“You cannot open a book without learning something” (Confucius). About two months before school started, the weather became extremely hot. I stayed at home to enjoy the air-conditioning and to do some reading. I grabbed an arbitrary book which had probably sat on my shelf during the whole summer. On the cover, it read “Voices and Values: A Reader for Writers by Janet M.Goldstein and Beth Johnson”. On the inside, a few carelessly folded pages indicated that the book had ever been used. This book, a collection of effective essays, was a requirement for one of my classes. It theoretically served as a key to succeed both in reading and writing, but I had only read ten essays in an attempt to finish my homework assignments enough to maintain a fair grade in the course. That was how I approached school, getting the highest possible grade with the lowest possible effort.
However, after reading several more essays in “Voices and Values”, my attitude toward studying changed. In my family, education plays a serious role. My parents taught me to study hard. Nevertheless, I personally viewed these ideas childishly and impractically. I told myself that it would be a waste of time to try too hard and fully absorb any of the material I was studying. What I did was to study enough to gather the facts. I used to taste ideas, chew on them for as long as it took to survive in class, and then, after tests, spit them out. Grades, after all, had served as the most powerful element in my educational view. As a matter of fact, while my grades were thriving, my mind was stagnating. As I opened the book that day, looking for some interesting essays that I might have missed, I found more than that. This book is much more than an academic book designed to teach critical reading and writing skills.
“Voices and Values”, in some ways, introduces its readers to higher moral lessons. The essays, “Dare to Think Big” by Dr. Ben Carson, “From Nonreading to Reading” by Stacy Kelly Abbott, “Reading to Survive” by Paul Langan, and “Learning Survival Skills” by Jean Coleman, are different stories written by different authors, but they all exude the same ideas resurrecting lost hope to people, encouraging people not to surrender, and imparting how important education is to people’s lives. Their words did not so much sound new to me as they reminded me of some ideas that I had known, some concepts I had held. However, I had stored them somewhere in my head and never used them. “As I look back over the past for years, I see all the things that have happened to make me see how important reading is. I am not where I want to be yet, but I will be in a year or two” (Abbott). Abbott’s words moved around and enlightened me.
Looking back over twelve years in school, I found myself nothing more than a revolving machine: receiving data, keeping it in short-term memory to cope with the tests, and then removing it as soon as possible. What I did, indeed, never could be called “studying” or “learning,” but using a basic skill to achieve the best grade possible. Chemistry, World History, National History, World Geography, National Geography, Agricultures, and Biology, these subjects never seemed strange to me. I had undertaken, struggled, and passed through them years before in Vietnam. Unfortunately, none of them managed to set up roots in my mind. These things, which were supposed to be general information for a long term student, had come and gone like a visitor. I did not change; I did not grow; I did not accumulate any useful knowledge for myself. Worse than that, I was still too innocent to realize I had been on the wrong path and had the wrong attitude.
The misconception I had about education eventually prevented me from opening my eyes and my mind. “And that is how we have to learn to think about life! With a long-term view. A Big-Picture perspective!” (Carson). There are times, when a person’s mind encounters the right philosophies, and self-discovery happens. In a flash, I visualized an uncertain future, where I could see myself was holding a materialistic degree with spiritual ignorance, knowing nothing about the world, and being completely empty of practical knowledge. Then, I knew that if there were ever a time for me to abandon the misconception about education, it was at that moment. As Peck stated in his essay “Responsibility”, “This is because we must accept responsibility for a problem before we can solve it. We cannot solve a problem by hoping that someone else will solve it for us.” Using education as a key to succeed is my responsibility.
I realized that I am the person who has to deal with my future, and it was time for me to solve it. “I feel passionately that all of us can control our own destinies. Students should plan for a realistic career, get themselves organized, learn to persist, be positive, and open themselves to growth” (Coleman). I was determined to change, to create a new attitude. I wanted to learn not just for the grades, but also for the knowledge. From that moment, I told myself to be more concerned with the information than with the grades.
The information is what education really is, while the grades are sometimes merely an outward factor. I began refusing to use the phrase “just study enough” as an excuse for not trying. However, several times, when I felt regretful for having held the wrong attitude for such a long time, again, I found my concerns reflected in “Voices and Values”. Most of the people in that book started their education a little late and faced many difficulties. Even so, they were seriously struggling, combating, and they overcame their own obstacles. At the age of nineteen, I am ready to be a go-getter, to thrive with a new passion which has been redefined. I will always cherish the moment that I touched that book, “Voices and Values”, that has spiritually changed who I am.”