Malala Yousafzai is my idol! In 2012, I taught at a high school with over 150 students in my choral program. When radicals attempted to snuff out the life of a 15 year old girl trying to get an education in Pakistan, I was shocked and ready to activate my students into Malala’s plight. I had 300 buttons made with the words “Ask Me About Malala!” Those students were tasked to wear and share with at least five people about the attempted murder of a Pakistani teenager who only sought to attend school. In about three days, all 1200 of our student body were made aware of Malala’s devotion to education, which almost caused her death.

At the age of 17, Malala Yousafzai went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize. She is the youngest to ever receive this international recognition. Why speak of her now? She allowed nothing to get in her way to receive an education. As students, parents, and educators prepare for this ominous school year of Covid, economic downfall and riots, a determination to educate our children must take precedence in our conversations. It is paramount to stop the “we can’t send kids to school” or “virtual learning is impossible” discourse which is occupying most American households and educational agendas.

What dialogue should take place between parents and educators? Perhaps borrowing from Malala: COVID CANNOT STOP US. WE WILL EDUCATE OUR CHILDREN, IF IT IS IN THE HOME, SCHOOL OR ANYPLACE. Simplistic? Utopian? Impractical?

No! This is America. But our country is mired in politics, fear mongering and a virus which continues to baffle. We put men on the moon, cured polio, fought for our freedom and the freedom of others in major wars. What happened to the “can do” spirit of this great republic? Let’s try this for a change:

  1. Speak in front of our children about the new frontier of receiving an education. If children are “in person” learning, approach the new sanitized classroom with creativity instead of dread. If virtual learning is the model, talk of teacher support and finding new ways of learning. If the hybrid version is in place, discuss how valuable in school and virtual learning can effect the safety and well-being of all.
  2. Stop the impulse to bury someone’s diverse opinions about our educational challenges with insults and thereby squelching what could be productive dialogues.
  3. Replace opining about the “impossible” situation of our children, teachers and educational platforms with positive language. I would challenge all parent and teachers to join together on a social media platform and share creative ideas to get through the next weeks and months.

Perhaps we need to make thousands of buttons with the statement, “Ask Me About Malala!!” to remind our nation about the importance of receiving an education. If Malala fought against tremendous odds, then we can make this work! It’s time our country decides, collectively, to achieve the best education possible for our children: at home, at school or anyplace!

Paula Baack is a retired teacher of 46 years. Her book “Rescue the Teacher, Save the Child!” is available on Amazon and Barnes & Noble. Ms. Baack is available for Zoom workshops for parents and educators. Contact: rescuetheteacher@yahoo.com.

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