Back to school a return to life, with purpose

Education is a series of commitments: to trying our best, pushing our intellect, understanding our culture, creating new objects of knowledge and art

Like other educators, I ring in the new year on Sept. 1. Life resumes with the first week of school. New students arrive to campus to begin their lives as adults; returning students pick up where they left off; teachers – the ones who live to teach – return to life. The school year ahead is hopeful and it is good.

The school year is good because it has purpose. In January, we make resolutions to lose weight, pray more often, quit smoking and every other change we hope to see in ourselves. We make resolutions but the calendar year doesn’t care about us or our promises.

But the school year does. It has a purpose: to change us. In September, on that first day of the school year, we enter a time explicitly designed to test our intellect and deepen our friendships and our commitments.

And education is nothing if not a series of commitments.

We commit ourselves to trying our best, to pushing our intellect, to understanding our culture, to creating new objects of knowledge and art.

We commit to knowledge. To learn is, by definition, to deepen one’s commitment to knowledge. When we learn, we bring ourselves closer to knowledge until that knowledge becomes our way of life. We become fused to what we study. We study chemistry and become a chemist. We study art and become an artist. If we study what it means to be good, as we all should, we can become good.

Unlike New Year’s resolutions, we don’t make our September resolutions alone. These are not personal, private resolutions; they are public commitments we share with our peers, with the tradition we study, and with our teachers, who in turn commit to passing knowledge and ways of life to the next generation.

By midterm, or sooner, reality asserts itself. The ideals we held on the first week of school have become dog-eared, like the new notebooks we bought in September. Mistakes and failures, bad choices and regrets place the rest of the semester in a more realistic light.

We often abandon our New Year’s resolutions without disappointing anybody but ourselves, but we can’t abandon what we start in September without abandoning a real commitment to other people. We can’t abandon the promise we make to deepen our knowledge without abandoning our friends and our teachers. And if you believe, as I do, that education can transform a person for the better, we can’t abandon our schooling without abandoning ourselves.

But as I say, in our commitment to education, we are not alone. Our friends and teachers, if they are true, will not abandon us. They help us through the brambles and nurse our failures. We will learn and we will grow. That’s the point of it all.

Like all transformations, the change we seek through education requires massive amounts of energy and total commitment. School is a high-risk activity with huge promise.

That’s why September, and not April, marks spring and the beginning again of life. It’s the start of the year and a commitment.

We should take up that commitment and work hard and faithfully to realize the promise.

For each of us, it’s a lifelong project.

Troy Media columnist Robert Price is a communications and professional writing instructor at the University of Toronto.


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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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