The Value of an Education

Today I read the fabulous book I Am Malalawhich is the story of an amazing teenage girl who campaigns for universal education and was shot in the face by the Taliban for her efforts.  Her story is incredibly moving an inspirational, because on one hand she is just an ordinary girl but on the other, the assassination attempt galvanized her to take her platform to the global scale.

The terrorists thought that they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. – Malala Yousafzai

Seriously.  Now, I’m conflicted about her being thrust into the international spotlight when she is still, by her own admission, just a normal teenage girl.  She deserves anonymity, and she deserves to go home.  I’m sure that between media and global politics, she is becoming the face of the revolution (yes, I’m alluding to Katniss in The Hunger Games/Catching Fire/Mockingjay).  At the same time, though, her cause stretches beyond political agendas and she is wise/outspoken enough to criticize all parties who dropped the ball (to say the least).

If you haven’t heard about her, she’s an exceptional young lady and an excellent role model for all of us, regardless of age 🙂

More than just her courage and grace, though, I deeply believe in Malala Yousafzai’s dream.  In America and elsewhere, where we are required to go to school, it is easy to take education for granted in a similar vein to the way it’s easy to take peace, food, clean water, shelter, friends, family, and Tom Hiddleston for granted – okay, one of those isn’t an essential to life; sorry TH! – but there are 57 million+ children who only want an education.

As an educator, I obviously believe in the necessity of education.  It breaks my heart that 57 million children will never be able to experience the joy of reading a book on their own, or be able to pass notes to their friends under their teachers’ radar.  Now I teach environmental education, and at least try to instill everyone I teach with a conservation ethic and a deeper appreciation for nature.  I used to teach little kids basic reading, writing, and math.

There were many times at that job where my students really touched my heart.  Once, when I hadn’t eaten lunch, a sweet little girl had made brownies with her mom and brought me one.  It was a nice gesture in and of itself, but the timing couldn’t have been better.  Also, that brownie was still warm, and amazing.  Another time, another girl exclaimed that I was “a good teacher!”  When I was leaving that job and a student was very mad to say goodbye, I asked him if he would miss me.  He shouted, “NO!  I’ll fight you!” while another boy cried, “I will miss you lots!”

But the two times I’m really thinking of are these:  A girl walked in after school, looked me straight in the eye, and got this shy, mischievous expression on her face.  I greeted her, and she said, “I made you something at school today.”  And she pulled out a piece of paper and handed it to me.  It was this:

"I like my Kumon teacher"

“I like my Kumon teacher”

That’s me, with the red hot pants, pink shirt, giant glasses, amorphous hands, and greenish hair.  It looks nothing like me, but to be fair, she doesn’t have a ginormous head, green hair, or no hands either.  Her homework assignment was to write a sentence, and even though she was at “real” school, she decided to write about me because she liked me a lot.  I was really touched.  I still have the picture; I keep it up at my office at my current job.

The other thing that really choked me up was the last couple Christmas seasons I worked there.  A lot of the students/their parents got me presents, and that was so generous because I was pretty poor at the time.  But the best gift were the cards because although the handwriting was still sloppy and there were a few spelling errors, the students were able to write me notes because I taught them to read and write.  They came to me barely knowing their letters and it felt really sudden that they could express themselves through writing.  I couldn’t find a picture of them, but there were a couple really cute ones.  Gosh, I miss my kids!

But I don’t want this to turn into me daydreaming about my sweet little students, because I am angry.  I am angry at the system in place that lets people starve, die of exposure, succumb to illnesses with simple treatments, grow sick from unclean water, fall in battle and war, and denies children a basic education.  I am angry that reasonably good people are grossly misinformed about world politics to the point that they actually believe that all members of _____ ethnic group/religion/country/whatever are “evil” or terrorists or otherwise inhuman.

At the same time, though, it makes sense why the Powers That Be want this system in place.  In the quest for power, good people lose themselves and what they stood for.  Greed and hunger for power corrupt them.  In order to gain power, they sell themselves to our Corporate Overlords at the expense of the people.  Let it be known that I’m not against corporations per se, but they aren’t people and the people who run them have entirely too much political clout.

I have a theory that the Powers That Be want us all kept stupid.  Intelligence and education lead to empowerment and questions; wouldn’t it be so much easier for the PTB to not have to account for anything and continue dictating us into perpetuity?  The system is broken partly because the people who run it are human, partly because they maybe don’t know how to compromise, and probably mostly because the COs are benefiting from the system just as it is.  Don’t take my word for it, though.  It’s just my hypothesis and the following still holds true even if I am wrong.

First, hunger.  Millions of people around the world go hungry each and every day.  Not the kind of hungry where we complain a lot but still ate breakfast like 6 hours ago.  The kind of all-consuming hunger where you can’t remember when you last ate and you don’t know when or if you will eat again.  That kind of hunger makes us slow, stupid, and compliant.  Kim Jon Un gets fat while his people eat grass and twigs and their dead loved ones, and he knows his people are starving but rather than starve with them or spread the bounty around, he lets it continue.

Why?  Because if they had just enough nutrition, they would start to challenge the status quo.  Why are South Koreans considerable taller on average than North Koreans?  Why is America and Capitalism evil?  If things are so great here, why are we so hungry?  With the right amount of nutrition powering the people’s brains into high gear, intensive brainwashing doesn’t necessarily matter.  If the people aren’t struggling just to get the bare minimum calories every day, they will have more time and cleverness to plan a revolt.  It’s the same everywhere.

Second, healthcare.  If the people are sick, they won’t have the strength to fight back.  We can give them medicine and look like heroes.  If they stay sick, they will continue to get treatment and help the pharmaceutical companies turn a major profit.  It’s a form of business management – they don’t completely obliterate the demand because they need to sell the supply.  Billions of dollars are donated every year to research for cures for many diseases, and we’ll hopefully get there one day, but throwing money at a problem won’t solve it.

Third, the disparity between the rich and the poor.  I am living in America, and by American standards I don’t have much.  But I try to judge myself by the world standard, in which case I am wealthy in pretty much all ways.  We hear all the time that the rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer; the middle class is disappearing.  We hear about Welfare Queens and shallow snobs with more money than common sense.  On one side, they’re using your hard-earned, hard-taxed dollars to buy weed or cable or they keep having babies.  On the other side, they keep all their money locked up so it never benefits the economy.  They are bad, bad people, whoever they are.

And there’s always a “they.”  That’s what the PTB want.  All of us pitted against each other.  They want the extremely wealthy to look down on everyone else, like we’re undeserving or stupid or weak or entitled, when in reality we are put at a very distinct disadvantage of growing up with less opportunity.  They want the very poor to hate the wealthy for having what they don’t have – and I don’t think trickle down economics works, but the wealthy should be able to enjoy what they were blessed with.  They want the middle class to blame the very poor for misusing tax dollars and “not working hard enough.”  They want the middle class to blame the very wealthy for not paying high enough taxes, or for creating the economic slump.  In reality, the poor work very hard but the system often prevents them from moving forward.  The wealthy are incredibly generous and surprisingly informed.  It isn’t class warfare that we need; we need to shift the responsibility and burden of blame to the corrupt system that keeps us in fear and in line.

Fourth, the media.  What we see isn’t always what is happening.  People know this, yet they blithely believe.  They bombard us with so much news, all of it carefully edited with an agenda.  Then they bombard us with mindless idiocy, telling us to care about the latest trend in shoes or why some popstar matters.  The idiocy can be fun, and it can be a nice refuge from the horrors of the world.  But we mustn’t forget for too long that there are problems in the world that we need to cooperate on fixing.  And we mustn’t forget all the filters our news goes through before it reaches us.  People believe that 1984 is reality, but I think that Brave New World is far more accurate.  How sad that we let the people on television and the internet convince us that normal people are our enemy simply because they come from a different place than we do.  

It’s hard to know what is right and wrong, but the tricky thing is that there’s no exactly right thing, and no exactly wrong thing.  You have to look at motivations, and think about who benefits most from events.  So many times, because of censorship, we don’t see all the facets that could draw us to an objective or just answer.  But if it benefits everyone and/or infringes on no one’s rights, it’s probably a good thing.  Just keep in mind that “not being offended” is very different from “being harmed” or “losing rights.”  It’s a hard one for me, too.

Then there is education.  Education means that you have the knowledge to find a career that will put you in a better financial position.  It means that you have new opportunities and expanded viewpoints.  It makes you dangerous.  When you are educated, you think critically and look between the lines.  When you are educated, you can call the PTB out on their bullshit.  You can refute their quasi-science or retort with authority and authenticity another truth.  When you are educated, you begin to see the world less in black and white and more in every spectrum of gray.

It’s so much easier to keep people down when they aren’t educated, and the consequences reverberate across disciplines.  As an environmentalist, I tend to see the value of education in how it can help protect the environment.  But that isn’t all I care about.  My favorite thing is educating and empowering women because it is so positive on so many levels.  It helps the women to escape/avoid abusive marriages, which in turn protects their children.  It helps them find employment so that maybe they don’t have to starve or suffer as much.

Educating women about birth control and family planning helps them to make informed choices about their families, so that they can have children when their bodies are ready and incomes are sufficient, so that maybe less children have to get sick and die in infancy.  Educated women can find their voices and speak for peace and justice.  They can organize protests and elicit change in their communities.  And their actions impact not only their human communities but their natural ones as well.  Everyone needs and deserves a healthy environment to thrive in.

Education is power, and the Powers That Be know it and are threatened by it.  Why else would the Taliban shoot a 15 year old girl in the face?  She wasn’t supporting Westernization; she is standing up for her God-given right to learn.  Education has intrinsic value, and everyone should want to learn everything about something, simply because they think it’s interesting.  But education also teaches us to think critically, empowering us to take action and fight the injustice around us.  We can use education to better ourselves and our world.  We have the voice, the knowledge, the power.  Now we only need to find our courage.


About MurasakiOkapi

Work has taken over a huge portion of my life in recent years, but I am trying hard to get back in the habit of being at least marginally creative on a semi-regular basis. Other than that, I'm a nature enthusiast and love all animals. I try to see things from many perspectives, and live on the sustainable side. I wouldn't say I'm a positive person, but at the same time I don't tend to get too down about things.
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