Every morning, I see American schoolchildren -- our Little America -- carrying their backpacks and lunches to school and laughing with their friends. All of these children possess great originality and hidden talents, just waiting to be discovered. Little America is full of energy and enthusiasm but also extremely needy. Just as we once were, they are in need of knowledge, inspiration and a canvas for their imagination.
Who helped us when we were Little America? Think back to a time when someone taught you something that became very important to you, or that amazed you, or that changed your life. What a gift that was! Give that same gift back to the children in your life, to our Little America.
A teacher isn't always a person who stands in front of a blackboard with a piece of chalk in their hand. A teacher can be anyone who cares about Little America. When I was growing up, my father used to talk about all the things that interested him: geology, history, art, engineering, psychology, music and creativity. I remember him talking about these things when I was as young as five. He didn't test me or demand that I pay attention. It wasn't until I grew up that I realized how much information I had retained. Clearly Little America can learn far more than we give them credit for.
When my daughter was younger, the neighborhood children used to come over to play and together she and I would teach them to read. We laughed and had great fun. We called it 'playing school' but it was really teaching.
Occasionally we held 'imagination tea parties.' The parties always began with a nature walk and as we walked, I told an imaginative story about the adventure that we were on together, allowing them to finish the story any way they chose. As they became excited about the stories they were creating, they all talked at once and at times I thought I might go deaf. This experience taught me that we don't just need to educate but also to listen, for only by cultivating independent and original thought, will we arrive at a brilliant future.
I think we can all agree that we need better schools and we must persevere until the top schools in America are all the schools in America. But the education of Little America doesn't just take place during the school day. Education is a continuous process that goes on every single minute of a child's life. Every adult in America can take the time to teach something to a child. It might consist of a five minute conversation retelling those old family stories your grandparents used to love. It might be an hour reading and talking in the evening. If you have ever been taught anything you value, you can teach it to someone else. If you have ever been listened to when you had something important to say, you can listen to a child.
And to Little America, I only have this to say.
"If someone is trying to teach you something, listen. They are giving you a gift."