Of all the moments of triumph and tragedy that permeated throughout 2012, the one story that sticks with me is that of Malala Yousufzai. In October, she was shot in the head by the Taliban in a school bus on her way to school in Pakistan. She survived. Malala’s recovery has been miraculous and she has become the face for the advocacy of education, especially for girls in the most hostile of environments.
The word “hero” gets thrown out a lot, especially to those who do not deserve it but I believe Malala is a hero. I would go so far to say she was the hero of 2012, but for some reason, her story has been tossed to the backburner of media attention. Here is a little girl that was willing to die for something that represented the progression of her society. Malala represented something tangible against those who were determined to stop her: a threat. So how is it that she lacks fear where she should be fearful while we in the west are scared of our own shadows? I’ll say it: because we are stupid.
We’re too stupid to care. Somewhere in our history we decided that discovering the facts of the world around us through research, questions and creativity was not as important as justifying our personal beliefs about ... whatever it is we need to be right about. Both sides of the political climate in the United States are guilty of this.
I am not for any candidate or politician whose major platform is not education. The economy is in shambles, our healthcare system is broken, we spend more time burying our soldiers than celebrating their sacrifices; these are all hefty issues, but there is a major fundamental thread over the past 30 years that has brought us to this point. Common sense would dictate that a solid educational system would lead to a healthier economy, a stronger and smarter military and intelligent choices when it comes to health and relationships. Unfortunately, common sense isn’t common.
The decline of our education on the world stage and the lack of emphasis placed on the issue of education from our politicians over the past 30 years is no coincidence. The shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary was the straw that broke the camel’s back for me. A chance to shed a spotlight on our broken education system and open a debate about how psychology affects schools and students in the United States has devolved into political talking points about arming our teachers. I am for the Second Amendment, but when guns become more important than education in public debate, I just have to shake my head. A study released in November ranked the United States 17th out of 40 developed nations when it comes to education. Seventeenth? I thought we were the greatest country in the world. Of course, when The Learning Channel’s No. 1 show is “Here Comes Honey Boo Boo,” I guess I should not be surprised.
Thomas Jefferson stated that virtue and talent should be the driving force behind creating a successful model of the American Dream. We need to work on molding students and teachers with tools that celebrate education and individualized, rational thinking and not implementing a narrative where everyone is out to get them. Fears raised by the Mayan “end of the world” were a deciding factor for the closing of more than 30 schools in Michigan. Cynicism, a culture of ignorance, anti-intellectualism and lack of rational discourse between ideologies has crippled students, faculty, parents, and communities at large. Things need to change.
We need to advance learning and knowledge through faculty research and by giving students the opportunity to broaden their minds even when learning does not seem immediately relevant to their careers. We need to ensure that every student, no matter the wealth of her parents, has a chance to enjoy the American Dream. We need to work on educating leaders in our democracy. We need to teach students to interact with people different than themselves and help students find a passion and purpose in life. Most importantly, we need to pull ourselves out of the psychological muck that dictates we are powerless to change things for the better because the talking heads on television, radio and print media. Just because they say so, does not make it true.
Malala is currently recovering in a hospital in Britain. Reports say she is willing to return to Pakistan to complete her education, despite the fact that she would be in constant danger. She is taking a stand for herself and for education in the face of tyranny. We in the West can barely cross the threshold of understanding our own government and how we could work together to provide substantive educational reform. We have the tools to have the smartest students in the world — but until we collectively get over our fears of everything around us, the United States will continue to be the educational Neanderthals of the world.