Learning is a gift that arrives in many forms, as staff writer Valerie Strauss found when she asked people from different walks of life to describe the greatest educational gift they received in 2002. Here are some of their answers. Full responses can be found on washingtonpost.com.
I will especially remember the children I have met this year across our great nation as I have visited schools and libraries. They give me hope that America's future is in good hands, and they inspire me to continue speaking out on their behalf.
University of Oxford
Army 1st Lieutenant on Leave
Throughout the past year, I have learned more about my course of study [international relations] from other students and from simple interactions while traveling around the globe than from any class I have taken or book I have read.
This amazing opportunity has given me the chance to learn about conflict resolution while walking through the streets of Bosnia; to meet people in Ireland, who gave firsthand accounts about the ramifications of terrorism; and to receive an amazing lecture about the international economic system from a cabdriver in Argentina who had the equivalent of a fifth-grade education.
The greatest educational lesson I have learned this year is that education limited to the classroom is, in a word, incomplete.
James H. Billington
Librarian of Congress
I came to realize this year the enormous, but as yet unrealized, potential of the Internet to increase our understanding of foreign cultures. As the number of the Library of Congress's free transactions on our Web site, www.loc.gov, approaches 2 billion annually, we have moved beyond the 8 million items of American history in our online American Memory collections to digital collaborations with other national libraries through our Global Gateway Project.
I experienced the positive educational power of these multimedia materials watching young Russians and young Americans use our bilingual "Meeting of the Frontiers" site, in Moscow and in Washington.
Roderick R. Paige
Secretary of Education
The greatest educational gift I received this year was the No Child Left Behind Act that President Bush signed into law in January 2001. As the product of segregated schools in Mississippi, I have spent my whole life either studying to get a good education or working to help others do the same. And in my 69 years, I have never seen any education movement with a greater potential for changing our nation's schools for the better as this new law. Not that others haven't tried. . . .
This law says: Education is a civil right, and it's the duty -- not a suggestion, but a duty -- of every school to teach every child well, not just some of them. This has special meaning for me. Growing up, I was one of those kids who could have been left behind. I thank God that I had parents who were teachers who pushed us hard to excel. But not a day goes by that I don't think about all the children who aren't as lucky and who are counting on us adults to do right by them.
National Symphony Orchestra
Over the past year or so, I have come to understand that music means more to people than just the ephemeral playing of a song. Perhaps it is the result of recent tragedies or the desire for a better world, but, in general, there has been a return to the solid foundation of works of art that have endured. It is more of a privilege than ever to be working in this field, hopefully bringing some measure of security to those who might not find it in the everyday world.
Fairfax School Superintendent
During the recent sniper crisis, I received many messages from parents expressing tremendous gratitude for the way that school staff was caring for our children. In many of our elementary schools, the staff was actually shielding the students with their own bodies while the children exited the school buses and walked into the schools. Many teachers had also volunteered and assumed crossing guard duties, replacing safety patrol children so that they would not be in harm's way.
At a time when many of us were looking over our shoulders as we smartly walked out of our houses and into the cars to minimize potential exposure to the snipers, our staff was primarily concerned with protecting our youth. Let's remember our teachers when we talk about today's heroes!
Instructional Resource Teacher
Eastern Middle School, Silver Spring
The greatest educational gift I received this year was from our community . . . [when] the snipers were affecting our daily operations. Parents continuously offered support for teachers, understanding that we had personal concerns, and then provided a magnificent thank-you reception for our staff after the capture. Knowing that we are appreciated is the best gift we could ever receive.
Junior, University of Notre Dame
This summer, I did a Summer Service Project Internship through the University of Notre Dame. For this, I helped to run a summer park program for inner-city kids in Davenport, Iowa. From this experience, I learned that by giving to others, you are really giving to yourself.
I was supposed to teach these children, but they actually taught me so much about love and being thankful for all with which we are blessed. These families had so little, but they were always willing to invite me into their homes and share with me. They gave to me and received my company. I gave eight weeks to them and, in return, received unforgettable friendships. I will always remember them and what a beautiful gift giving a part of yourself can be.