How a Humans of New York Fundraiser Taught Us About Education

It was the call to action heard 'round the Internet: Brandon Stanton, founder of the greatest thing online, Humans of New York, posted a series of photos about Mott Hall Bridge Academy, a small Brooklyn, NY middle school. The first was of a student, describing an influential principal and how she'd changed his life. The second was of the principal herself -- illustrating the struggles and triumphs of bringing success to a notoriously bad area.

By the third photo, there was a plan, dreamt up by the principal, Ms. Lopez, assistant principal, Ms. Achu, and Stanton himself: Create a fund for students to visit a new place, to expand their horizons and chase inspiration -- Harvard University.

That photo was posted yesterday. As of today, $365,000 has been raised.

There is nothing academic about it, and yet, this is the perfect illustration of what education should be about. What it can be about, if only we let it.

There are lessons to be learned here: How much these kids deserve our time, money, and attention. How there are truly great -- as in, should-be-remembered-forever, profoundly, great people and educators. But mostly, I believe the lesson here is one of hope.

In fact, that's what I believe education should be about: Hope.

Achievement, success, and prosperity are all fine and worthy of pursuit. But they seem small in the face of hope, something that takes more than hard work, but boldness, conviction, and the idea that we have the capacity to be better than our circumstances.

Why do we learn? This question has a variety of excellent answers (and I hope one of them isn't "to get the right answer"): To make the world better. To be successful. To help others. Because we're curious. Because we need to.

But I think we also learn because, even subconsciously, we believe in the promise of tomorrow. We believe in a world or life or situation better than the one we're in today. Learning should be fundamentally hopeful.

So when I think about learning, that's what I think about. I think about a kid who has the heart and forethought to name his principal as his inspiration, and a principal who doesn't stop in the face of difficulty -- but goes right through it. I think of the time and energy put in by a man and innovator who doesn't have to care at all.

But he does.

To care when nobody is looking says more than words ever will.

So when we're thinking about tests and grades, and worrying about what our degrees will get us and whether we will ever make it through, things like this serve as a reminder that the more we care, the more powerful we are.

There is heart and humanity in education. It may not be logical, scientific, or even part of the syllabus, but it is the right answer we're looking for. It is X, so to speak.

Watching Brandon Stanton and Ms. Lopez create X for kids --even over the Internet!--was the most important lesson I've had in awhile.

I hope, as we continue to turn our pages, in class and outside it, we remember there is more than a right answer at stake. There is a person behind every assignment turned in and hand raised, and as much as their minds deserve to learn knowledge, their hearts deserve to learn hope.

(If you're interested in reading more, details on Humans of New York & the Mott Hall Bridge Academy fundraiser can be found here: )