Last night, my friend, colleague, and former Dean of Education, Gerry Porter, shared on Facebook this TedXTeen talk in which an amazing young woman, Ms. Natalie Warne, relates her story of becoming what she calls an “Anonymous Extraordinary.”Anonymous extraordinaries, Warne explains, are “people who work selflessly and vigorously for what they believe in,” “people who are motivated by conviction and not recognition.”
Ironically, Warnes’ inspirational words and example have catapulted her into semi-stardom, despite her self-avowed desire to remain “anonymous.” Her tireless lobbying to help pass U.S. legislation on behalf of the Invisible Children of Uganda – children abducted and forced into military service in Africa’s longest running war – have won her guest appearances on CNN, Larry King, Oprah, and eventually TedX.
But there is a good reason why Warne and what she’s selling are so captivating and so deserving of the limelight, even if she doesn’t want it. In an age where our nation’s youth too frequently strive to emulate the vapid personae of actors, musicians, and sports figures idolatrized and manufactured by and for the mainstream media, it’s refreshing to have someone (a young person, no less) remind us – and her peers — about what real heroes are made of.
Warne speaks of the late great Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose iconic face she gazed upon daily in a clipping that hung from the wall of her family’s 2-bedroom apartment on Chicago’s south side. “I did get to meet him,” she declares. “No, obviously I didn’t meet Dr. King, but I met a man named Dr. Vincent Harding” who, Warne explains, was one of the many, many anonymous extraordinaries to whom Dr. King lent his voice, commanding presence, and iconic visage. Dr. King represents a movement powered by countless anonymous extraordinaries; so in many ways, the heroes of a movement and the anonymous extraordinaries whom they represent are one in the same.
In a world where everyone can “Broadcast Themselves,” it is good to be reminded that our life’s path should not be directed toward seeking our individual 15 minutes (or more) of fame. Instead, Warne encourages the NetGenners in her audience, stop worrying about what other people think of you and begin using your time and gifts (and networks, I would add) to find and pursue your passion. “That is what is going to define our generation,” Warne closes with a moment of inspirational solidarity building, “when we start chasing after and fighting for the things that we love and that we want to fight for.”
As an educator – and one who who teaches preservice teachers especially — I want more Natlie Warnes in my classes. And I want desperately to cultivate the spirit of “anonymous extraordinary-ness” in my students. How? How? How? I don’t have the answer; that is why I’m writing this blog post. I’m reaching out to all you other anonymous extraordinaries out there.
But as someone who has long ago identified her passion education and (not so long ago) the transformative potential of technology in the classroom, I can’t help but press further and wonder whether we couldn’t better help students through new media? How could we extend students’ reach beyond the four walls of our classrooms to help them create the world that they want to create? How can we use new media and social networks to help our nation’s youth discover their passions and then collaborate with others to learn more and to fight for them. This should be the goal of education, wouldn’t you agree?
Why, then, isn’t it?
Cross-posted on 21st-Century Literacies