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


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5 Responses to Becoming an Anonymous Extraordinary: The Should-Be Goal of Education

  1. [...] Gates, Oprah, or Leymah Gbowee to save the world.  Rather, Warne demonstrates it’s up to the anonymous extraordinaries, “people who work selflessly and vigorously for what they believe in,” “people who are [...]

  2. uksuperiorpapers says:

    As always it is the teacher and parents who must make education relevant to students. Technology must become an inclusive tool. Where alll are able to obtain access to hardware and applicationsif needed.Notebooks, iPads, and netbook computers — paid for with the help of state dollars — are becoming an increasingly popular sight in classrooms.

  3. Andrea steffens says:

    I have also wondered about how to inspire extraordinariness in young people and it seems to be related enlarging their worlds, asking their opinions on world events, asking for solutions, working in teams, reading/seeing what one person can do to light up their passion and having that one person believe in them — believe they have something special to bring to the world, brain storming about what their special gifts are and where they might use them. I found that Jared Cohen’s early work — Children of Jihad– provided insight to me to be very respectful of young people and the potential they have for making change. The percentage may be small but there are gifted young people whose world view gives them a very different take on what needs change and how to do it. Talk to young people, listen carefully, be authentic and let them know THEY have the answers, not us…because that is the truth. They have a different zeitgeist… I want to learn what that is and they have been my teachers. I have been amazed and in awe. Thank you for your depth of concern and commitment.

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