Veteran educator turned consultant Peter Huidekoper, Jr., finds inspiration in the story of a Pakistani girls’ education activist, and relevance for teenagers in Denver.
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. gave a great speech 50 years ago that we honor and cherish.
Sixteen-year old Malala Yousafzai gave a great speech this summer that – in the same spirit as “I Have a Dream” – can motivate and inspire. Especially teenage girls like her.
If I were teaching high school this fall, I would love to spend class time asking students to read, discuss, and write about both speeches.
For sophomore and junior girls who are Malala’s age, her words will have a special power.
Martin and Malala: Both victims of assassination attempts. Both courageous. Both remarkably able to find hope—and, by their example, to give us hope.
Thank God Malala survived the attempt on her life. Her family took her to England for emergency care, and for her safety. Recovered, now back in school—at the Birmingham Edgbaston High School for Girls—she continues to speak out for the right of all girls to have an education.
As she did on July 12, 2013, her 16th birthday, at the United Nations, addressing nearly 1,000 young leaders at its first Youth Assembly. The U.N. declared it “Malala Day.”
Dear brothers and sisters, do remember one thing. Malala Day is not my day. Today is the day of every woman, every boy and every girl who have raised their voice for their rights. There are hundreds of human rights activists and social workers who are not only speaking for human rights, but who are struggling to achieve their goals of education, peace and equality. Thousands of people have been killed by the terrorists and millions have been injured. I am just one of them.
So here I stand … one girl among many.
I speak – not for myself, but for all girls and boys.
I raise up my voice – not so that I can shout, but so that those without a voice can be heard….
Through tutoring with College Track in Aurora, I have been lucky to come to know a number of students at Rangeview High School. More than half of the students who commit to the five hours a week at College Track, after school, are girls. One struggled last year as a freshman—at times, receiving several D’s—but when I saw her last week she was beaming. Mid-progress grades had just come out. “I have a 3.0!” I recalled her frustration and tears during ninth grade; here she was, so happy. “I know now I didn’t really care that much last year. But I do now. I’m really trying.”
Visit a session of College Track between 2:45 and 7:00 p.m. You will see 40 to 50 students –most of the time—really trying.
Dear Friends, on the 9th of October 2012, the Taliban shot me on the left side of my forehead. They shot my friends too. They thought that the bullets would silence us. But they failed. And then, out of that silence came, thousands of voices. The terrorists thought that they would change our aims and stop our ambitions but nothing changed in my life except this: Weakness, fear and hopelessness died. Strength, power and courage was born. I am the same Malala. My ambitions are the same. My hopes are the same. My dreams are the same.
If we could bottle up ambition and motivation and pass it out, we would. But it comes from within. Wanting to learn, wanting to achieve. Wanting to make the most of these high school years. Malala shows us that desire. It is a thrill to see some of that desire in other 16-year-old girls, here in Colorado.
Dear sisters and brothers, we realise the importance of light when we see darkness. We realise the importance of our voice when we are silenced. In the same way, when we were in Swat, the north of Pakistan, we realised the importance of pens and books when we saw the guns.
The wise saying, “The pen is mightier than sword” was true. The extremists are afraid of books and pens. The power of education frightens them. They are afraid of women. The power of the voice of women frightens them. And that is why they killed 14 innocent medical students in the recent attack in Quetta. And that is why they killed many female teachers and polio workers in Khyber Pukhtoon Khwa and FATA. That is why they are blasting schools every day. Because they were and they are afraid of change, afraid of the equality that we will bring into our society.
Equality. The focus for MLK—and for Malala. And a key goal for College Track.
College Track’s vision states: “In this country, there exists a persistent gap between the academic achievements of low income, predominantly African American and Latino students and their high income, white peers. … If we don’t focus on getting these students graduated from high school, with a clear pathway to higher education, this gap will widen, leaving historically underserved communities in worse shape than they are now.”
Dear sisters and brothers, now it’s time to speak up….
We call upon all governments to ensure free compulsory education for every child all over the world….
We call upon the developed nations to support the expansion of educational opportunities for girls in the developing world….
We call upon all communities to be tolerant – to reject prejudice based on cast, creed, sect, religion or gender. To ensure freedom and equality for women so that they can flourish. We cannot all succeed when half of us are held back.
We call upon our sisters around the world to be brave – to embrace the strength within themselves and realise their full potential.
I often leave sessions with these high school students at College Track knocked out by “the content of their character,” to borrow a phrase. Determined. Kind. Humble. A number are immigrants, including Anicette, who grew up in the Ivory Coast; Diana, from the Ukraine; and Efrata, born in Ethiopia, who was recently featured in CT’s community newsletter. Effie states:
Coming to America was an amazing thing, and I am just so thankful I have so many opportunities now that I am here. I think the fact that I know that I could have not come to America makes me grittier. I also have an ambition to have success in my life thanks to my parents pushing me to become that way. I thought they were being really strict when I was younger but now I am glad they were.
I have known Effie for two years; I suspect she would have made the most of her high school years without College Track. Perhaps true for more than a dozen of CT’s students, for whom motivation—and family and peer support—are not issues. But this is not the case for all.
And the odds still seem stacked against them. Aurora Public Schools has among the lowest on-time graduation rates in Colorado—below 50 percent (48 percent in 2012). The most recent data (for 2011 graduates) tells us that of those who then enroll in college, more than half (52.3 percent) require remediation classes.
College Track seeks to radically change those outcomes. The program’s national office reports: “100 percent of our seniors graduate from high school, more than 90 percent are admitted to a four-year university, and 75 percent of our college students are currently enrolled, or have graduated from, college (whereas, nationally, the college graduation rate of low-income students is 22 percent.)
Malala would be cheering on our students—her peers.
Dear brothers and sisters, we want schools and education for every child’s bright future. We will continue our journey to our destination of peace and education for everyone. No one can stop us. We will speak for our rights and we will bring change through our voice. We must believe in the power and the strength of our words. Our words can change the world.
Because we are all together, united for the cause of education. And if we want to achieve our goal, then let us empower ourselves with the weapon of knowledge and let us shield ourselves with unity and togetherness.
Dear brothers and sisters, we must not forget that millions of people are suffering from poverty, injustice and ignorance. We must not forget that millions of children are out of schools. We must not forget that our sisters and brothers are waiting for a bright peaceful future.
So let us wage a global struggle against illiteracy, poverty and terrorism and let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons.
One child, one teacher, one pen and one book can change the world.
Education is the only solution. Education first.
About our First Person series:
First Person is where Chalkbeat features personal essays by educators, students, parents, and others trying to improve public education. Read our submission guidelines here.