Column and photo by Hudson Lofchie
When asked to name some of the people who changed the world, there are a few obvious names that come to mind: Martin Luther King Jr., Winston Churchill, Shakespeare, Darwin, Newton, Mozart, Einstein, Bill Gates and Steve Jobs … the list goes on ad infinitum. Why do we remember these people though? Although there are thousands upon thousands of famous influential humans throughout history who have forever altered the course of human history, how many millions are there whose names we will never know?
If you have the time to do so, stop reading this article for five minutes and compile a list of the 100 most influential humans you can think of. Go ahead … I’ll wait … all done? Your list probably had some of the names I listed above. But I am willing to bet money that you didn’t list Tim Berners-Lee, the totally awesome dude who actually invented the internet while working at CERN. Did your list have Avicenna, the Islamic scientist who came up with the idea of medical quarantines?
What about Karl Landsteiner, the doctor who discovered the different blood groups (A, B and O) and discovered the poliovirus? And I bet you didn’t even think to mention John Bardeen, the discoverer of superconductivity and the inventor of both CAT scans and the MRI.
What differentiates the influential world-changers we all know about, and the world-changers whose names we will never know? Like I said earlier, there are individuals numbering in the millions who have changed the course of humanity, and in all likelihood, we will never know who they are. And the best part is, many of those nameless people probably have little to no worries that their names are not inscribed on the sides of skyscrapers.
Where did these people come from? Who convinced these nameless youth to pursue a life dedicated to improving humanity? Who inspired them to work hard with little to no care for recognition? The educators.
When I say educators, I am not just talking about teachers in the common sense, i.e., middle school and high school teachers and college professors. Educators are the individuals who bring knowledge and a passion for learning to the world at large. Sure, a college professor may teach upwards of 10,000 students during a tenure, but what about people like Carl Sagan, Neil DeGrasse Tyson and the lesser-known Marvin Minsky? When individuals such as these write and speak, their voices reach millions of people, from thousands of communities, in hundreds of countries.
If their voices inspire just one person to take up the torch for improving humanity, then they have done their job. However, it is not just one person who is inspired by these educators. It is hundreds of thousands every year. It could be a college dropout working a dead-end job who hears a speech or reads a book and is inspired to go back to school and learn the workings of the universe in biology, chemistry or physics. It could be someone who is already working towards this goal, but is questioning whether it is actually what they want. After hearing these men speak, their drive is rekindled and their efforts redoubled.
Now don’t get me wrong. There is absolutely no substitute for quality teachers at every level of education. A great education begins the first day a student enters a classroom. I know my preschool teachers instilled in me a curiosity about the wonders of the world when we first mixed oil and water and watched how they separated. In elementary school, these learning experiences become more important as interests begin to form in higher definition. Then on to high school and university, where a student can truly begin to pursue their passions. There is no substitute for the personal teaching experience.
These great educators may not be known for their own research or their own discoveries … They are responsible for inspiring the next generation of people whose names we won’t remember. To be a great educator is to be a leader of leaders. To be a great educator is to inspire those who follow, to succeed.