When I was an adolescent and pre-teen, my limited wardrobe consisted mainly of patched jeans and rock concert t-shirts, and because I went to public schools, that’s what I wore. Although I didn’t mind (and probably preferred it at the time), I’ve always been smitten with the look of school uniforms: perfectly pleated plaid skirts, crisp white collared shirts, neat cardigans and loafers to tie it all together. So when I bought this black and white schoolgirl skirt at a thrift store recently, I began to reflect on education and how lucky we in this country are to have access to schools.
I know our country’s school system is far from perfect. Not all teachers and schools are created equal, and not all families emphasize the importance of education the way they should. But we don’t have to fight for access the way others have and continue to do. Being shot in the head by a Taliban gunman only strengthened Malala Yousafzai’s resolve to fight for girls’ education. Here in the U.S., we’re not breaking some backward cultural norm by sending our daughters to school, and our public schools are safe (as safe as anywhere else these days), open and free to all.
Education, especially for women, is critical for independence. Education raises you up. An education opens doors, giving you opportunities you wouldn’t otherwise have had. It opens your mind and challenges your beliefs. Best of all, whatever you learn and accomplish will forever be yours.
To my mind, this philosophy applies not just to a college education, but also to a vocational one. Plumbers and nurses are as critical to our society as journalists and teachers, and you will always own the knowledge and skill you acquire from a vocational education.
When my two girls were young, I encouraged them to value education because no one could take that away from them. Whenever we drove past a university, I’d point it out as an option. They were witness to the nine years it took me to get my bachelor’s degree, going to classes on evenings and weekends because I was working full time, and they heard me deliver the student graduation speech at my commencement. When they were in high school, we visited numerous colleges, and both of them eventually enrolled. In the end, one finished and the other didn’t. Still, hope springs eternal.
American Education Week is Nov. 13-17, 2017. I think I’ll donate to a book drive and volunteer to speak to a class about what it took for me to get my education and build my career. Will you join me by doing something similar? As Margaret Fuller once said, “If you have knowledge, let others light their candles in it.”