I’ve been reading Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide. It was a beautiful, wonderful, awful book, that I read as fast as I could so I could get it over with and give my brain a break from the images of forced prostitution and maternal mortality and systematic rape. And female genital mutilation and 10-year-olds marrying and countless fetuses aborted because they were female. I didn’t leave it lying around the house because no child should read its contents. But I couldn’t stop turning the pages, although the stories made me weepy and nauseous. The stories of redemption are powerful enough to compensate.
While reading Half the Sky, I was also reading about a first world problem: our broken public school system. In America today, trendspotters like Seth Godin and Penelope Trunk are saying that increasingly schools are factories that provide babysitting so parents can go to work and get a break from their kids. Many stateside schools are not doing well. And more and more parents are pulling their kids out, and managing their children’s educations themselves–at home. But if you want to improve the plight of impoverished girls in the developing world, you send girls to school. You subsidize their uniforms. You feed them lunch. You might even pay their parents for their good attendance or high test scores. Keeping girls in school longer does good things for the girls–and for their communities.
I was struck by the irony. In America where I live, “ineffective” is an adjective that’s preceding the word “schools” with increasing frequency. But for poor girls in the developing world, schools mean literacy, vaccinations, a later age of marriage, a lowered birthrate, a reduced chance of contracting AIDS, and perhaps–an emergence from poverty. The issues involved are complicated, no doubt, but the potential for change is real.
And I’m surprised at the common difficulty of getting a good education, no matter which side of the world you live on. Too often, a good education is a privilege reserved for the rich, and almost impossible to get if you’re poor.
Readers, what’s your take on the American school system? What adjectives would you use to describe it? What are your thoughts on schools in the developing world? Post thoughts to comments.