I believe in education. As someone who grew up in a family where education was respected, prized and encouraged, I trust in the power of knowledge in all its many forms. No one type of education should be privileged above another but if a child is given a good grounding in the basics and is encouraged to ask questions, to be curious about things both familiar and strange, she or he will grow to be an adult who seeks to understand the unknown before making judgments or readily accepting the prejudices of others.
Recently, my university campus experienced an uncomfortable week. Some students at an off-campus party supposedly celebrating the life of Martin Luther King Jr. engaged in behavior that mocked negative stereotypes of African Americans and they posted pictures of the party on a social networking site frequented by students. Within days, not only was the campus community aware of what had happened, the national media had picked it up and the event brought more attention to the university than we could have anticipated. Many students did not and still do not understand why anyone found this event objectionable. These are not evil people, they are ignorant people who, despite their presence on a university campus, have not received the education that would have given them the skills to recognize prejudice and uncivil behavior, to stop it before it started. As one member of the university community, it is my job to try to educate these and other students about prejudice and how to appreciate the richness of the cultures that surround us, but I can’t achieve this on my own. The entire community needs to pull together to eradicate ignorance and embrace knowledge.
I believe that if we truly educate our citizens about the honest, incredible history of our nation and how that history belongs to all of us, not just one group or another, and teach them how to treat each other with civility and interest, to ask those questions and to pursue any interests that arise, we will have a nation of citizens who will not assume that members of one race are superior to another or that any Middle Easterner is necessarily a potential terrorist; they will not assume that people of different religious views can’t possibly share any opinions or that all gay men pose a threat to all children; they will not assume that a person’s political views determine who that person is or that it’s someone else’s job to take care of the environment. It is our duty as adults to ensure our children will grow up to be responsible for their actions and their thoughts. An education does not only come from years in various classrooms, it comes from home life, the media, exposure to different cultures, travel, work, reading, food, holiday celebrations. All of these are learning environments and present teachable moments from time to time and we can take advantage of those moments to teach our children constantly. I know that what I am saying sounds like a fantasy, like an unattainable goal in a world where so many children are illiterate and are raised in communities where finding the next meal is necessarily more important than finding a book to read, but I think that if we, as a nation, can come to a consensus that educating our children means more than just passing a few tests and we find ways to feed the children’s bodies as we feed their minds, then I believe we can have a nation of which we can be proud.
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