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A Passionate Curiosity for Learning

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It's widely agreed that a quality education is the foundation of one's success in life. This idea has inspired children across the globe to do whatever it takes to earn an education with the goal of being successful contributors to society. The desire to gain an education should be an important element toward reforming the American way of learning.

Several years ago I traveled to Taiwan and visited several schools. While there, I met an eight-year-old boy who made such an impact on me that I will never forget his words. Early on, I noticed he was eager to learn and I was told by his teacher that he worked harder than anyone else in his class. Even at such a young age, his passion was clearly motivated by a desire to succeed. Eventually, I approached the boy and asked why he was working so hard. His response still resonates in my own outlook on education. Speaking flawless English, he told me, "I have a duty to my family and my country to do the best that I can do."

These words stuck with me and as I've traveled in the years since, I've discovered that school-aged children in countries all over the world share these exact sentiments. With only one exception: America.

These qualities -- the love of learning and sense of responsibility -- encompass a positive attitude that we, as Americans, must emulate.  Children in countries such as China, Belgium, India, and Japan love learning. They have a real conviction that education can change their lives and improve their country. As a result, they work hard, study rigorously, and in the end, often test higher than American children.

While these countries place an emphasis on the importance of education for one's country, the United States has become so focused on all the ways in which we're failing our students that we're forgetting to mention the possibilities afforded to an educated child. We must work to change the national discourse on education. We have a duty to encourage children to study not only because they have to, but also because they should have a desire to learn.

In the best-selling book, Corner Office by Adam Bryant, he interviews over 700 leading executives in America. One of the most interesting questions he posed to the business leaders was, "What qualities do you see most often in those who succeed?" Overwhelmingly, they responded: passionate curiosity.  

In the United States, we've become less curious about our world. We no longer welcome creativity and innovation in the classroom. And we've become so engrained in the traditional ways of educating our children that we're losing touch with our global competition. Our complacency is causing American children to lack the passion for learning that made our country great.

Americans should be encouraged by the child in Taiwan who finds purpose in his education. And further, they should remember the importance of remaining curious -- even as adults. When we start following the lead of those countries that encourage innovation in the classroom, our students will begin to love to learn again.  

The only way to strengthen our efforts for education is to have strong leaders and our president, whoever that person may be, must set the tone. Just a year ago, in President Barack Obama's 2011 State of the Union he posed an important question:  "Are all of us, as citizens, and as parents, willing to do what's necessary to give every child a chance to succeed?"  Strong words. I agree with the president, but he should do more to celebrate a positive lifelong culture of learning. So should the rotisserie of candidates campaigning for the Republican presidential nomination. No such leadership has been evidenced thus far. By encouraging a national dialogue, our leaders can help guide the reforms needed to provide Americans with a competitive edge in education.  

If we are to seriously tackle education reform in this country, we must include a component that addresses how to ensure that our students love to learn, value education, and realize their duty to their families, our nation, and perhaps most importantly: their future. Even further, we must begin to celebrate those who excel in education -- despite their odds.

We must stand together to fight for every single child. And that begins with a single conversation.

Today, let's begin to think about what really needs to be said. And then keep saying it. It's not just that our schools are failing our children; it's that our nation, our democracy is lost with a growing uneducated population. We must not forget that a positive, non-defeatist, can-do spirit led to the founding of this nation. That same energy is needed to rebuild our approach to educating our people.