The Fayette Tribune, Oak Hill, W.Va.

November 19, 2012

Why education matters for America

Paul’s Corner

By Paul Lee

— “I know the importance of education, because my pens and my books were taken from me by force. In January 2009, the Taliban restricted my education and told girls they weren’t allowed to go to school anymore. This was the worst point in my life. But the girls of Swat aren’t afraid of anyone. We continued our education. We decided that we would go to school with our books hidden under shawls.”

This was an inspirational speech delivered by Malala Yousafzai, a 14-year-old Pakistani girl who is now recovering after being shot by the anti-intellectual Taliban. She was severely wounded in 2012, the second decade of the 21st century. We may be in the 2000s — a century with bionic limbs, jet fighters, flexible guns, and medical breakthroughs — but not every nook and cranny of Earth is civilized.

The Taliban, a terrorist organization founded in 1991, does not support female education. Its philosophy is that girls should remain illiterate. As a result, some Middle Eastern regions are met with a three percent female literacy rate. This is pathetic, and a serious threat to Mideast civilization.

The irony is that Baghdad (Iraq’s largest city) used to be a major center for knowledge. It was here that lost works by Aristotle and other ancient Greeks were translated, preserved, and transmitted to the Christian West. The city is now re-civilizing. Thankfully, after 2001, the Taliban’s stronghold on Afghanistan was destroyed. Wanting to avoid a civil war and NATO intervention, the terrorists are apparently on the run. But their threat to educated nations has not disappeared.

We need to learn about the rest of the world. Looking at different cultures can both tame our arrogance and increase our appreciation for what we have. In America, everybody who wants one receives a free high school education. But many people do not appreciate this fact. The United States comes in number 25 in mathematics. In addition, Asia is beating American schools in all core subjects. In January 2012, West Virginia ranked last in school reform and student performance (including the District of Columbia, making the state 51st in education).

If you are female, imagine having to fight to become knowledgeable. Imagine risking your life just to sit in a classroom with “pens and books.”

If you are male, contemplate knowing that your daughter would have to risk her life to learn, to save herself from ignorance; to experience the pleasures of classical works like “1984,” an Orwellian novel about the horrors of dictatorships; or to explore the wonders of science. We are fortunate, but so many remain unappreciative.

The story of the heroine Malala Yousafzai has the power to form clouds and rain inspiration down upon students and humanity as a whole. Her story has filled the hearts of thousands. She vows to continue fighting to gain textbook knowledge.

If a recovering girl can make such a pledge, can’t we at least encourage students to not merely attend school, but to stay motivated in the classrooms? Education is not properly emphasized in America, especially in West Virginia; however, it is a necessity in the competitive world. I hope that Yousafzai’s story will continue to remind us how significant education is in a world still affected by barbarism.

(Lee, a resident of Hilltop, is a senior at Fayetteville High School.)