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Saturday, April 23, 2011

Over-rated Classroom Education

"The wisest man I ever knew in my whole life could not read or write," said Jose Saramago, 1998 Nobel awardee for literature. In his Nobel lecture, Saramago talked about his grandparents, both illiterate farmers, who during winter nights when the cold grew to freezing point, would go out into the sty and fetch the weakling among the piglets to take them into their bed. "Under the coarse blankets, the warmth from the humans saved the little animals from freezing and rescued them from certain death." His folks were kind people, but the act of taking the piglets into their bed was not an act borne of compassion but more of protecting their livelihood. When one is poor, sentimentalism has no place on the table.

He saw his grandfather as master of all knowledge when each night, the old man would tell him stories - legends, apparitions, terrors, unique episodes, old deaths, the words of his forefathers - all these keeping him awake and at the same time lulling him to sleep while his grandfather repeated the stories to himself so as not to forget them or else to enrich them by adding new details.

In the morning, his grandmother would set a big bowl of coffee with pieces of bread for him and ask if he slept well. If he told her he had some bad dream from the stories his grandfather told him, she would reassure him saying, "Don't make much of it, in dreams there's nothing solid." Saramago, at that time, would decide that his grandmother was also a very wise woman.

Many years later when Saramago was already a grown-up, his grandmother staring at the biggest and smallest stars overhead, told him, "The world is so beautiful and it is such a pity that I have to die." The difficult life had diminished the fear of death into the unknown. It was not even something one looked forward to after the long battle with want, lack and hardship. Acceptance of all what life had given turned everything into a constant beautiful routine. Truly, it is a pity to die and leave the world as beautiful as it has always been.

When one thinks about it, a lot of the brilliant minds never got to march to "Pomp and Circumstance" to get their degree diplomas. I, too, remember my parents. And Saramago, Bill Gates, Einstein, Michael Dell, Henry Ford, Andrew Jackson, Rockefeller, Spielberg, Shakespeare. And Bruno Mars.

These people had taken education in their hands and invited the best teachers in the world: hardship, failure and everyday people.

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