Today is the 19th birthday of Malala Yousafzai, and we join millions and millions of people in wishing her a happy birthday and many happy returns. To celebrate her 16th birthday, Ban Ki-Moon, the Secretary General of the United Nations, designated July 12 “Malala Day” and she addressed that assembly with a now-iconic speech, asserting it was not her day but rather the "day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised a voice for their rights." (Malala, quoted in Bai).
"Hey, Bill's crying." I nodded quietly as the student reading her poem looked over at me and then continued.
The Humanities 7 class had just finished reading Part Four of I Am Malala and I had been at something of a loss for how to run the discussion. It's a short, painful section that begins immediately after the Taliban shot her for her advocacy of Western values (such as girls' education) and continues through her hopitalization in Pakistan to her being airlifted to England. I arrived in class prepared with several ideas for how to handle it, but it was only at the moment of truth that I decided to ask the students to write a poem in reaction to the section, telling them they would read their poem to the class but would not need to share it with me electronically. They set immediately to work, and eventually it was down to two students waiting for the last line of their poems to come to them. The others were already working independently on other things while waiting, so I could hope these students would not feel the pressure to stop before they genuinely felt ready.
“Education is a power for women.”
- Malala Yousafzai
“This question is hard!” a student good-naturedly pointed out to me. “You always ask such broad questions.” “Of course it’s hard,” I said. “I want you all to think, to think deeply, to - how do I put this? - learn things.” I gave her my “Call me crazy” shrug and she turned back to her discussion partner to figure out “What is a girl?”
"A good friend of mine who used to be Head of School here," I began, "used to say, 'The right thing is easy to do.'" I segued to a description of a 7th grader, the day's recipient of the "Shining Star" award, who found the courage to go up to an adult who was smoking outside our gym, someone she didn't know, and tell that person we were a non-smoking campus. A friend of hers who was proud of her had originally told me of the moment, something which this girl readily acknowledged she had done but which she also felt was no big deal. From my perspective, of course, finding the courage at the age of 12 to go up to an unfamiliar adult and let them know they are breaking school rules is a big deal. The right thing to do, absolutely. But easy?
Filed Under: Middle School, gender, All-Girls, The Girls School Advantage, On Education, Bill Ivey, Gay-Straight Alliance, community, Acceptance, diversity, Feminism, In the Classroom, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Malala Yousafzai, girls' school, racism, Education
The subject header, "Read if you are so inclined," telegraphed that the student who had sent this "All School" email had something important on her mind. She wrote, "Below is a link to a New York Times article. I believe that is important to keep track of what happens outside of our SBS community, and this article in particular moved me beyond words. Reading it I found myself analyzing my role as a student and as a woman growing up in western society." She was referring to an article by Declan Walsh about the Taliban attack on Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani activist who had won her country's peace prize a year ago for her advocacy of girls' education. According to the article, the Taliban put her on an assassination list last spring for "openly propagating [Western Culture]," calling her human rights campaigning an "obscenity" and vowing to return and finish the job if she survives. (Walsh) As I write, reports are mixed, some stating she will be okay and that the bullet did not pass through her brain, others stating that she will need to be flown out of the country to receive complicated surgery if she is to live.