I enjoy writing though I’m not very good at it. My spelling is horrible. My sentence constructions can be bested my many 10 year olds, and my grammar hasn’t improved since junior high school. Yet I continue. Becoming a writer is what I dreamt of becoming when I was a kid. I’ve yet to realize that dream. It doesn’t mean I shouldn’t try.
Kids dream of all sorts of things they’d be when they become adults. While in Namibia, I had put together a series of lectures I would present to secondary and high school kids that exposed them to things I thought they just would not see otherwise. The lecture series was my way of addressing what I saw as a limit to the imagination natural to young minds. Whenever I asked a Namibian child what he or she wanted to be when they grew up I would get invariably the same answers: a nurse, a teacher, an engineer. All admirable careers, but the answers all lacked vision. What kind of nurse? Did they know they could specialize and become an emergency or operating room nurse? Did they know they could teach yoga, programming, or the art of sword making? Did they have any idea that nearly everything in our modern world requires specialized engineering?
They did not.
My lectures were supposed to expose these young minds to the vastness of human endeavor. I showed them how medicine and engineering produced prosthetics that allowed people to walk, pick up a can of soda, or see again. I showed them people who taught machines how to dance, open doors, and run on two legs like its creators. I showed them devices engineered to take people into the deepest, darkest, coldest places on earth and view, first hand, creatures never seen before by man.
Did it work?
I don’t know. They were wowed when the watched a Boston Dynamics robot do a backflip and open a door without human assistance. They appeared mesmerized by men and women who seemed to possess comic book-like powers granting them superhuman speed, and strength through engineered prosthetics. They gasped when a diver surprised an octopus that had disguised itself as a rock. The students and teachers applauded loudly an asked for more, but did any of it mean anything?
I like to think that my lectures and presentations were more than hour-long distractions. I earnestly hope that hearing me talk and showing them video snippets of the world beyond their classrooms and auditoriums planted a seed in what I hope were minds still fertile and nourished with imagination and wonder. But I’m a realist, I know I will likely never know if anything I said or showed took root.
I left Namibia is 2020 as COVID became a pandemic. Some of those high schoolers may be freshman now in the University of Namibia or other institutes of higher eduction. Hopefully, by the time they are seniors, they will have decided of a career path and, hopefully, a few may remember the lectures and videos I showed and make a decision based on what they saw and heard.
I suppose what I’m wondering at the moment is what many teachers must wonder at some point in their career: did I make a difference? I am no teacher, but the sentiment is the same and I’ll likely never know if I made a difference, but I believed it was worth the effort.
Maybe I should keep trying.