Does it get any better than this?
That's what I asked myself as I sat across a conference table from Greg Mortenson yesterday morning, waiting to start hosting a webinar for Edutopia. We found out just before showtime that 1,000 attendees were signed in to hear from the author of Three Cups of Tea--and I'd heard through the grapevine that many teachers would be sharing the experience with their students.
Greg took a moment to savor the Marin County scenery just outside the windows, and I could imagine him enjoying a hike across those rolling hills. But as he told us about his crazy speaking schedule--presenting to audiences in the thousands and then catching a night flight to his next gig--it was clear he wouldn't have time for even a quick stroll.
What is it about this man's story that has so captivated audiences? Once the webinar started and he described his 17 years of school-building efforts in Pakistan and Afghanistan, a few things stood out. His passion for bringing education to the farthest corners of the globe burns brighter than ever. He has seen firsthand what happens when a school opens to those who have been left out of learning--girls, especially. In his words, "Education is the most powerful weapon we have in the world today."
His family tree is full of teachers--including his parents, grandparents, and great-grands. No surprise, then, that he sent a big shout-out to teachers for the work that they do. (I couldn't hear our audience, but could imagine the cheering.) This was right in keeping with his message about respect as a way of engaging with others--whether they're people in your own community or those living in a village in Afghanistan.
Not surprising, then, that he emphasizes what American kids can learn from children in Central Asia. Although most are growing up without electricity or creature comforts, they enjoy close relationships with their elders. Storytelling remains a big part of their lives. Many are multilingual. And, Greg adds, they love to receive email from American students.
But what really captures audiences' imagination is Greg's humble way of telling his story. He's a living, breathing example of what one motivated person can do. His successes are monumental, but they have taken him years to achieve--one small step at a time, and often after heartbreaking setbacks. At one point, he held up a copy of Three Cups of Tea and pointed to the title of the first chapter: "Failure." His editors gave him grief for that, he says, but he insisted on keeping it. And then he mentioned that in Balti, the language spoken in northern Pakistan, there's no word for failure. "It's just a fork in the road." (I imagined more wild cheering from the audience here.) And success, in Balti, "means you've reached your destination."
As soon as the webinar ended, Greg was racing off to his next destination. But I know that the conversation he started will continue in the education world. From looking at the Twitter comments during the event, I know that many of you came away inspired. I know that I'm going to remember this phrase that Greg has pasted to his bathroom mirror: "When your heart speaks, take good notes."
If you missed the webinar, Edutopia plans to rebroadcast the recording soon. So stayed tuned for details. Meanwhile, you can join other educators in the Edutopia groups to talk about your own ideas for service-learning programs like Pennies for Peace, global education, or the power of good old-fashioned storytelling. See you there!