Happy Thanksgiving from Udacity!

Happy Thanksgiving from Udacity

The tradition of setting aside a day for giving thanks goes back hundreds, even thousands of years. Here in the United States, the fourth Thursday of November has been a day of thanksgiving since Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a national Thanksgiving Day in 1863. In 1941, President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed a bill into law, making it “official” that the fourth Thursday of every November would be Thanksgiving Day.

So today, we pause to give thanks, and to feel thankful.

At Udacity, we have so much to be thankful for. First and foremost, our students. Without you, there is no Udacity. We are so thankful for the inspiring example that you set every day. Thankful that you have entrusted your learning to Udacity. Thankful for all you achieve, and all you bring to the world. We are thankful to know each and every one of you.

We are thankful for one another. To our fellow “Udacians,” as we like to call ourselves. It is a wonderful thing to come together in the service of helping others, and in the spirit of learning. I know for myself, I am humbled every single day by the passion, the commitment, and the dedication of my colleagues here at Udacity. I am so thankful to be a part of this community, and so thankful to work alongside this extraordinary group of people.

We are thankful to the supporters, the people who help our students grow and achieve. To the parents, spouses, friends, co-workers, mentors, and loved ones whose support for a student has made a dream possible, we say thank you! And we are thankful to everyone who supports Udacity, who helps to make our work possible. Whether you funded a scholarship, or simply retweeted an announcement, we thank you. We thank you for acting on our behalf, because in doing so, you act on behalf of our students.

We are thankful for our partners and collaborators. The individuals and companies whose expertise makes our curriculum better. The individuals and companies whose commitment to hiring the best talent—regardless of background or circumstances—makes the dreams of our students come true. The individuals and companies who have come together to help us create new opportunities for more lifelong learners across the globe.

We are thankful to be alive and working in these remarkable times. When so much is at stake, and so much is possible. When a brighter future for the world looms. Our students are the future of the world, and we are thankful for the hope this instills in us. As you have put your learning in our hands, we put our future in yours, and we do so with gratitude for the world we know you’ll build.

Happy Thanksgiving to you all, from all at Udacity.

Independence Day

Understanding education as a declaration of independence from the absence of freedom.

Independence Day Udacity

Countries all across the globe celebrate versions of an Independence Day. These are powerful holidays, with many layers of meaning written into their origins and histories. At the center of the concept of an “independence” celebration sits a fundamental question—independence from what? It’s an exceedingly important question, as it lends foundational meaning to the very idea of independence.

Put another way, “independence” is essentially a relational term; it depends on an “other” for its definition.

Here in the United States, we set aside the 4th of July each year to commemorate declaring ourselves a new nation separate from the British Empire. India celebrates their independence from the British Empire on the 15th of August. In Brazil, the 7th of September is celebrated to mark independence from Portugal.

With each of the above examples, the “other” is clear, but this is not always the case when it comes to “Independence Day”-type holidays.

In Saudi Arabia there is a “National Day” celebrated on September 23rd each year; it commemorates the establishment of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It’s not exactly an “Independence Day” in the same way it is here in the United States, but there are certainly similarities. Saudi National Day celebrates unification of the kingdom, and unification can be understood as independence from the disunity that preceded it.

A similar holiday is celebrated in Germany on October 3rd. German Unity Day (or, The Day of German Unity) commemorates the reunification of 1990, and as such, it too is a way of celebrating independence from a preceding disunity.

Here in the United States, I am of course thinking about our Independence Day, and as a member of Udacity’s global community, I am thinking about what independence means on a personal level, and in relationship to education.

As an educator, I believe in the power of higher learning. I believe in the self-empowerment that higher learning makes possible. I believe that the act of committing to higher learning can be understood as self-determination at a personal level. I believe that higher learning represents a kind of personal declaration of independence.

Consider these words from the conclusion of The United States Declaration of Independence:

“… as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do.”

Modulate these ideas to where they become a personal statement, and you have:

As a free and independent person, I have the full power to do the things which independent people may do.

This may sound like circular reasoning, but in fact, it’s an expression of self-empowerment.

As all across this country parades are held, flags are waved, and fireworks are set off, it is worth taking a moment to think about the personal side of independence. To remember that what independence means at the individual level is the freedom to pursue and achieve the things that the independent are free to pursue and achieve.

If embracing self-empowerment through learning is an act of independence, then it must be asked—who or what is the “other” we declare ourselves free of? Our un-empowered selves? Our less educated selves? It was George Washington Carver who said that, “Education is the key to unlock the golden door of freedom.” This powerful observation gives us our answer to what the “other” is then—it is the absence of freedom.

Happy Independence Day!  

The Audacity of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Dreams for Education

Stevie Wonder Happy BirthdayThe idea for a national holiday honoring Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was first proposed in 1968. It eventually entered the US House of Representatives as a bill—endorsed by Jimmy Carter—in 1979. It failed.

Through the efforts of activists like Stevie Wonder—who spearheaded a movement on behalf of the bill with his 1981 song “Happy Birthday”— as well as the unflagging support of union workers, and the signatures of passionate citizens across the country who signed petitions in its favor, the bill’s dream stayed alive. In 1983 (after first opposing it), Ronald Reagan signed the bill into law.

Why did Stevie Wonder feel so strongly in 1981 that it was finally time to recognize Dr. King in this way? It’s worth noting his reasons—he felt there to be a “disturbing drift in the country towards war, bigotry, poverty and hatred.”

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Celebrating Good Work, Celebrating Labor Day!

Celebrating Labor Day

Like many a holiday, Labor Day’s origins have become somewhat obscured by a modern understanding informed by commercialization. Today, it’s largely a day of sales and barbecues, and a shared agreement that summer is ending.

Even for those who do connect the day’s meaning to labor (as in, doing work!), it’s not uncommon to see differences of opinion as to how the holiday should be celebrated. Perhaps because Labor Day is an “official” holiday—and accordingly a day off from work, at least at the federal level—most seem to think the idea is to celebrate workers by simply giving them a three-day weekend.

This doesn’t quite align with the original intention of the holiday. Labor Day was in fact originally established as a means of honoring and demonstrating the caliber and contributions of the American worker. It wasn’t meant only to be a reward for good work, but also a showcase for it.

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