Teacher Deepa Patel Recognized by National Honor Society

Lauryn Lin, Contributor

Deepa Patel has been teaching social studies at various schools since 1998. She attended UC Berkeley, where she earned her undergraduate degree in history, and then Brown University for her master’s degree. For all those seniors attending UC Berkeley in the fall, Patel says embracing the “griminess of the Bay” will certainly lead to an unforgettable experience. Patel said that by attending these universities, she learned that everyone’s view of success is different and in seeing their perspectives, she learned about herself.

History can teach us much more than past events; Patel said, as studying history helped her understand why “what’s happening now is happening.” The humanities are important because they not only help us understand present life, but they allow us to enjoy it, she said.

The La Serna chapter of the National Honor Society (NHS) recently  honored Patel for her contributions in the classroom. At the chapter’s induction ceremony, students and their parents enthusiastically received Patel’s keynote address on the importance of the humanities. While addressing and acknowledging learning institutions’ focus on STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math), Patel argued that a STEM-based education cannot replace a humanities-based education.

Below is Patel’s speech which she gave at the induction ceremony:

I am truly honored to be here tonight and feel overwhelmed by your choice.  I was actually in the middle of a review session at lunch when the leaders of National Honor Society came to my classroom to share the news.  They opened the door and began cheering – I was so taken aback that I honestly didn’t know how to respond, so I thanked them quickly and just went back to teaching.  I didn’t properly express myself on that day, so I want to take a moment to let each of you know that this is truly a special honor for me to be recognized in this way.

I’m also incredibly humbled because of this group who has chosen me.  The students in the National Honor Society are not only among the brightest at La Serna but possess character traits that I truly admire and can only aspire to achieve.  As I did some research on National Honor Society, I came across the names of leaders who had been selected as members of this prestigious organization.  They include writers, academics, government officials, journalists, business leaders, actors, musicians, astronauts – leaders in all aspects of our society.  However, I don’t believe their success came as a result of being members of National Honor Society but rather because they already possessed particular character traits and leadership skills that brought them to success.  NHS simply recognized them for what was already inherently a part of their core being, just as NHS has selected all of you for the traits and values that are part of your fiber.

I see before me students who are intrinsically kind and warm-hearted. Working with students like you has taught me what it is to be supportive and generous.  I’ve watched you champion one another in and out of the classroom.  Although school can be competitive as students seek to outrank others academically, I have been fortunate enough to see you respect each other’s talents and cheer one another on.  You are also tolerant and respectful of differences and work together cooperatively whether on school projects and in study groups, in clubs and organizations, or on the sports field.  I have also watched you be flexible and patient, both with your fellow students as well as your teachers.  We teachers make so many demands of our students, challenging you to improve your academic skills by requiring essays, exams, research papers, science labs, so it’s impressive to see you fulfill these demands with such a positive attitude and the determination to succeed.  All of you have been a role model to me.

Finally, I’m so proud to be chosen for this honor as a teacher of the humanities and more specifically history.  I have held a life-long love of history because my studies have helped me see the world and society in which I live with new lenses and even varied filters for those lenses.  In teaching and studying just one course in history, whether European or American, I have the opportunity to learn about politics, art, philosophy, economics, religion, science, literature, and music – all of which improves our overall quality of life and helps me better understand the world I live in.

However, students today are choosing to study and major in the STEM fields in rapidly increasing numbers, which of course means that interest in the humanities is falling.  The STEM subjects are often studied for practical reasons to be a part of all of the technological improvements we see around us.  I certainly value STEM – for one thing, it has provided for me financially for most of my life since I am the daughter of an engineer and even the wife of one, too – and for another, I certainly recognize the absolute importance of STEM in providing me with what I take for granted, like clean drinking water, a car to drive to work with, medication to keep me healthy.  However, a STEM-based education cannot replace a humanities-based one, so I would like to encourage you to expand your scholarship to include fields in the humanities so that even if you don’t choose to focus on history, literature, or philosophy, you can still supplement and complement your studies with these subjects.

The humanities can teach you to be subversive, to challenge traditional ideas and approaches, to question what appears to be “truth,” to even question the concept of truth and whether it exists.  Humanities helps us to ask the right questions to examine critically what is around us – it allows us to evaluate where we are in our lives and whether that makes us happy and even to evaluate what happiness is and whether that should even be our end goal.  History, and the humanities in general, allows us to become life-longer learners, never accepting that we know everything there is to know about a given subject, making us constantly question what is before us and to seek the answers.  Those qualities are absolutely necessary to be successful in the STEM fields.  They are also the natural qualities of a good leader, who has a vision for striking out on a new path and bringing others around to one’s point of view, a characteristic valued by NHS.

History, specifically, allows each of us to walk in someone else’s shoes, whether we study a king who believes he has the divine right to rule in the 17th century, a President who is about to lead a brand-new nation based on democratic ideals in the 18th century, a craftsman who is losing his livelihood because he can no longer compete with industrialization in the 19th century, or a soldier terrified of losing his life in the trenches in a war that he didn’t start in the 20th century.  These experiences we learn about teaches us empathy.  As we learn about what individuals and groups have endured in the past, it helps us understand people’s plight and experiences today and to relate to them in a meaningful and authentic way.  This quality of empathy can lead one to service in the community, to improve the lives of others, and those efforts could, and probably should, include STEM-based solutions.

History and studying what has come before me has also helped me value and appreciate what I have right now.  People focus on the divisiveness that exists in our political arena today, but I value the fact that I have a right to develop my own opinions and to voice them.  Studying what it took to achieve that right in the past – by colonial groups, farmers, people of color, women, workers – has taught me that I certainly cannot take that for granted today, and I must always defend that right.

Lastly, history, and the humanities overall, teaches us logic and critical reasoning, both of which one needs to be successful in STEM fields.  I read an interview in the Brown University Alumni magazine of a successful computer scientist who created a new app.  When asked how her education at Brown helped her achieve success with this app, she acknowledged that her history class best prepared her because it taught her logical thinking.

I hope that you will achieve a balance in your education in the future by pursuing subjects in the humanities, even if that isn’t your main interest.  Allow it to complement your studies in STEM.

Each of you tonight should be proud of your academic achievements in school that have been in the pursuit of higher scholarship.  That pursuit of scholarship is what will serve you well in the future and help you become the next generation of leaders in service to your community.  Just be sure that you make a choice for your future that means something to you and is not based on the expectations of others.  Good luck to you all, and thank you for this incredible honor.