Opening Words from Sun. December 6 by Christian Hayden

My mother always professed a strong belief in education and an open desire to afford me the best educational opportunities. Her dream for me, before I was born, was that I would be a Harvard graduate. She worked tirelessly, transferring me from my local school, to a gifted program that required me to travel to another school deep in Brooklyn. When I was in fourth grad I tested very well on a standardized test that allowed me to be tested more to get into an academic program, which helped facilitate low-income and minority students admission into private schools in NYC.

Something about this was strange to me-many of my classmates who I went to public school with were as or smarter than me but I was afforded this opportunity. There was a measure of guilt here, but one I would eventually turn into my own quest for developing an attitude toward social justice. I always had a suspicion that a more fair and just system would not need a program like the one I benefited from and neighborhoods would not lose their talented students to elite school schools far away. But I had to admit that something about the environment in private school, gave me a license to develop in a way that did not seem as likely in a public. I was in an environment for better or worse, where I was allowed to make mistakes to foster who I was. I did not have police in my school, or metal detectors and the suspensions I did receive were not life and death infractions that would stop me from going to college. Although my private school and the large network of other folks I had met in Prep for Prep gave me some material advantage like small competence with computers, a chance to go to England- it was the broad opportunities to find myself, define myself, that stayed with me.

That encourage of searching played a role in the college I chose to attend in the Midwest, College of Wooster, which boasted a nationally recognized senior seminar, which every student was charged to write an undergrad thesis. Again the call to reflect and ask what do I think about this world and how do I want to engage in it, made me look within myself in my liberals arts school bubble and look outside of it. I chose my major because I as soon as went to school in August 2005, Hurricane Katrina was happening it left me with the sense I needed to be a person who would respond but also prevent catastrophes like it in the future. Also in Wooster, my spiritual exploration began, and I wanted to find a faith or living philosophy that aligned with my ideas of social justice, and building a better society. I carried this to Philadelphia, where I served with Americorps for 3 years working in the education field. It was here that I put my ideas into practice, and through relationships and direct advocacy, played small but encouraging role in the lives of students around Philadelphia. That ethic of my freedom is wrapped in the freedom of others, that the best use of my time/energy is to use my educational privilege towards good.

This is important locally, but also globally, as my time in Ghana taught me how material education as well as moral implications. Young girls, rural people, having access to education has social and economic benefits, being able to delay marriages, participate in the economy, but also participate in the direction of society. It is telling that campaign for Ending Violence Against Women included programs that increased access to education for everyone in areas that were in rural villages and towns in the Northern Regions. I remember interviewing young teachers who were givens stipends to help fill the gap in primary education for folks in rural community. There was the double benefit of them being able to secure money for their undergraduate studies, while also expanding opportunities for children in their communities. Values of quality education are what make the magic, the emergent possibilities. Centering or encouraging those values, including values that humanist center like critical thinking, exploration, openness and acceptance of the diversity of what humans can be, are important parts of quality education and they need a presence in here and all over the world as well as Sub-Saharan Africa. Education is a gift with unexpected rewards, many which ripple out further than we usually imagine.

NOTE: The ideas and opinions in this post do not necessarily express the thoughts or opinions of the Ethical Society of St. Louis or its leadership.