Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Importance of Education; Lessons from an older generation....

Well school has started for many and will start soon for the rest.  This got me thinking about education and how its landscape is drastically changing.  The more education you receive, the more options you have for careers as well as higher ladders to ascend allowing you to earn more. While this seems to be the current adage, more and more people seem to be falling by the wayside in terms of basic education let alone furthering education (college and beyond).  There seems to be a shift from the desire to enlighten oneself to just be complacent and lazy.  While we can debate the many possible reasons why, one thing is for sure; it begins at home.
My father entering the seminary
Instilling the importance of education is an important task and it is the sole respnsibility of the parent(s) to do so.  I wanted to share with those who choose to read this post a brief story about my father and his educational experience in America.  To my father I apologize if my facts are not exact but the essence is there.

For those who haven't read past posts, I am a first generation Italian American.  Both my parents literally came "off the boat".  I plan on sharing so much about my parents' lives but this particular entry is about education.  My parents came to America as teenagers and assimilated to American life.  They learned the language and were excited about the notion of the "American Dream"  Now I can go on about how the definition of the American Dream has evolved to mean so little, due to the misconceptions and expectations of immigrants believing that success will just fall in your lap, but that is another rant. I digress.

My father was born in his own home and Sicilian life in the early 1940s was not the same as the American way.  The main mode of transportation in that region, Agrigento, was the horse and carriage.  Even when I visited in the 80s, my Aunt was one of the only people in town that had a phone and neighbors would come over to use it.  She even administered shots when the town doctor was not around.

So it would be easy to understand how life was very simple and amenities were very limited at that time.  Things that we take for granted today were luxuries back then and there.  That included education.  My maternal grandmother had the equivalent of a second grade education.  Quality education was defnitely a commodity.  Latin was a requirement of all studentsto learn at schools in Sicily. So in order to learn Latin proper and receive a proper and elevated education, my father had to declare his desire to become a servant of God; a priest.  So he entered a seminary which at the time, provided a quality education in mathematics, literature, and of course, theology & Latin. It helped that my father's uncle was an exemplary student there, who although died young, went on to become an outstanding clergyman and was expected to fo far. To this day, my father only recites his prayers in Latin.

My father's path to priesthood was short, as he came to America and enlisted in high school. My father excelled in mathematics and sports (soccer of course).  Learning English was a challenge at first but he applied himself and learned the language of the country where he was living.  In six months, he understood the language and his english vocabulary grew daily.  My father would tell me how when teachers asked questions, it seemed that the only students that raised their hands or showed much interest were the foreign students.  According to my father, the curriculum in Europe was a bit advanced compared to the US even back then.  What you would learn in Europe in third grade would not be taught until fifth or sixth grade in the US.  Of course, the school system was structured a little different from the United States but nonetheless, there was an advantage to European students coming to an American Educational system.

Unfortunately, my father did not graduate high school.  It was not because of failing grades, nor was it for a lack of interest.  My father wanted to work.  My grandfather wished for my father to focus on studying and that was all.  However, my father, being a proud and stubborn Sicilian, wished to be self sufficient.  He wanted to work so he may earn his own money.  He would work around his school schedule of course but my grandfather forbade it.

My father of course took on work in secrecy, but my grandfather eventually found out.  Now one thing about my father that is both a blessing and a curse is his strong will.  If someone dared to tell him that he could not do something, he would prove that he could no matter what.  Well, in this case, my father, with graduation near, dropped out of school so that he may enter the work force much to my grandfather's chagrin.

I can say that my father eventually regretted this decision, but that would not be accurate to state.  My father has experienced much disappointment and hardship in his life, but from these depths, he has risen above and always found a way to survive, succeed, and persevere.  It is safe to state that no matter if my father makes a right or wrong decision, he always makes the best of these decisions and his will power is something so powerful that he ensures some sort of accomplishment.

This brings me to my point of the post.  My father made sure all of his five kids went to college.  He really wasn't too concerned what we chose as a career knowing that a college education would give us better options as opposed to entering the work force right our of high school.  As long as we got "that piece of paper" my dad was fine.  "You could wipe your butt with it," he would say so many times. I remember those words said to me and my siblings so many times as a teeneager and they meant so much more after I graduated college.

Furthering my education made me think differently, forced me to look at things through many colored lenses, and made me appreciate the path my parents took and the paths they paved for me and my siblings.  Just to make sure I make this clear, my father's persistence to make us go to college was not for him to live vicariously through his children so he may answer the question "What If?".  My father wanted to make sure his children learned how to be and live better than he. 

I have had some bad teahcers in my life but through out my basic and college education, I was very fortunate to have some exceptional teachers that did more than teach.  They instilled good morals and took an interest in my life's path by choice.  True teachers go above and beyond their duties, which is a very noble act inspite of their monetary compensation.  This declaration does not mean that if you don't further your education, I feel you are inept.  This is merely a story of a man, who made a choice that made his life a little more challenging, yet he made the best of it.  He did not let one decision derail his momentum of living the American Dream.  My father made his own success.

Through his life lessons, he inspired his children to make thoughtful decisions and to stick by them.  I am very happy with the path that my life has taken so far.  Have I made some mistakes? Absolutely, however, instead of wallowing in my self pity, I found a way to get back on track.  Through my father's lessons and the tools I learned through the educational process, I was able to find my bearings and along the way, plot a course for my children. 

I truly believe my parents are my best teachers. Not bad for a guy who never finished highschool.  It never meant that he didn't value education.  To the contrary.  He knew the importance of it, but his pride took him off track for a bit.  But he did all right, and he was determined that his children would avoid the same detour.

I wish for all students to enjoy their educational experiences and may more and more teachers inspire their students to remain on a path of education and enlightenment.  Most importantly, to all parents, may you instill the importance and value of  education and support the self-improvement of their children which can only improve their family name.

Have a great school year everyone!

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