World Educator Speech – WAC 05/05/16

On Thursday, May 5th our World Educator of 2016-2015, Patrick Grant, joined us at Hamilton International Middle School to accept his award. Pat gave a riveting, and truly inspiration speech that left many of us in the audience with much to think about. The World Affairs Council strongly believes in educating for global competency in order to build a more peaceful, more connected world. Our Global Classroom program promotes this goal by working with teachers and students across the state, and providing opportunities for international engagement and dialogue. In his speech on Thursday night, Pat Grant expressed this mission with the clarity and conviction of someone who has been teaching in classrooms for more than 30 years and fully understands the significance of educating for a better future. Many in the audience requested copies of his speech, and it is an honor for us now to share his full speech below. 


World Educator Speech, by Patrick Grant, delivered May 5th, 2016 at Hamilton International Middle School

Thank you. I am deeply honored to accept this award.

I come from a family with a keen interest in the world. From a great-grandfather who started a farm in California because the area reminded him of his native Scotland to a father who lived in Taiwan and was fluent in Mandarin, and a brother who helps develop a cure for AIDS. I have always cared deeply about the world, its wonders and its concerns.

I have always felt that I needed to make a significant contribution in my life. In my college years and immediately afterward, I tried internships and travelled to learn what I could do best to bring about positive change. In one of these internships, I worked as a legislative assistant for a member of Congress in Washington, D.C. As I read through the vast number of letters from constituents, I realized how much people would be empowered by learning about the world, and I could best serve by becoming a teacher. Every lesson I teach has a goal in mind of empowering my students with a greater understanding of the problems, issues and challenges they face. My actions won’t singlehandedly solve problems magically to instantly save us from catastrophe. But along with similar efforts of many others I hope it will make a huge difference. If we are to solve the greatest problems, we must begin in our schools. We must build bridges, not walls.

It is through learning from people very different from ourselves that we mature and grow. Travel is a wonderful experience to immerse oneself in another culture, but we don’t need to travel far or try to visit every country to meet and really get to know people who will significantly challenge our assumptions. They are in our classrooms and schools and everywhere in our community. In my early 20s I spent a college semester in Nepal. There I learned some really interesting lessons: first, that time with family matters a lot, second, that happiness is possible with very few possessions, third, that societies live without garbage collection when they produce no garbage, and., lastly, that trusting friendships can be made within a few minutes. But I have found people in Seattle who share those values and teach these same lessons. I agree with Mark Twain that travel is fatal to bigotry and prejudice; and would add that travel should help us to see the wide range of perspectives within our own communities.

I have always believed that greater knowledge of the world leads to greater compassion and therefore a more peaceful world. As German philosopher Johann Herder wrote: “the purpose of our existence… is to develop this incipient element of humanity fully within us.” I believe that it is possible for every person to act with great humanity toward others. Why doesn’t this happen in practice? Fear is a strong emotion, promoted by the excessive competitiveness of our world. A just society does not have losers and people cast adrift as the equivalent of “road kill”.
To contend with a world of scarcity it is essential to teach, as Gandhi put it “there is enough in the world for everyone’s need, but not for everyone’s greed.” One of the subjects I teach is economics, a subject that should be taught as if people mattered. Ethics is critically important, and we should question widely held assumptions. Gross Domestic Product, the favorite indicator of economic health, is deeply flawed and doesn’t necessarily reflect happiness. The popular unemployment rate says nothing about the marginally or chronically unemployed. In sum, people need to matter much more.

Yet though I am seen as a teacher with a lot of helpful information, I recognize, with humility that I still have much to learn from others. Here is just one small example: one of my students wrote in her essay about water for this contest that the production of almonds requires less water than the production of walnuts. This causes me to think of almonds instead of walnuts when grocery shopping.

But learning is even more that just gathering information. As William Butler Yeats put it, education is not the filling of the pail but the lighting of a fire. We face many difficult challenges today; our keynote speaker will describe one very important problem. We need impassioned and dedicated leaders in our future who care so deeply that they will dedicate their lives toward positive change. Many of my students will do that; many already have. Some have become politicians or teachers themselves or have become involved with organizations seeking a better world. Or are parents who work to encourage the next generation.

I appreciate the support of so many who have contributed to me as a teacher. My colleagues at University Prep have often given me useful advice and support, as have my teaching colleagues throughout our region, including the Washington State Council for Social Studies. This award is a reflection of my students’ enthusiasm to learn about the world. I also appreciate the close connections I have with schools and people in Japan and New Zealand. The sharing of ideas via Skype or even better, in person, is so powerful. My wife Renate, from Germany, has been amazing in her support in so many ways. You’ll never learn more about another culture than if you marry someone from that culture.

In a most important way, the mission of teachers and the mission of the World Affairs Council are the same: we seek to enlighten people about the world. We work toward a greater understanding to solve the difficult problems of our time. Most of all, we work toward greater compassion toward one another. For it is only when we see the humanity in each person on this earth that we will coexist peacefully.

Thank you again from my heart.