Saturday, January 16, 2010

A little education is a dangerous thing

At work, I've been reading about women and development, and particularly about women's experiences in Jamaica. At home, I recently finished Miriam's Song by Mark Mathabane, the story of the author's sister growing up in South Africa during apartheid. I noticed a theme in all of my reading: the importance of education. In both Jamaica and South Africa, young girls go to school despite poverty and sexual and physical insecurity. Around the world, studies that show that in homes where women manage the household income, the children eat better. And it's easier to be in charge, and to provide for your family when you have an education. So, I was planning, at the end of last week, to sit down and write a blog post about the importance of education in general, and educating girls in specific.

But before I got a chance to write that post, I came across an article talking about how Americans have turned the term the "educated class" into a dirty word. Apparently, "educated" people are out of touch with "real" people. And this rhetoric proves that a little education is, indeed, a dangerous thing. Nelson Mandela spent decades in prison, but continued to study throughout, because he knew that his country would need educated people to lead it when the liberation struggle was over. Teaching slaves to read in the American South was forbidden, because the more educated they were, the harder they would be to control. This was the same idea behind the inferior "Bantu Education" that Miriam and Mark Mathabane were subject to in South Africa. Across time, and around the world, people, quite literally, have been willing to die for the right to learn.

But in the United States, where lower education is universal, anyone who continues on to higher learning (I am assuming the "educated class" refers to university-educated) is vilified. And this position shows a total lack of awareness of how privileged Americans are to have education. It's like voter's apathy - only a society that is as sure of its democracy as ours here in Canada, or the U.S., could have the kind of low turn-outs at the polls that we have. Saying that the problem with people that you don't agree with is that they're "educated" doesn't only miss the fact that "education" makes a person more able to think critically and expand her worldview, but it undermines, and shows a total lack of awareness for, the struggles of people around the world to improve their lives through education.