Here's What I Think
Education—worth the risk
This brave Muslim girl’s name is now a household word, synonymous with the fight for equality in education for girls in a world where women are devalued as humans and treated as property by men.
Malala was so determined to be educated that she stood up to the Taliban, a terrorist group that uses force and bullying tactics to make people obey them. Malala was shot last week in her pursuit of education. It was that important to her.
Compare her to girls in our country, our state and even our county. Is education worth that much?
Oh, you bet it is.
Is it valued that much?
Education has been treated lately like its a necessary burden, not an opportunity. While lots of politicians purport to be in favor of better education, what they usually end up with is a plan that hampers or even punishes small rural and inner city schools, while rewarding schools in higher income areas where nutrition, unemployment and low median household income might not be huge factors percentage-wise. Those plans also generally hamper creative teachers who love their work and love their kids, turning those teachers into automatons who are mandated to teach the standardized tests so that the school will look like it’s performing well.
In my great-great-grandmother’s eighth grade math book (thanks, Mom, for saving that), word problems aren’t about two trains leaving stations at the same time and different speeds, but about practical matters like building brick walls. Grandma Ryder’s reading material was far above what eighth graders are offered today. My Granddad White only went to the eighth grade, but he could determine mathematically how much fertilizer and how much seed he’d need to produce a crop. My dad always said he learned as much about math from his father as he learned in high school. Practical, useful math that Dad used all his farming life. While there were no “standards” of learning in those days, students knew that they had to do better all the time, and they rose to the challenge with the encouragement of their parents.
What happened to the challenge of education? What happened to the understanding that obtaining a good education is the solid foundation on which we build our futures—our own, our children’s and our community’s? Has it been made so easy to get that we just don’t care about it anymore? Who would be willing to sacrifice themselves like Malala in pursuit of education?
In this country, we’ve decided to elevate certain professions, but denigrate others. Teachers spend more time with our kids than anyone else, why don’t they get paid more than professional athletes or actors? Why do people who would make great teachers go into other professions? The cost of education vs. the return on that investment, is one reason. Perhaps the lack of respect is another.
Teaching is a noble profession, and it’s not easy. How can it be? Classrooms full of students who think the person behind the desk is an enemy; parents who feel they must defend their kids against any sort of discipline; administrators keeping a careful eye on ever-dwindling budgets and those standardized test scores because they have to, all those things weigh heavy on teachers before they enter a classroom.
I spend some of my spare time analyzing the way women are portrayed in the media, and as professionals. Can it be a coincidence that most teachers are now women? Is that why it’s so easy to put the teaching profession on a back burner?
Our daughters and our sons are crying out for direction whether we know it or not. They want—they need—adults to be good leaders and good examples. They need to know education is important. They need to understand why Malala believed it was worth risking her life.