I just started reading the book, Destiny of the Republic, a biography of James Garfield. I’ve been on a streak lately reading about past presidents and about the people who were instrumental in forming our country. That author, Candice Millard, describes Garfield as having ‘a passionate love of learning that would define his life”. That seems to be a common thread among the great leaders. Not only were they naturally inquisitive and intellectually talented, they had a passion for learning.
Garfield and other like him others spent time reading and memorizing the classics, writing vociferously and discoursing daily with their peers. They attended college in their early teens and graduated before they were 20. They read and learned for the sheer pleasure of learning and this led them to then be influential on matters of politics, government, and ethics. They were thinkers.
I am not sure I could tell you the last time I saw one of my students have a passion for learning or for thinking. I look out at my 10-11 years old and think that 100 years ago some kids were heading off to college in just a few years. Nowadays, it is virtually unheard of for an early teen to be that academic. Students excel in IB programs and accelerated or Advanced Placement programs but how many of those kids come away as thinkers instead of parrots reciting what the test requires?
My students do have passion though. There is not shortage there, but passions for learning? I am not so sure. A has a passion for horses. E has a passion for dragons. P has a passion for dance and S has a passion for talking. 🙂 But a passion for learning? I don’t see much of that very often. And I wonder why. It is because passions can be fulfilled in so many different arenas in this century? Is it because there is so much more to learn? Is it because we reward doers more than thinkers?
I look at our current political status and wonder what happened to the great thinkers. Right now it seems like the leading skill is to voice threats in 140 characters or less, or to filibuster because your party isn’t getting what they want, which are really just adult manifestations of pouting. Where is the common desire to find compromise through passionate debate and dialogue rooted in knowledge? Where is the passion for knowledge and learning in order to rise to a higher level? I don’t often see it modeled publicly these days and perhaps that is why I see so little in my students.