Schooled by Malala

(Crossposted from my School Blog, Oct. 18, 2012)

My thoughts on Malala Yousafzai and Education

By now, everyone in the West must know about Malala Yousefzai, the incredibly brave and well-spoken teenage girl from the Swat Valley in Pakistan–a region that’s become, in recent years, a terrorists’ playground for the Taliban–who was shot in a barbaric attempt to silence her outspoken support for girls’ education. By now, everyone’s shed tears looking into those eyes of hers, seeing that smile of hers shine from the documentary made when she was but 11 years old. Her courage. Her father’s love, and dreams, for her.

And by now, we’ve all been schooled in what it means to be brave and resolute. By a girl.

By a girl. Yes.

My students are reading some news stories about Malala (in more than once class), and here in English we’re all blogging about her and our reactions, thoughts, hopes, and fears. But I want to write about how I’ve just been schooled by a little girl.

Like most other people, I suspect, I like to complain about things. My health isn’t great. My parents’ health is worse, and I’m currently dealing with a ton of stress about their care. Bills mount up. Machines break down. I don’t have time to get the laundry done. We all have dozens of these things, of varying degrees of severity.

But you know what I do have?

I have a place to live that isn’t under daily attack from mortar, military, and Taliban thugs. I, as a woman in American society, can not only leave my home and shop, go to school, go to football games, go for a walk along the river, just go, without being arrested. I can speak out against what my political leaders are doing (or speak out in support of them).

And, mostly, I have an education. A free and public education for 12 years, in a good building, with many resources. Then, beyond that, two more degrees (and a third half-finished) in public Universities. Not free, but accessible, as long as I was willing to work at it. All of that–the entire world’s knowledge and access to it–at my fingertips.

And I had the audacity to complain at times about it. “Stupid alarm…I don’t want to get out of bed.” “I haven’t prepared well enough for that quiz; I don’t want to go.” “I *hate* chemistry–I wish I didn’t have to take it.” “That teacher drives me crazy.”

I’ve said all these things, and more, and repeatedly. As I bet you have, most of you. And yet, all of this was at my fingertips, easy to attain, while an adolescent girl in Pakistan is willing to stand up to grown men in masked faces and carrying guns, to demand she get an education.

She’s willing to die to get an education.

I’ve been schooled. And I thank her for it.

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