In 2007, when Bill Gates (Harvard's most famous drop-out) was receiving an honorary degree from his could-have-been alma mater and giving the graduation speech, the beginning of his talk addressed his failure to graduate with the stereotypical break-up line: It's not you, it's me. But then he segued into an issue with his Harvard education, although he still presented it as a personal failing. His great admission was:
But taking a serious look back...I do have one big regret.
I left Harvard with no real awareness of the awful inequities in the world - the appalling disparities of health, and wealth, and opportunity that condemn millions of people to lives of despair.
I think that problem is true for most of us who were born in the United States. Even the most progressive among us can't imagine how good we've really got it unless we've spent some time in some of the other countries that are less privileged.
This was brought home to me again today with an article in today's local newspaper about the school systems in Juarez, Mexico. It seems that gangsters are now targeting school teachers for extortion, because the teachers get a Christmas bonus of up to a month's salary (which, down there, apparently average about $650--and this is for the month). The mobsters are not only threatening the safety of the teachers; they are also threatening violence towards the children they teach. And their threats have not been all talk. Last week, they torched a preschool, which, while it seems injuries were avoided, left the administration offices in ruin.
I know I can be rough on my local school system (although I try not to be rough on the teachers, most of whom I think are doing a hero's job under difficult and demanding circumstances). But I know that, every now and then, I need a wake-up call about how good we've got things. I may not like the emphasis on testing, I may not like school board policies, I may not agree with curriculum approaches. But thank goodness that we can send our children to school without thinking they might be targets for criminals who want to shake down teachers, of all people, for their Christmas bonuses.