Coming from a middle class family living in a suburban town in a developed country, there are probably a lot of things I take for granted. Many of which I probably don’t even realize. I never had to worry about food, clothing, or transportation, and most importantly I have never felt unsafe because of my gender, race, or values in the town in which I grew up or in the towns that surrounded me. But the one thing I certainly know I have taken for granted is my education.
By now, it’s no secret that about three weeks ago over 200 Nigerian schoolgirls were kidnapped from the Chibok Government Girls Secondary School by an Islamist group called Boko Haram, simply just for going to school. The group is now selling these girls into slavery or as “wives.” Boko Haram actually means “Western education is sinful.” These girls did absolutely nothing wrong on April 14th, the day their school was attacked and they were taken as hostages and transported to a remote forest outside of Cameroon. They were simply just trying to get an education- they weren’t asking for a miracle, they weren’t expecting the impossible. They just wanted to learn, which is apparently a “sinful” concept to some.
Living in the United States, schooling for me was always a given. You have preschool, kindergarten, elementary school, middle school, and then high school. Our public schooling system makes education accessible to everyone despite gender, race, or religion. In the public school system in which I attended, college was also pretty much a given. I never felt like continuing my education onto college was an option, rather more like a requirement. I know very few people who didn’t continue onto college after high school, whether it was part-time, full-time, one town over, or across the country. There are very few times that I think twice about my college degree. Don’t get me wrong, I know that I am very fortunate to have had the college experience, to have a Bachelor’s Degree to my name. Looking back, I feel overcome with joy and happiness. I made some awesome friends, attended many thrilling classes (some not so thrilling), and created many life lasting memories. But at the same time that lack of personal acknowledgement, that sense of feeling like college was a requirement rather than a privilege, makes me sad and a little less incompetent.
Incompetent? A little strange, yes. But how could I not feel that way? There are so many young girls and women out there who are constantly restricted. Restricted on what they can wear, who they can marry, what job they can hold if any, or what they can believe in. And here I am, a 20-something year old woman in my career of choice, married to the man I chose, with a college degree, and a house of my own. What do I really know about life? About struggling? About challenges? About being told I can’t do something? About being restricted? Let me answer that for you- absolutely nothing. And despite all my years of schooling, I couldn’t even begin to pretend I understand.
So, I won’t pretend. I absolutely cannot wrap my “educated” brain around what is happening in Nigeria right now. I especially could not begin to fathom the lack of importance some people put on an education. Ojonwa Miachi, an education activist in Nigeria, recalls remarks she remembers hearing from some of her extended family members, “We don’t need to spend much on their education, they’re just going to go off and get married.” Of course, having an education is not a prerequisite for marriage but what does that have to do with anything? An education is a priceless commodity. Wait, education? A commodity? Unfortunately, that’s exactly what it has become. Education is not a given, it’s not a requirement, nor should it be privilege. Education is not accessible to everyone, but it very damn well should be.
An education is not about how much Shakespeare you have read, how much calculus you understand, or if you can recall the dates of World War I. It’s about the ability to think. The ability to formulate your own opinion. It’s about the ability to acknowledge that everyone doesn’t have the same opinion as you do. That many times, there is more than one right answer to every problem. It’s about knowing that everyone’s life should be equally valued, regardless of gender, race, religion, or morals. Most importantly, it’s about having the chance to become your own person. To shape your future into the life you want. If you end up being a housewife- great. If you end up being a doctor- great. But that ability to think, to comprehend, to formulate is priceless. It’s a skill that every single one of us should possess. Therefore, each and every one of us should have an education. Each and every one of us needs an education.
I may not be able to completely understand what is happening in Nigeria. And I certainly do not agree with it. But what I do know is this: violation of human and women rights is a very real thing. We may want to shut our eyes and turn our heads because yes, it’s horrific. But that doesn’t change a thing. It’s still there. It’s still happening. No matter how perfect your own life is, no matter how easy you have it, no matter how few obstacles your life entails- oppression is still there. To not acknowledge it is ignorance. To not talk about it is ignorance. To not accept it’s existence is ignorance. But to not educate yourself and your loved ones- your friends,family, neighbors, and even complete strangers- is the worse ignorance of all. I can promise you this, our darkest days will arrive the second we stop learning.
We are all entitled to an education based on the simple fact that we are all human. As Miachi said herself, “We can’t keep quiet or sit back or think, ‘You could lose your life.’ Because we want to ensure the rights of human beings and women and girls are not violated.” To me, that’s a truly educated woman.
So, please bring back our girls and let’s all get educated.