.Chance encounters in New York City got this author thinking about education and improving the lives of children.
"We deserve to live a quiet life without anxiety and fear.
We deserve to know that we don't need to come back to the shelters today, tomorrow, or next month.
We deserve to stop hearing voices of the missiles.
We deserve to live in our houses, not in the shelter nearby."
The words echoed by Israeli teenagers from the Eye2Israel project reflect their perspectives on an endless conflict that has stymied leaders on both sides of the political and religious divide. However, this post is not about politics or religion. It is about meeting children in Union Square, New York City, and seeing the world through their eyes. It is about hope and idealism, in spite of being faced with adversity. Last year, I was privileged to meet the bright scientific and technological minds that will continue to cement the reputation of Israel as a technology powerhouse. A group of ninth- through twelfth-graders from the Israel Scientific and Technological School network showcased inventions ranging from a mobile application (to alert smartphone users about food allergens) to a prototype for a wearable sensor designed to aid blind people. The high-technology inventions and expertise on display at the Union Square exhibit and the enthusiasm with which students freely shared their knowledge, speak volumes about the results of investing in the education of children. According to the nation's research and development service, Israel has 135 academically educated engineers and scientists per 10,000 population compared to 81 per 10,000 in the US. Companies such as Intel, IBM, Motorola, Applied Materials, BMC, Creo, Marvell, Cisco, Hewlett-Packard, and Nestlé have research and development centers in Israel.
Where are the future scientists and engineers of the USA? They are undoubtedly being cultivated in charter schools, STEM programs and other nationwide educational efforts. While the experts debate whether US teenagers are lagging in science, technology, and mathematics versus the rest of the world, it is also important to pay attention to the idea that teachers "ought to think in terms of working with – and learning from – their counterparts in other countries so that children everywhere will become more proficient and enthusiastic learners."
Sometimes it may be as easy as crossing to the other side of Union Square to spread infectious enthusiasm about science and technology. The children I met on separate occasion at the same location reflected the largest untapped human resource in this country. They also felt that they "deserved" something. Unlike the children from Israel, they did not live in the shadows of war. Their war was one waged against poverty and hopelessness. They asked for something that many other children take for granted: love.
We Deserve Love Too!, a youth-led campaign in New York City, attracted my attention with the stories of teenagers who fell through societal cracks and still held out hope of finding a home. One teenager described living in the home of adoptive parents for years before being returned to the foster care system. Thanks to finding loving parents, he was able to complete high school and was accepted at a local university. Imagine if he was there on the same day as the Israeli inventors and had been inspired by their presence. Would it have changed the course of his life or others like him? Maybe Union Square would at the very least have been place where children learn from another under the guidance of adults who truly invest and believe in their futures.