Friday, December 17, 2010
Freedom to Choose
There is a deep mystery here--accordion sounds outside the Temple of Heaven in Beijing, China. Wish that you could have heard it! Wish that I had recorded it these happy and familiar sounds.
This instument, as some of you know, is my personal instrument of choice. Much maligned here in the USA by its immigrant status, the accordion has been the musical backdrop for waves of Irish immigrants in the early 1800s, for Germans, for Italians, for Russians. And now I discovered an accordion ensemble at one of most ancient holy sites in Beijing, China! I think that the reason that I love this instrument above all other instruments is simply because I can freely move around when I am playing it.
Unlike the baby grand piano in my music room, I do not have to be confined to one place, limited to making sounds while sitting on the piano bench. With my accordion around my neck, I can move around freely, mingle among the crowds, sing to a special friend in another corner of the room, and stand where ever I please. There is a wonderful freedom in making music with this little squeeze box on my shoulders. I can make music anywhere!
And so it is with American education. Our educational destiny in our wonderful country is not simply confined to a particular test score, geographical location, or government decision. People who live in the west can study in the east. People who spend their childhood in the north can become college students in the south. And students who study hard in high school can choose to go to school anywhere---a community college, a private liberal arts college with a denominational heritage, or a large public research university. Our destiny is not determined by a high school test.
It is in China, however. Your choice of school, your job, your destiny hinges on one test taken at the end of high school--the "gaukau--the high test." That little number manages your future. A certain number on that test determines how you will spend the rest of your life. The pressure is great. The challenges are real. And that is why so many Chinese high school students are choosing to consider the USA as a place to study because we still hold on dearly to our precious gift to one another and the world--the cherished freedom of choice. The ability to choose our own destiny is based on the level of our own industry, our passion, our love to go or stay, our personal sense of mission. With over 4000 top-rated US colleges and universities in the world, we have a choice in determining where we will study, what we will do, and who we will be with the rest of our life. And for that freedom, I am so very thankful. And for those Chinese students who want to join us in our educational centers, we say welcome. Come shape your destiny here and return to your country with an education that will help you forge your own country's future. Perhaps our understanding of our cherished freedom of choice just might be contagious.