Malala Yousafzai

Knowledge is Power

On October 12th 2012 15 year old Malala Yousafzai, returning home from school, boarded a bus with her schoolmates in the Swat Valley in North West Pakistan. A man stepped forward, and asked which girl was Malala. He then shot her three times. The Taliban were letting it be known that they would not tolerate education for girls under any circumstances. And Malala had been one of their most powerful critics.

Miraculously, Malala survived the attack, and amongst many other accolades has gone on to be nominated as one of the 100 World`s Most Influential People (Time magazine), to be awarded an honorary doctorate from the University of King`s College in Halifax, Nova Scotia, and in 2014 became the youngest ever Nobel Prize laureate when she was announced as co-recipient of the Peace Prize for her struggles to promote the rights of all children to an education.

Not bad for a girl who is still only 17.

So why IS education so important that some people are willing to die for it? What is it about this thing that we in the free world take for granted that makes it so important?

We all know the statistics – that college educated individuals earn more money over a lifetime, that a college degree is still an economically sound path, that college degree holders have more opportunities, better prospects, are more upwardly mobile than their lesser educated counterparts. And all that is wonderful if you are purely motivated by money.

There is also of course the prestige of attending an Ivy League University, and the subsequent doors that will hopefully open for you on graduation, although even Anderson Cooper himself wryly commented on the struggle he initially had trying to get into a broadcasting career, even with his pedigree and a Yale education.

On the other hand, there is rarely a disillusioned potential college dropout who, at one time or another, hasn’t held up the examples of Bill Gates or Steve Jobs as part of their rationale for crashing out of the world of education altogether, oftentimes to the dismay of their parents whose own education may not have given them the tools to craft a reasoned enough argument to come back with!

So money and prestige aside, why do we bother? Why do we strive for an education at all?

My 8 year old asked me the other day, “Mom, when can we stop studying? When don`t we have to go to school anymore? Is it like, after 6th grade? Or 8th grade?”

I looked up from my second language textbooks I was grabbing a chance to pour over for an hour in between the school run and starting dinner, and fixed him with a rueful smile. “How can I put this, buddy?!”

Of course, we can choose to throw our hats in the air and walk out the gates for the last time. And many do. But what a shame, in many ways, to give up just when we`re getting started? More and more research is coming to light in recent years indicating the benefits of continuing education way beyond your school and college years and even through professional development. The brain is being presented as a muscle that needs continuous work to avoid atrophy. Early data is suggesting conditions such as Alzheimers may be warded off in the future by continuing to work your brain well into your later years. So what better a time to start the habit of a lifetime than in childhood?

It may be that you want to improve further on a subject that you are either struggling with, or are particularly interested in, (or even both!) at school or college. Or it may be something not even available in your particular school or college. I have the great privilege right now of being asked to tutor two “tween” girls who are fascinated by all things Japanese, something they can`t currently study in school. They are applying themselves with immense enthusiasm, and I am thrilled for them that their horizons are expanding so rapidly in ways they had only dreamed of until now.

When people return from near death experiences, their message isn`t one of striving to get into the best possible college so you can earn lots of money. Their message is often that we are here to learn. That knowledge is the one thing we can take with us as we go. The one thing that can never be taken away from us. The one investment with a guaranteed return.

This is where the benefit lies of having a personal tutor who can take you further along the path than you could make it alone, guide you over the inevitable rocky parts, or take your hand and leap with you on to an entirely different path and show you the way forwards, leading you to previously unconsidered opportunities and experiences.

And then there are the other side effects of studying to consider – improved self esteem that comes from achieving all you are able. Distraction from temptations that could lead young adults into less healthy or worthwhile pursuits. It is well known in Japan that relatively speaking juvenile crime is incredibly low. It is also well known that Japanese juveniles are some of the busiest kids on the planet, studying and applying themselves to sports and hobbies from dawn till long after nightfall. Building good study habits while young can set a precedent for your whole life with continuing professional and / or personal education.

It was Sir Francis Bacon, the Elizabethan English author, philosopher and scientist (among other credentials) who coined the expression “Knowledge Is Power”. I hope I am setting an example for my son that the answer to his question is: learning never does stop. The more I learn, the more I want to learn. In our country and culture, we are beyond blessed with the means to do just that. And an army of professional, educated experts in their field in the form of tutors stand ready to assist, guide, and encourage us on our way.