There are many in the world without the opportunity for an education due to living in regions where government is compromised, for example, by unstable militant group or based on laws which to Americans, seem unreasonably antiquated. With the recent abduction of 276 innocent Nigerian school girls fresh in our minds, it is a reminder that it can be dangerous for children to seek western secondary education especially in areas where terrorist Islamic groups like Boko Haram exist. The ploy of making education forbidden is certainly not revolutionary although it is still shocking to Americans to realize that this practice exists in modern day. Predating written history, groups have successfully suppressed by intellectual domination for self-serving purposes and with little regard for those in submission.
Recently, an eighteen year old student, John, from Irvington, NJ, whom I’ve been acquainted with through a mentoring program, proudly informed me that he’d been accepted to Albright University in Pennsylvania for the fall semester. This news for John is life-changing. He was brought to the United States when he was fourteen, from his native Kenya, in the hopes that he would have a better education and future. He told me about the political clashes of 2007 that left 100,000 dead and separated many families. His family was one of the families that got separated. Despite the fact that his family was then without a home, he was able to go to a boarding school and for him, he says it was “a turning point in his life.” From then on, John said “I really wanted to learn.” He is candid in admitting that had he not been in the boarding school, likely his life may have been marked by crime in order to survive. Coming to the United States would guarantee further education past primary school, something not guaranteed in Kenya
When I was the same age as John, I clearly remember my father, a man who doggedly pursued a doctorate following his WW II military service, sternly telling me “Things can be taken from you in life. You can lose your health. You can lose your freedoms. But one thing that no one can ever take from you is your knowledge.” He is a big advocator of both men and women obtaining as much education as possible, having learned through history to be wise to the unexpected, and often illogical, ways of the world.
It is our individual obligations as adults to help children in this country realize that they are being given a gift with access to a free and safe education. An interesting observation that John has made about American public education is that, in general, students “don’t work up to their potential. They have a lot of opportunity but do not take advantage of it.” It often takes a wake-up call such as a traumatic event, just like the kidnapping of the Nigerian school children, to realize how fortunate we all are. Perhaps, in our own way and in honor of all 276 children, we could pledge to learn something new, to teach others, and to be more informed about world events.