These wise words regarding the power of education are not the musings of an ancient philosopher, nor the wisdom of a tenured professor, but rather the simple words of a young girl – quite a remarkable girl at that.
Her name is Malala Yousafzai. The words were spoken earlier this month at a specially convened Youth Assembly in the United Nations. In attendance were nearly 1,000 young students from around the world who gathered to celebrate this young girl’s personal victory over the Taliban who had put a bullet through her skull for the crime of being female and seeking an education. The Taliban called her efforts pro-Western and feared she might set an example for other women.
Malala emigrated to England, where doctors mended parts of her skull with a titanium plate. She succeeded in signing nearly 4 million people to a petition in support of 57 million children who are not able to go to school and demanded that world leaders fund new teachers, schools, and books. Malala presented the UN Secretary-General with the petition on a day designated as ‘Malala Day’ at the United Nations.
At the assembly, Malala spoke eloquently of her ordeal. “They thought that the bullet would silence us. But they failed. And out of that silence came thousands of voices. The terrorists thought they would change my aims and stop my ambitions, but nothing changed in my life except this: weakness, fear, and hopelessness died. Strength, power, and courage was born.”
With words that should inspire students and motivate every great teacher, she concluded, “Let us pick up our books and pens. They are our most powerful weapons. One child, one teacher, one pen, and one book can change the world.”
Inspiring words indeed. As August rolls around and thoughts return to the classroom, I thought it appropriate to remind us all just how incredibly important teachers’ jobs are. As Malala – and the Taliban, for that matter – understood, one teacher can change the world. The tools that teachers possess, books and pens, are truly the most powerful of weapons.
However, as Spiderman1 has taught us, with great power comes great responsibility. When one possesses such powerful weapons, one must be extremely careful to ensure they are used correctly. If a great teacher can change the world for the better, what damage might be caused by a poor teacher? If an idea implanted in the mind of a student can impact millions, how could one possibly compensate for a mind that is left unchallenged or for uninspired teachers who fail to awaken and stimulate their students’ intellect?
The above questions should deeply concern us. It should urge all educators to aspire toward teaching excellence. The Taliban realize what is at stake. They are willing to murder to stop what we do every day. They will stop at nothing to defeat the forces of enlightenment and withhold the power of education. Our commitment should match theirs: One teacher, one student, change the world.
1 O.K., Uncle Ben