Person To Watch
Published: Wednesday, January 23, 2013
Updated: Wednesday, January 23, 2013 23:01
“If you define a person by what they do most, then the answer for me is simple—I’m a fencer,” penned Andrew Shirman BC ’10. As a student, Shirman was captain of the fencing team. He demonstrated his philosophical side, as any true philosophy major would, in a witty yet poignant reflection of his time as a member of the fencing team, which appeared in The Heights in March 2009.
After graduating with a degree in philosophy and a minor in Asian and Film studies, Shirman headed to Fengqing, China, for two years as part of Teach for China. Through the program, graduates from the U.S. and China provide poverty-stricken rural Chinese communities with high-quality education. Teaching 3rd, 4th, and 7th grade English in a low-performing school, Shirman worked diligently to help students. In quantitative terms, he raised the average of his 7th grade class on the county level exam 14 points in just one semester. Qualitatively, however, Shirman’s impact exceeded far beyond percentage points and the proper conjugation of English verbs. Shirman worked with a team of fellow young teachers to find a way to outfit low-income students with vision problems at Pingcun Primary School with eye-glasses. His experiences in China ignited his passion for educational equality and led him to found Education in Sight with John Kuo, another Teach for China Fellow, and George Dong, a Fellow of Teach for America.
As stated on its website, Education in Sight’s mission is to “improve the academic performance of underprivileged students who suffer from poor vision.” Focusing its efforts on children in the U.S. and China, the organization provides vision screening and glasses to students. In a unique twist, however, the organization also strives to foster cross-cultural relationships.
Through Education in Sight’s pen pal program, in addition to receiving a pair of glasses, a student is paired with another student across the globe. The nonprofit shows that education is not only found on the board of a classroom, but also from the world around you. The organization’s website features testimonials from students: recipient Yang Guimei of China wrote, “The glasses have helped me to see the colorful world around me with crystal clarity, to walk out the solitude of a blurry and bleary world, to help me shed my frustrations due to my inability to see the blackboard, and to give me the confidence and courage to continue sailing and thriving in the sea of knowledge.” Fellow recipient Li Xing-Shui echoed the sentiment, “I am extremely thankful for Education in Sight for giving me eyeglasses and changing my life.”
Four years ago Shirman wrote the following quote about fencing in his reflection in a 2009 edition of The Heights: “At the same time, though, it will take all the agility, cunning, and precision you have to get through a tough bout.” Today, Shirman applies the same skills to craft creative solutions to the problems of educational inequality around the globe.