter.

Kids work so hard to fill up their life with things theyre told colleges want to see: APs, sports, clubs, volunteering, entrepreneurship, pristine classroom performance and, of course, standout grades on tests.

Tests. Theyve become a code of entry rather than what theyre supposed to be a measure of where youre at so you know where you have to go and what you have to do to get there.

And then all that other stuff they pack their day with. Did Kid A start that club because she wanted to, thinking this experience would be pleasing in the present and will likely enrich her life down the road? Or did she start it because colleges love to see initiative and leadership?

Its easy to see how, for some, those other real sources can take a backseat to the this invented one.

And heres the problem with that. The invented one is temporary. Lets say that laundry list of so-called achievements eventually gets a student accepted into a group of colleges. Then what?

Well, first, that student could realize there might be one college thats better suited to his or needs and will, therefore, provide that launching pad into a fulfilling life.

Or, this student may maintain this notion that the root of education is simply to propel yourself upwards into the best position possible, whatever that position might be. So you start to stack your resume again thinking thats what an employer will want to see.

And, my goodness, is this stressful and unfulfilling. Its likely many of us have been caught up in this mindset at least a few times in our lives.

So what do we and specifically educators do? I mean, after all, there are all those dictates from the state, from administration, the union, the this, the that, this study versus this study, Common Core, teacher evaluations. Frankly, a lot of it confuses the heck out of me.

What I do know is this: during World War Two, in the ghettos, families and small communities came together to educate their kids. Under the harshest of conditions, they put education first and overcame.

Let us learn from history and overcome.

Lets take that remarkable path that youve cut then lets walk farther.

Lets cut through the din of extraneous expectations and remind students that school is the product of self-preservation, curiosity, and the desire for a fulfilling life the pursuit of happiness.

Teach them that teach them what you taught me - and a true education will follow.

 
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