Two years ago my good friend and colleague Jill Iscol and I embarked on a project that would celebrate the amazing achievements of today’s young social visionaries. We interviewed some of the world’s most innovative and daring young idealists, and told their stories in Hearts on Fire: Stories of Today’s Visionaries Igniting Idealism into Action, which was released this past week. (The title comes from Andeisha, who said to us, “I had carried all those tragedies of my childhood in my heart as burning ashes. But those ashes turned to flames when I brought these kids back to that safe house.”)
Along the way, I was moved by their courage, ingenuity, determination and, yes, joyfulness. Where others tear at the social fabric, they mend; where others see the world in shades of grey conformity, they see the world as a kaleidoscope of possibilities; where others avert their eyes from the suffering of others, they look fearlessly at the world the way it is — and how it might be.
For instance, we interviewed Jimmie Briggs a crusading journalist who founded the Man Up campaign, a global initiative to stop violence against women; Amy Lehman who is bringing basic health care to the people who live on the shores of Lake Tanganyika; Andeisha Farid who in her early twenties founded orphanages for the street children of Afghanistan; and Vivian Nixon who, after serving a prison sentence, has dedicated her life to enabling former prisoners succeed in higher education.
There is a great deal of goodness in the world. Vision is not the property of the few; it belongs to all of us. It is the heart of education. Education without a transforming ideal can be reduced to the mechanics of learning, which is cold, uninspiring and will ultimately fail. We need to ignite imaginations, daring and set hearts on fire. But how can we turn hopefulness into an educational movement that re-energizes us in lasting ways?
A few weeks ago, Jill and I talked with Kris M. Balderston of the Global Partnership Initiative at the State Department about how positive change can be sustained overtime.. He mentioned four elements:
- Leadership. Without strong visionaries inertia and routine become the enemy of action;
- Platform. It is important to bring educational visionaries together to expand the conversation and connect people to projects and other people;
- Partnerships. The communication revolution is a vast network for collaboration and combining resources;
- Professionalization. We need to build the human capital required for large-scale change in an informed and agenda setting atmosphere.
Not long ago, Nobel Prize-winning author Toni Morrison gave a graduation speech at Rutgers University. She expressed beautifully the personal importance of pursuing something bigger and more lasting than ourselves: “Personal success devoid of meaningfulness, free of a steady commitment to social justice, that’s more than a barren life; it’s a trivial one. It’s looking good instead of doing good.” Education is about doing good, not looking good; it’s what makes education come alive and helps us keep faith with each other.
Photo Credit: Random House Publishing Group