Education is a Key to a Better Life!
Malala Yousafzai, the very young winner of the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize has reminded me of how important an education is for all of us. Anita Price Davis and I are updating our book on Women Nobel Peace Prize Winners. One of my chapters is on Malala. She escaped an assassination attempt only to become a world favorite advocate for the free education of children. Her story is compelling and the stories of brutalized and used children around the world, are even more compelling.
She reminds us that twelve year old girls can be sold to a suitor and bear a child by the age of fourteen. She also reminds us that children are among the homeless displaced people bellowing out of Syria, and other wore-torn places in the world. Children should be allowed to be children and to go to school and choose a life for themselves. They should not be kidnapped or taught to be a soldier or used as prostitutes or harnessed to a loom, as I witnessed in some Asian countries.
Her stories reminded me of my own story and the stories of my mother and father. Their lives were not much different than many of the lost children of the world. Of course, they were not refugees, but all the same they were not allowed to go to school or finish their education.
Both my mother and father came from large families that lived off the land. By the time my mother was eleven years old, she had hired herself out as a live-in maid in towns around her home. Her best friend from Ireland, about the same age, was required to do the same thing, even though they were born thousands of miles apart.
When we would visit her homestead, she would point out houses in the surrounding towns where she worked. She said she learned how to cook and clean and iron in those houses. They ate very different foods than my mother’s family.
My grandfather was the sole provider for his wife, five children, his mother and father, two cousins (not sure if they were cousins or sisters) and one of their children. The house they lived in had four rooms and no running water. They used an outhouse on the side of the hill later in mom’s life. They dug coal for heat and had to grow enough food to survive the winter. There was little if any money for clothing. During the summer, they would pick berries and sell some of their produce in town. They were fortunate enough to own a cow and chickens. But there was not enough food or money to take care of all of them.
My mother made it to the eleventh grade in high school. She says that she could not understand geometry, so she quit. The real reason is complicated. Even though she worked as a live-in maid, she had no money. It did not go to her, it went to her family. She was a slave. So, when the eleventh grade school year opened, she needed paper and a pencil, which cost about twenty-five cents in 1938. Her father would not give it to her. She also told me that she was so embarrassed at her clothing and, often, lack of shoes. It was easier to quit high school and go to work so that she could have a better life. Even when she left home to find a job in Detroit, a great percentage of her paychecks was sent home to take care of her mother and father.
My dad was born in 1912 and lived through the wars and the great depression. He loved reading and was a great conversationalist on politics or history, and had a lot of negative things to say about religions. Many times I heard him complain that his father took him out of school to work in the fields. He was used to work on the farm. He always bragged about his straight A’s, but they ended when he was in the sixth grade when he was twelve years old. Those horses he held by the reins in the field were spooked one day, and nearly tore off his left arm. They patched him up but never took him to a doctor, so his scarred arm froze at a 90 degree angle. It kept him out of the military when his friends signed up to fight in WWII.
Perhaps his love of learning is the reason that I pursued a Ph.D. He also loved learning about the peoples on earth and so do I.
My story is similar. By the time I was eight, I was babysitting my brothers. When I turned ten, I babysat up to five children at a time. My father had told me that he would no longer purchase any clothing for me and that I had to earn the money myself if I was ever going to have new clothing. Of course, he didn’t keep that promise. He bought my dress for me when I competed for Miss Teen America. And I was fully employed by the time I was fifteen.
This tradition of child labor was taken for granted sixty to one hundred years ago in our country. One of my aunts married at thirteen and had at least six children. Her husband was twenty years older and died decades before she did. She nor her husband were employed. He worked odd-jobs all of his life. She earned some money making quilts.
The Real Reason for This Post
I spent over forty years as a professor in higher education. I had the same dreams that Malala has. I knew that education could better your life. It had bettered mine. I did not live at the poverty line. But as the years rolled by, and the politics became lethal on campus, I think the real reason for teaching escaped me. I was so busy with abusive and hateful politics that I forgot the most important value in teaching. Students also forgot that learning could change their lives. They did not want to apply themselves. They could not read well or write well. They attempted to cheat and manipulate their way to the golden prize of a degree. This was not education. I retired and escaped this putrid environment but the real value of education will always be there. It can make your life better and help you to weather the storms. It gives you a solid foundation upon which to make decisions and communicate with others. And most of all, it may give you the skills to choose many different types of jobs!
It frees you to a new kind of fulfilling life.
As always, this post is copyrighted by Marla J. Selvidge