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Redefining learning for new school year

POSTED August 7, 2012 10:36 p.m.

The rapid approaching of another school year raises an idea that has unfortunately been buried beneath years of disregard.

Writer and social critic John Ruskin put it well with his eloquent remark: “The entire object of true education is to make people not merely do the right thing, but to enjoy right things; not merely industrious, but to love industry; not merely learned, but to love knowledge.”

No doubt, it is quite difficult to find such a noble concept etched into the minds of today’s youth, especially considering the recent news that a group of low academically-performing high school students in Washington, D.C. would receive $5.25 an hour for attending summer school. To top it all off, the advent of terms such as “scolionophobia,” which means the fear of school, and “sophophobia,” the fear of learning, suggests a new generation reluctant to immerse themselves in the sea of insight and truth.

Reversing this negative trend is equally difficult, simply because a love of learning is a precious mindset nearly impossible to foist upon someone. Thus, the most that can usually be done is provide the means for education and hope it ignites something within the individual to appreciate education itself.

Nevertheless, I still find something inexplicably desirable about viewing school as a haven for hopes and dreams, a place where intellect can spur, ideas can abound, and curiosity can run rampant. And it is comforting to know that this image is not far from the truth. School, essentially, is nothing other than a home for those burning for the power that knowledge gives.

What, unfortunately, is also the truth is that people learning for learning’s sake often conjures up images of an elite, scholarly, and surreally content group of individuals with the means and time to bask in knowledge — quite the opposite of the ordinary person simply trying to get by in today’s society. However, the life story of a fellow Californian makes it easy to see why developing a love of knowledge can truly apply to anyone.

Sal Khan, a now-renowned educator and one of Time’s Most Influential People, was a hedge fund analyst six years ago when he began posting YouTube videos of himself tutoring his cousin in math. His unique form of teaching — elucidating the concepts behind the answer to arrive at an intimate form of realization — quickly struck a chord with many a student hungering for that special state of understanding.

Three years later, in one decisive move that would forever impact the world of education, Khan quit his hedge fund job to solely focus on developing the Khan Academy, which currently boasts videos on topics ranging from arithmetic to American civics, chemistry to computer science, and finance to physics. The site operates on generous grants from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Google, and any person willing to chip in a few dollars.                                                         

Now, thanks to his noble efforts to advance education and the 3,300 videos and counting, Khan has helped over 176,000,000 individuals across the globe realize the beauty of learning with no limits.

At a Good Experience Live Conference, Khan addressed a room of listeners with his hopes for the program, “My single biggest goal in the Khan Academy is to try to deliver things the way I wish they were delivered to me. You get the intuition from the beginning. I will not make a video unless I have an intuition on the concept.”                                                                                                  

He continued with a thought-provoking message, “I don’t care whether you’re the math geek, whether you’re the kid who’s about to drop out, or you’re the kid who thought they hated math. When you actually learn something, really learn something — not just learn the steps or jump through the hoops — when you really learn something, it’s arguably the highest high any human being can have.”

I encourage students of all ages, colors, and walks of life about to enter a new school year this fall to join me in keeping a simple creed close to heart, remembering that true learning is much more than a matter of simply amassing facts, formulas, and figures. Rather, it is about appreciating them, musing over the implications of them, and allowing them to shed light into the workings of ourselves and the world we share.

  — Henna Hundal is a high school student and resident of Turlock. She writes a monthly column on matters related to youth and society.

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