“One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.” Malala Yousafzai, freedom fighter for education rights for all children and the youngest person to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
“Better to live like a lion for one day than to live like a slave for 100 years.” Malali, the young woman Malala was named after, who once had the courage to stand up in front of the Afghan soldiers and give them the above pep talk which helped them to win a war in Afghanistan a long time ago.
“I think she is not independent or free because she is not educated,” Malala says of her mother in He Named Me Malala, a film directed by David Guggenheim, Fox Searchlight Pictures, and the official selection at the Telluride Film Festival 2015.
Today is International Women’s Day and March is Women’s History Month. Thank you to my good friend and fellow teacher, Rebecca Steeves, for pointing out Google’s Doodle today, which included an awesome little video surrounding the power of women. Loved it. Cried a minute. Watched little girls and big girls from all around the world share snippets of personal and professional hopes, dreams, and achievements on a global scale. Ironically, my free educator’s copy of He Named Me Malala also arrived in my teacher’s mailbox this very morning– serendipitous indeed.
I thought about my dear friend, Sarah Schoellkopf, from Connecticut College, who studied for a year in Spain while in high school and then embraced a completely international lifestyle spending another year abroad while in college, thereby earning a Fulbright Scholarship to study in Argentina after graduation. There she studied Las Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, and even now almost 20 years later, she is still completing research and following up on those freedom fighters, mostly women, in Argentina who forever impacted her course of action in academia.
In a recent article she wrote for Fulbright, Sarah writes, “Many people outside of Argentina do not know that there are actually two Madres groups divided by political and socioeconomic lines. Both are known as the Madres de la Plaza de Mayo, but one refers to itself as the Línea Fundadora, and the other is known as the Asociación. Both groups of women are the mothers of some of Argentina’s 30,000 “desaparecidos,” people who were kidnapped, tortured, and disappeared during Argentina’s last military dictatorship (1976-1983). The Madres reacted to the disappearances and to the claims of the government that their children were “terrorists” by making the Plaza de Mayo, the most important square in the country (because it represents the heart of Argentine government, religion, commerce, and culture), their own. As a single organization, they claimed that space on April 30, 1977, and it now exists in Argentina’s collective conscious as part of the Madres’ movement. Las Madres began as a group of women looking for the “disappeared” loved ones, but transformed into the moral conscience and ethical example of a nation.”
Watching Malala’s story unfold first through her own memoir I am Malala, written with Christina Lamb, and then through this incredible documentary, I was also reminded of Ayesha Imani, my team leader of Masterminds, our small learning community focused on African American Studies, the year I spent teaching in Philadelphia. At maybe 5 feet tall, Ms. Imani commanded respect. I wanted the power she had. I wanted to be able to silence a room, respectfully and quietly of course, simply by walking on a stage or in front of a classroom. I wanted kids to work hard for me, the way they worked for her. I wanted to be able to send a look, like shock waves across a gymnasium or theater, which resonated in kids’ faces with the power of military precision. She managed rooms of 1000 kids or more without even a microphone. I never heard her yell. I heard her lay the proverbial smack down on kids when they needed it, but even her scariest voice was quiet. She advocated for the very best education for the students of William Penn High School, which sadly no longer exists. She fought fights for kids with her words and showed them they were worthy of being treated well, and she showed up for them as parents when their own could not. And when first year teachers, like me, fell apart in the classroom or after school after receiving their first negative teacher evaluation reading, “Ms. Ehrman, you do not have control of your classroom” (honestly, no surprise at the time) and knowing that kind of feedback is not actually helpful to those of us just trying to survive, she would hug us, and hold us, and whisper, “Baby, you are going to be just fine. Tomorrow is another day,” like a mama bird pushing us from the nest but making sure we didn’t totally trash our wings on the way down, knowing that one day, we would figure this teaching gig out, eventually.
Malala. I want to meet her. I want to shake her hand. I want to hug her and ask her to speak to our students, and to my children. Her life from the very beginning is an incredible story. Two summers ago, we read I am Malala, as one of our texts for Girls of Summer, a Lin-Wood School summer enrichment program where we hike, read, and write our way through the White Mountains FOR FUN. It’s not all about empowering young women, although that is important. Talking about the conflicts Malala battled in the Swat Valley of her home in Pakistan reminds us daily about the challenges that still remain for women and girls on an international scale. Listening to her assimilate to life in England, speaking to leaders like President Obama and Hilary Clinton, and urging President Jonathan of Nigeria to do more to bring those 200 high school girls whom who had been kidnapped, and completing homework as a “regular” high school student confounds me. Malala models how extraordinary we each can be with effort; she even shows us how by writing: “One child, one teacher, one book, and one pen can change the world.” Here’s to the power of education. Thank you, Malala, and men and women everywhere who make education for ALL children more accessible. This is not just a problem for women; this is a very real struggle for our sense of humanity.