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When we combine the concepts of education and human unity, significant progress results. In fact, that blend can unearth true gems:
The Great Being saith: Regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom. If any man were to meditate on that which the Scriptures, sent down from the heaven of God’s holy Will, have revealed, he would readily recognize that their purpose is that all men shall be regarded as one soul … – Baha’u’llah, Tablets of Baha’u’llah, p. 162.
This passage has a twofold meaning to me. Not only does it highlight the importance of universal education, but it also spotlights humanity’s inherent oneness.
I’ve been humbled to have had some stellar teachers in my life — but three individuals, all global citizens in their own right, were exceptional educators–making the above quote especially powerful.
Walt Lindstrom – The Spellbinder
When I was five years old, around 1978, my family lived in far northern Wisconsin, in the town of Ashland, on the shore of Lake Superior. Across the back alley resided our neighbor, Walt Lindstrom. “Mister Lindstrom,” as I called him, was in his seventies, tall, with gray-blonde hair and, thick horn-rimmed glasses. He was an amateur sailor retired from the local power company and a community fixture. A Google search informed me that in 1965, he was president of the Ashland Rotary club.
Walt Lindstrom was the son of Swedish immigrants, and distinctly proud of his Scandinavian heritage.
He was like a surrogate grandpa. I was so fond of Mr. Lindstrom that one day, I darted across the alley and knocked on his door. When his wife Ruth answered, I asked “Can Mr. Lindstrom play?”
What stands out decades later was his ability to transfix me and my friends for hours with stories and perspectives on life, while sitting on his porch and often grinning widely. He also introduced me to calligraphy, which, I learned later, is a powerful element of Baha’i writings in their original languages. In retrospect, Mr. Lindstrom was an example of patience, caring, and generosity–traits which I came to seek and admire in other educators.
Zoltan Gaal – The Challenger
Eight years later, I was in junior high school in Anchorage, Alaska. Zoltan Gaal, my Hungarian-born science teacher, had emigrated to the US as a teenager in the wake of the 1958 Budapest uprising. A stocky man with a distinctive black beard, Mr. Gaal was an enthusiastic, almost frenetic, teacher.
Officially, Mr. Gaal taught science, namely chemistry. Following lesson plans, he kept us busy with beakers, Bunsen burners, hot plates, the periodic table, and a gamut of experiments.
Unofficially, though, he imparted to us his passion for chess. One day, he brought out cleverly designed, roll-up canvas chessboards and set them on our work stations, and asked us to set up the plastic pieces. Throughout my eighth-grade year, he coached us on chess strategy and tactics, to the point that we stayed in his classroom through the lunch hour to play. He emphasized the principal of controlling the center of the board and taught us tactics such as castling, the triple knight fork and en passant. I still use the opening gambit he taught me, with bishops dominating long diagonal lanes. One time, he challenged me to a game. I started to demur, until he removed his queen from the board to even things up.
Mr. Gaal’s extracurriculars didn’t stop with chess. One day, he brought out bean bags and taught us to juggle. By the end of the year, we were pretty good.
The takeaway from Mr. Gaal was that he realized that our young minds needed more than the standard curriculum. He applied his overflowing energy to that end.
Sidi Ali Raisuni – The Unifier
Ten years later, I was in Chefchauen, Morocco, a small city in the Rif mountains on a fellowship year after my undergraduate studies. I was looking for a certain Imam who could help me with my research. I knocked on the door of the address I was given and a boy, about ten, answered, then told me to wait. Sidi Ali Raisuni, the local imam, then answered. I explained who I was and what I was doing. Raisuni, who had recently returned from the US on a scholarship exchange, immediately took me in, and literally offered me a place to sleep.
Ali was squat, in his late fifties, with a thin beard of while whiskers the same length as his hair. He always wore a long brown hooded robe and a dark red cap. He spoke perfect Spanish, a result of that area’s colonial history.
Ali hosted groups of European Muslims who came through town. One of them was rather proselytizing and demeaning towards me because of my religious views at the time–before I became a Baha’i, I practiced an open-minded Christianity. Three weeks of uninterrupted cold rain worsened the situation. The overall environment was misery outside, but warmth and conversation within. We drank our fill of sweet mint tea and filled our stomachs with the hot bread and eggs of tajine and couscous with vegetables.
One evening, I related to Ali my difficulty with his other guest. The next morning, we woke up bright and early, and he bid me to climb a ladder to the attic. We then stood together, overlooking the town, and he declared, “I told him ‘This man is our guest, and you will respect his religion!’” Pointing out to the town in the gray morning hours, he proclaimed: “This is how God made the world,” and continued to explain that our creator variegated the people on this planet. It was a powerful and reassuring experience with a man who manifested the true meaning of unity and hospitality.
The Commonalities of Unforgettable Teachers
These three men, though from markedly different backgrounds, all shared a commitment to enriching young minds, generosity with their time and resources, and a willingness to transcend their own age and cultural environments to teach others. Their examples show that when we combine the power of education with our innate oneness as a species, we’re cooking with gas–even without a Bunsen burner.