This summer’s All-School-Read, I am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up for Education and was Shot by the Taliban, documents young life of Malala Yousafzai in Pakistan’s Swat Valley and her emergence as perhaps the world’s most powerful advocate for girls’ education. In 2013, just 16 years old, Malala became the youngest ever nominee for a Nobel Peace Prize; she has been nominated again in 2014. The book is simultaneously an engaging study of rural Pakistani culture, a critique of the politics and theology of the Taliban, and an inspiring account of personal courage and conviction. Under threat of persecution and personal harm, Malala campaigned stubbornly for her own right to an education and for the rights of others. “I raise up my voice,” she says, “not so I can shout but so that those without a voice can be heard...we cannot succeed when half of us are held back.”
At Middlesex in the Fall, we will pick up a number of themes from the text, specifically the value of an education – for young women around the world, also for each of our students. We will invite our students to express themselves the value of an education in writing and in art. We will think additionally about human rights in general: the minimal conditions for human thriving and the responsibilities we bear each for each other in our own community and around the world. We will find time to explore religion and politics and to educate our students about Islamic Fundamentalism and its distinction from Islam more generally. And we will work as a community to identify some manner by which we can support girls’ education in the world.
As I proposed to this year’s students at a recent Wednesday Chapel, this year’s ASR has been made more timely by the kidnapping of several hundred girls from a school in northeast Nigeria by the militant group, Boko Haram. By their own admission, the group is distressed by the power of informed, thoughtful, self-possessed women. Boko Haram is threatened by grammar books and literacy, by the solidarity of classmates, by dreams indulged in moments of distraction, and by the confidence one gains in understanding an idea, by finding words to express oneself. An education transforms each individual; and it will transform whole communities and cultures. I hope it might transform us to see how hard fought education is for some elsewhere in the world, that we might realize, as Malala tells us, that “education is a precious gift. It is like a diamond.”
- Cabell King, Brooke Chair in Ethics and Spirituality