The Hunger Our Young People Should Be Feeling for Education
This past weekend’s Global Citizens Festival invigorated a city already on a high from Pope Francis’s whirlwind visit. And as many pundits repeated, the excitement was nearly universal whether or not you are a practicing Catholic or whether or not you agreed with all of his positions. The Pope has captured the hearts and minds of so many of us because there is a selflessness and goodness about him that is undeniable.
Same thing when listening to Malala Yousafzai urge everyone from world leaders at the United Nations to fans of Coldplay, Ed Sheeran, Beyoncé and other mega rock stars—to join the cause to provide 12 years of education to the 62 million girls who currently kept out of school. It’s hard to argue with Malala.
Pan back a few months to Michelle Obama announcing the “Let Girls Learn” initiative in May of this year. “Let Girls Learn isn’t just about improving girls’ education abroad,” Mrs. Obama told us. “It’s also about reminding our young people of the hunger they should be feeling for their own education here at home.” Should be.
Mrs. Obama, who also appeared at the Global Citizens Festival on Sunday, wants our young people to be aware of how young people all over the world, particularly girls, struggle to attain what is an essential right here, education. “I want our young people to be awed by these girls,” she said. “I want them to be inspired and motivated by these girls.”
Yes, it is impossible to not be awed by the courage and spirit exhibited by someone like Malala, and the girls who stood with her the other night from Pakistan, Nigeria and Syria and all the other girls they represent who are fighting for this basic right.
The work of the Malala Fund, Let Girls Learn, and Global Citizens must continue. So, too must the work of those who are rising to the challenge to make education more meaningful for everyone. I’m speaking of people such as Sir Ken Robinson, John Taylor Gatto, Blake Bolles, Roger Schank, Juliette Lamontagne and the many others who are questioning how our kids are being taught and working to provide alternatives.
The urgency of providing access to 62 million girls is very real, as is the urgency to make education relevant and reengage those with access but with waning or lost interest. High school graduation rates in this country hover around 80%, with the 20% who do not graduate representing over 700,000 kids.
The one thing that really stood out for me when playing back Michelle Obama’s announcement of the Let Girls Learn initiative was her earnest desire to motivate kids in this country by making them aware of the struggle of kids around the world. “I want our kids to be citizens of the world,” she said. No arguing there. But also striking were these comments about staying in school despite the current conditions:
While their own schools may be less than perfect (and Barack is working on this), they still have an obligation to show up every day to that classroom and learn as much as they can. I would love for our kids to understand the transformative power of education.
Education is transformative when it engages learners and is relevant to the needs of the target population. Our own public school system has become for many an onerous obligation rather than a gift or vehicle for change. The global movements for educational access are stirring the emotions of millions of everyday citizens as well as rock stars, corporate leaders and politicians. Let’s hope that they and the young people motivated by these movements become energized to participate in re-engineering our schools to more effectively reach and prepare all kids for the future.