On October 9, 2012, fifteen-year-old Pakistani youth Malala Yousafzai was shot in the head at point-blank range while riding home from school. Malala was specifically targeted by members of the Taliban for her vocal campaign in favor of education for all. Few expected Malala to survive, but she has since recovered and become a global symbol of peaceful protest. Coming of age in a nation where youth are told that those who attend school will also go to hell, Malala cherished her education and says that school, and the quest for knowledge, kept her going through many dark days.
In Pakistan, schools were being bombed on a regular basis and it became criminal for a girl to attend school. Yet, just as many girls in Afghanistan continued to seek an education despite having acid thrown in their faces, and exposing themselves to similar cruelties, many Pakistani girls risked their lives to gain knowledge. Malala states, “we hadn’t realized just how important education was until the Taliban tried to stop us. Going to school, reading and doing our homework, wasn’t just a way of passing time; it was our future.”
Likewise, education is the key to a brighter, more prosperous future for our own American youth. Yet, an astonishing amount of students receive their public education begrudgingly. They regularly demonstrate extreme disrespect for their educators, and refuse to complete course work. They complain about freedoms they do not even understand, falsely claiming that their freedom of speech has been violated when they are reprimanded for cursing in the classroom. They bitch, and moan, and are blind to the immense privilege of education.
In contrast, in her autobiography “I am Malala,” Yousafzai reports how she wept desperately the day the Taliban deadline arrived, declaring and rigidly enforcing no school for girls. Malala writes, “When someone takes away your pens you realize quite how important education is.” As a self-proclaimed advocate of education, I possess a relentless aspiration that our American youth truly recognize and appreciate education, learning to covet and crave learning as I do. This personal desire is one of the many reasons that I recently read Malala’s biography.
Most often found with a book on my person, this book accompanied me to school while I was reading it. As it was lying out near my Chromebook and attendance charts, several students took note of it. Initially, I was eager and excited to share Malala’s story with my own students, hoping it would impact them and create perspective and gratitude. One male student asked about the book, and I began to passionately share Malala’s trials and triumphs as a near-by female student picked up the book and began to peruse the pages.
“Why do you have passages highlighted?” she asked.
“I almost always read texts like that,” I explained. “Frequently, I highlight a passage I feel is important to theme, motif, or characterization. In this case, I underlined phrases and paragraphs that I would want to share with others. In particular, they are lines I want students to see in the hopes that they might recognize quite how fortunate they actually are here in the United States.”
“Hmm …” she said, failing to fully comprehend what I had just explained. She then closed the book and glanced at the cover image, “Well, she has a unibrow.”
I pulled the book away from her in defeat and frustration, as the bell was to ring momentarily.
The following period, as my book still sat visible among my other belongings, another young male student inquired about its contents. Rather than rattling off a tale I imagined would be ignored, I questioned his knowledge.
“This is Malala’s Yousafzai’s biography,” I simply stated, “Do you know who she is?”
“Yeah,” he said, with a slight hint of uncertainty, “Didn’t she get shot in the head or something?”
“Yes, that’s correct,” I replied, pleased that he showed some awareness of global events. “Do you know why she was shot?” I asked, hoping to receive a reply regarding her fight for equal education.
Rather, he provided the following response: “Because she doesn’t know how to dodge a bullet.”
I was appalled, and my mouth literally dropped open. I shook my head in disbelief, and continue to be shamed by the state of American youth. We must end the sense of entitlement that has become so widespread. Apathy, disrespect, and ingratitude are some of the most contagious and horrific epidemics I have witnessed in youth throughout my education career. This is not to say that all youth are ungrateful little bastards; there are certainly also those that give me hope. However, that hope despondently diminishes as the epidemic regrettably sickens and swells.
Malala said, “I don’t want to be thought of as ‘the girl who was shot by the Taliban’ but the ‘girl who fought for education.’” While Americans have the access to education that many Middle-Eastern areas lack, we too must fight for education. We must fight to ensure that our youth recognize the power and importance of knowledge. It is not only those in the education field who must fight. Parents play the most powerful role in shaping youth, and we must do better. It will take far more than a few highlighted words to change the dreadfully negative attitudes that abound in schools across the country. Stand up and stand together to demand more respect for education and admiration for intelligent, passionate individuals.
Author not compensated for promotion.