Malala Yousafzai: Parents, this is a teen bedtime story opportunity

Malala Yousafzai's US book tour drives home the power of education and in doing so reveals just how privileged Western children really are. Maybe we need to reinstitute bedtime stories for our teens and talk about this one tonight, together.  

Jessica Rinaldi/AP/File
Malala Yousafzai addresses students and faculty after receiving the 2013 Peter J. Gomes Humanitarian Award at Harvard University in Cambridge, Mass., Sept. 27.

In the West our kids get snow days, while in Pakistan schools must close due to Taliban terrorism, Malala Yousafzai, the 16-year-old girl shot in the head by the Taliban for speaking out for girls’ to be allowed to go to school in Pakistan, makes this situation more tangible for American parents as she tours the US promoting her book with the message “education is the power terrorists fear most.”

That message should concern parents as education systems in the West fail under freedom’s flag. SAT scores continue decline; 57 percent of incoming freshmen not ready for college, the AP reported earlier this month. Here in Norfolk, Virginia 33 of our 45 schools, 78 percentage, have failed to make full accreditation this year due to abysmal standardized test scores.

This is something I am passionate about not only because my kids’ schools here are failing, but because I have a friend, a woman, who runs a large school in Pakistan. I won’t name her, the city, or school for safety reasons.

We met five years ago when she contacted me about permission to use a peace fable I’d written to combat terrorism, “The Mouse and the Light” as a project with her students. They were turning it into the school play after reading it on MidEastWeb where it was posted by a fan in English, Arabic, and other languages spoken in the Middle East.

We became friends and she’s kept me in the Facebook loop as she struggles to keep her students from being snatched by Taliban forces looking for little soldiers as they try and make their way to the classroom.

Over the years her students have written letters to mine detailing their love of learning. I think their passion for education began with their parents and teachers, but was intensified by all the days their school had to close due to terrorism.

Malala’s story has given me a clear picture of what my friend has had to live with as an educator.

"Exactly 12 months ago, Malala Yousafzai was in the back of an open truck on the way home from school when a Taliban gunman asked for her by name and shot her in the head," according to The Telegraph of London.

Malala is the youngest ever to be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize, for her efforts to bring attention to the struggle for women's rights in her homeland.

This week she was on "The Daily Show" with Jon Stewart talking about the fact that the experience has not stopped her from spreading the word globally that the way to fight terrorism is not with violence but with education.

Most stories about Malala take time to lament failing education systems, poor standardized test scores, and student apathy and compare this young girl's dedication with learning to her often lackluster counterparts in other nations' classrooms.

The Telegraph in London ran the headline, "Malala Yousafzai's desire to learn shames our schools."

Malala assuaged our parental guilt by telling "The Daily Show’s" Jon Stewart, “We are human beings and this is the part of our human nature that we don’t appreciate the importance of anything until it is snatched from our hand.”

The teen is touring the United States to promote her new autobiography, "I am Malala."  

“In Pakistan when we were stopped from going to school, at that time, I realized that education is very important and education is the power for women. And that’s why the terrorists are afraid of education. They don’t want women to get education because then women will become more powerful,” Malala told Mr. Stewart.

I want to take a moment to praise both Malala's father, Ziauddin Yousafza for instilling the value of education in his daughter and all the struggling educators in Pakistan and other areas where the Taliban hampers education.

Malala told the BBC about how the Taliban changed education in her valley, “In the month of January 2009, they said that no girl is allowed to go to school. And at that time I said, ‘Why should we be silent? Why don’t we speak up for our rights? Why don’t we tell the world what is happening in Swat.’ And I did not want Swat to be a next Afghanistan.”

As parents and educators we read all this and are left wondering if there is a way to motivate students that doesn’t involve being on the Taliban hit list.

Malala’s story is a powerful one. Maybe we need to reinstitute bedtime stories for our teens and talk about this one tonight, together.

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