In 2010, The Guardian reported that "girls are far less likely to attend school than boys in many of the world's poorest countries. ... In Malawi, of those that (enroll), 22.3 percent of boys complete primary compared (with) 13.8 percent of girls. In rural Burkina Faso, 61 percent of girls are married by the age of 18 and over 85 percent never get to see the inside of a secondary school."
Last week, Malala presented U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon with a petition signed by some 4 million people. It's an appeal for leaders everywhere to ensure that the 57 million children around the world who do not attend schools are provided a safe and clear path to be educated by funding new teachers, schools and books, as well as ending child labor, marriage and trafficking.
Malala is a wiser warrior than any extremist leader. She knows that the Taliban are afraid of educated women because they know that women's freedom would mean their loss of control and demise. They fear that women will know the truth and the truth will set them free.
In her own words, she said: "The extremists were and they are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. ... We realized the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns."
Jefferson would have concurred with Malala about the power of education. In his 1818 report for the University of Virginia -- which he founded -- he asked: "What but education has advanced us beyond the condition of our indigenous neighbors? And what chains them to their present state of barbarism and wretchedness but a bigoted veneration for the supposed superlative wisdom of their fathers and the preposterous idea that they are to look backward for better things, and not forward, longing, as it should seem, to return to the days of eating acorns and roots, rather than indulge in the degeneracies of civilization?"
He wrote the same year, "If the condition of man is to be progressively ameliorated, as we fondly hope and believe, education is to be the chief instrument in effecting it."
As the 16-year-old Pakistani warrior told the U.N., "let us pick up our books and our pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world. Education is the only solution."
At the very least, maybe it's time for global powers -- especially the U.S. -- to relearn the wisdom of Malala and Jefferson: Freedom and democracy are spread and embedded more by the weapons of books and pens than they are by the weapons of warfare.
In Part 2, I will answer: Is today's U.S. public education system what Jefferson envisioned? And when does education slide down the slippery slope to indoctrination and even bully academics?
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