This past weekend, I participated in a speech contest, the theme of which was education. I do have a lot of experience with education, but for this speech I tried to think more broadly about the topic, to find something that can relate to anybody. It led me to think about education as more than just going to school or reading a book. The acquisition of knowledge is about openness to new ideas and experiences, and having the bravery to try new things in order to learn. This post is excerpts from my speech, and an analogy to education that I call ‘The Room.’
You always have a choice. You can choose education. Or you can choose ignorance. Choosing education is like being in a room full of open windows and doors. The fresh spring air rushes in, the warm sunlight touches every corner, and there is a plethora of amazing sounds and enticing smells coming from each window and door. You can walk through any of these doors, crawl through any window, and each pathway leads to another room with many more open doors and windows, smells, sights, sounds, and decorations. The possibilities are endless, which way you go is all up to you.
When you are young, the choice of education is made for you. You go to school, you play, you test the structural integrity of toys, your parents and teachers guide you, you learn, and you don’t even think about it. You are completely open and fascinated with the fantastic world around you. You learn to read, to write, to walk, talk, run, eat, drink, play, be kind to others. As a child, everything is new and you are always choosing education. A child’s room is full of life.
As you grow older, something happens. You start to run out of new things, and you have to start seeking them out. You develop the freedom to choose. You close some doors in your room, but you open others. This is not a bad thing. It is inevitable that we take charge of our own fate; it’s one of the great things about being alive. As a teenager you can choose some of the classes you take, choose what kind of education you want. Sometimes you may have chosen to forget about class, or homework, to be social and have fun. You may have chosen to take wheelchairs from the health office and have races in the halls, and when a teacher chases you, you try to escape and then fall out of the chair and end up smacking your head on a locker. Not that it happened to me or anything. But it’s okay, we were all teenagers once, and we all did dumb things. At least we were still learning, choosing education.
But once high school ends, you become an adult, freedom becomes real, and suddenly no one tells you that you should continue your education. That to fill your room you should go to classes, join clubs, exercise, meet new people, have discussions, have disagreements, read books, watch movies, try new foods, travel, take risks, pick up hobbies, learn new skills, make mistakes, make huge mistakes, and expand your mind. Now the choice is yours.
Now you can choose ignorance. You can choose to ignore the opinions of others, to mock ideas that don’t agree with yours, to make fun of people who are different, to stay close to home, watch tv, eat the same food all the time, see the same people, be agreeable, do what you’re told. It’s easier. It’s safer. It’s comfortable.
But the problem is, once you start to choose ignorance, choosing not to learn, being closed off from new ideas. It’s like closing those doors and shutting those windows in your room, one by one. If you keep doing it, the walls will close in, the air will grow stale, the sounds will be muffled, the decorations will collect dust, and the warm light will disappear. If you choose ignorance enough times, you’ll end up alone and in the dark. It will be comfortable, but it will always be the same. Beyond the walls the endless possibilities of the world will unfold around you, but you’ll have no idea, because for you, there is only this one. tiny. dimly lit room.
But you always have a choice. Even after being in the darkness for so long, you can choose to open the blinds and look at the world outside. You can let in the natural light, and open a door. It will be blindingly bright at first, but you will get used to it again. The music will come back, the dust will clear, and your room will return to its former glory. You can go back to when you were a child, to the time when you always chose education. It’s never too late to fill your room.
Education is inexpensive. Filling your room only costs you a bit of energy and time, and bit of bravery. But the result, the payoff, is the freedom to choose from endless opportunities and countless amazing experiences that you never dreamed were possible. Ignorance is easy, it is comfortable, but it is the most expensive thing in the world, because it will close your room off from everything, costing you every one of your dreams and ambitions.
I’m sure you remember a time when your room was alive, and full of doors that would have led you to endless possibilities. Maybe you’ve closed some of those doors, maybe you’ve shut some of those windows, and maybe there’s a bit of dust on the decorations you’ve collected. But you always have the time, you always have the energy, and you are brave enough to start again.
It’s never too late to fill your room.