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Born in the US, raised on the Mediterranean island of Cyprus, lived in Italy, the US, and Canada. Lover of language, travel, colour, and the natural world.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Gems of inestimable value

Photo property of Ariana Salvo. May not be reproduced without permission.
"People don't rise from nothing. We do owe something to parentage and patronage. The people who stand before kings may look like they did it all by themselves. But in fact they are invariably the beneficiaries of hidden advantages and extraordinary opportunities and cultural legacies that allow them to learn and work hard and make sense of the world in ways others cannot ... Biologists often talk about the 'ecology' of an organism: the tallest oak in the forest is the tallest not just because it grew from the hardiest acorn; it is the tallest also because no other trees blocked its sunlight, the soil around it was deep and rich, no rabbit chewed through its bark as a sapling, and no lumberjack cut it down before it matured. We all know that successful people come from hardy seeds. But do we know enough about the sunlight that warmed them, the soil in which they put down roots, the rabbits and lumberjacks they were lucky enough to avoid?"

~ Malcolm Gladwell, Outliers: The Story of Success 
There are a few things I rarely do. One is use a quote that I read on someone else's blog on my own blog. The quote above I read this morning on my favourite blog, Chookooloonks, by Karen Walrond. I am sharing it here because I have been thinking about it all day. It resonates deeply with me. 
I have a friend who is living in Ghana with her three kids and her husband. She lives in a part of the world where she is surrounded by people who have had fewer resources and opportunities to build their lives on than she has. Over the last couple of months, a number of the neighbourhood children have started coming to her house and asking her to teach them. My friend at first thought that they just needed help with learning things that they were challenged by at school, but in the last week she has realized that these children, some of whom are eight and nine years old, are almost completely illiterate. She is angered by the fact that people in some areas of the world have so much, and these children living around her are not even being provided with basic literacy skills. As she says, she can help them to the best of her ability, but the need is much greater than just this group of children, and she cannot address the lack of educational or other resources available to the children on a larger scale. 
Yesterday we had two children's librarians sitting in our living room sipping tea. One of them told me all about her two sons, both of whom were privately educated through high school, and attended two of the highest ranked universities in the country. They worked very hard, and are doing very well for themselves, and needless to say, she is very proud of them. 
Listening to her speak, I wondered why we don't take personal pride in educating ALL our children. I recognize that we have a responsibility to educate our own children, but do we not have an equal responsibility to educate ALL children? 
The librarian told me that when she went to enroll her son in a public high school in one of the southern states of the U.S., she was told that at this particular school, out of 120 freshmen, only 40% actually graduate, and out of that 40%, only 20 go on to university. Consulting with her son later, she asked him what he thought about attending this school, and he said "if my friends don't go to college, why would I?" Good point. Why would he? So she enrolled him in a private high school that had a 100% graduation expectation rate, and he is now in college, after which he will undoubtedly contribute something unique and valuable to society. My question is: what about those kids in the public school? Why are we not concerned that the unique gifts that they have to contribute to society may never be manifested? 
The Baha'i writings say that we should "regard man as a mine rich in gems of inestimable value. Education can, alone, cause it to reveal its treasures, and enable mankind to benefit therefrom." How much capacity for progress across the globe are we neglecting by not supporting our children, and enabling them to get an education? 
It is a question that is heavy in my mind, friends, and one of the reasons that I am a Baha'i. I like the emphasis on the education of children -- ALL children -- and the training of teachers to teach children at the neighbourhood level, as well as within the formal school system. Nevertheless, I would like to read more in the newspaper about positive changes in our education policies. The bottom up needs to work with the top down to be effective on a large scale. I wonder how long it will take our governments to start recognizing that educating our children is the best investment in the economy that they can make? The world, just like the incredible spider web that I photographed on the farm last week, is all interconnected. There is no way that the children who are so in need of educational opportunities that they willingly and happily come to my friend's home in Africa, or the youth that drop out of high school in many areas of the United States due to low expectations are not impacting the global community and the potential for global progress. Each one of them has potential that is not being given a chance to grow and develop, and eventually contribute back to society in a manner that is entirely unique to that individual.
What are your thoughts on opportunity and access to education? I would love to hear your experiences, reflections and ideas about this important topic. 
I hope you have a wonderful Thursday, friends! See you here Friday.

1 comment:

  1. great post! humanity is just grappling with itself as a struggling, selfish youth as it tries to mature and fully embrace all of its members as significant, important and essential for its health and prosperity.

    it's very painful, though, when you break it down at the individual level and see souls without opportunity to become well-educated and who are deprived of knowledge despite their God-given capacity to be educated.

    i believe that societies which have a large # of uneducated people are full of leaders and individuals with wealth, power and/or privilege who have become consumed within themselves and do not appreciate or value the common person who is poor. it has always been that the poor people have been forced to work the farm or factory, who haven't had the money to afford a good school, who live in areas without good schools, good teachers, good supplies, good libraries, etc.

    since educational institutions, government policies, quality of land and access to resources have not been fairly created and distributed throughout most countries of the world, the masses of underprivileged people have continued to struggle, and the disparity is only widening because there isn't enough change in peoples' hearts to recognize that we are one human family, as diverse as the parts of the human body, all essential to the well-being of the entire organism.

    most of us feel unable to change the big systems that are in place, but the moment we engage in volunteering our time, knowledge and resources (and for some, becoming political and enabling laws to be enacted), it becomes incredibly possible to see how change can occur. it's just that there are not enough individuals arising to be of service in their local communities.

    one experience i've had was in a public school in Cape Town, out in a township where families live in cement block homes built on sand. it's hot and windy. there are no big businesses, no city design to access them to the highway. they are basically like prisoners, with very few resources. there are a few public schools but all are the lower level which means the school fees are less and they come with no frills. the school environment is one of harsh discipline (just like in Ghana, being beaten if you misbehave), low standard of achievement, and teachers and administrators who are most often unhappy and underpaid. students from our Baha'i school told us dozens of stories about how difficult it is to learn there: the roof leaks, the students steal things and then there is nothing to replace them, even lightbulbs in the ceiling, and they fear for their lives from bullying. i met with the principal of the school to discuss starting a program to help with illiteracy and he was very defensive -- as if there was no room for improvement with the children's level of learning.

    given this environment, i wish i could tell you how incredibly difficult it is for these kids to learn well. they come home and there is no food. most have to do a lot of work for their families. most have no extra writing paper, pencils, sharpeners, erasers, etc. everything is against them having a true learning experience. they do the minimum, and the school expects the minimum. some certainly do well, but it's not the norm and they are still way behind when they reach university.

    i'm now in Ghana. the public schools are free but are horrible. there are many Christian schools that charge a reasonable fee for poor families, but the masses attend public schools and are completely marginalized. they will be left behind in this ever-changing and advancing world of material advancements. what the world needs is for spiritual advancements to walk hand in hand with material civilization in order to bring about justice, universal education and the elimination of the extremes of wealth and poverty..