Through Peace, Through Dialogue, Through Education

“Education is a power for women.”
Malala Yousafzai

“This question is hard!” a student good-naturedly pointed out to me. “You always ask such broad questions.” “Of course it’s hard,” I said. “I want you all to think, to think deeply, to – how do I put this? – learn things.” I gave her my “Call me crazy” shrug and she turned back to her discussion partner to figure out “What is a girl?”

As we were discussing everyone’s answers to the question, Mia asked, “What is ‘feminine?’” Everyone laughed, and several students jumped to try to look it up on their iPads. “Nope,” I said, halting them. “Dictionaries don’t always tell the whole story. It’s a really important question, and we’ll come back to it when we’ve finished with the main line of thought in the discussion.” About five minutes later, I wrote “Traditional ideas of feminine” and “Our ideas of feminine” on two panels of the white board. Olivia transcribed the students’ thoughts on traditional ideas, and Siobhan transcribed the girls’ original thoughts. Traditional ideas included “how to be proper,” “stay-at-home wife,” “long hair” and “meek and obedient,” among others. Asked to determine what threads ran through these ideas, the students came up with “keep contained,” “be ruled over,” “ideal (not reality),” “how you look,” “no voice,” and “housewife (specific role).” They noted that with every single trait listed, outside forces were trying to control and judge women.

Their ideas on ‘feminine” could not have contrasted more: powerful, strong, confident, being who you are, persistent, independent, awesome, rising… The connecting threads between these ideas which the students identified included positive, actions, having a voice, empowerment, breaking ties/breaking chains/freeing. With every single trait listed, they noted, girls and women were in control of their identities and their lives.

We held this discussion on Wednesday, October 9, coincidentally one year to the day after Malala Yousafzai was shot by the Taliban on her way to school for having advocated for girls’ education. Also on the anniversary of the shooting, the Taliban renewed threats to kill her if she continues to remain outspoken on the policies and practices in Pakistan. Yet, Malala, frequently seen as one of the leading candidates for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize (which would make her, at 16, the youngest recipient ever), remains firm in her convictions: “I will be a politician in my future,” she said. “I want to change the future of my country, and I want to make education compulsory.” (Craig and Mehsud)

So as we celebrate the International Day of the Girl on October 11, reflecting on Malala’s courageous example of my students’ feminine ideal, I leave you with her words when Jon Stewart asked her if she had been afraid the Taliban would target her:
I started thinking about it, and I started thinking the Talib would come and he would just kill me. But then I said, if he comes, what would you do, Malala? Then I would reply to myself, Malala, just take a shoe and hit him. But then I said, if you hit a Talib with your shoe, then there would be no difference between you and the Talib. You must not treat others with cruelty and that much harshly. You must fight others but through peace, and through dialogue, and through education.
For those interested in learning more, Malala has released her memoir, I Am Malala: The Girl Who Stood Up For Education and Was Shot by the Taliban.


Filed under Current Events, Gender, In the Classroom, Stoneleigh-Burnham Middle School, Women in media

23 responses to “Through Peace, Through Dialogue, Through Education

  1. I nominated this young lady as a person of guts. I would not throw a shoe for I do not like to go barefooted but I would arm myself. One potato, two potato, mash the Taliban.

  2. I think it’s fantastic you urge your students to really learn, to look and think for themselves.

    It seems in American education more and more students are taught that any real thinking or conclusions have already been made by the “Great Minds” and that their job now is to accept those “Great Thoughts” and memorize them but not, not, not to think their own thoughts or that maybe even their own opinion may have some value.

    Every opinion and view has value and the ability to think for yourself is one of the most important abilities there is. Thank you for sharing this.

  3. This girl’s very existence is an act of rebellion against the Taliban. It’s people like her who change the world.
    Malala has become the beacon for female education all around the third world.
    God Bless Her.

  4. Amazing story, people like Malala are what this generation needs to continue and thrive! I created a blog about people who change the world: Answer some of the questions on there and lets start a discussion. Visit:

  5. 1createblogs

    Very well written post.

  6. Very empowering words@ Education is a power for women..I could get far too deep on this topic! So I won’t..Instead I’ll just add; AMEN..And many thanks for sharing this with all of us..*round of applause* for your creative & insightful teaching style..2 thumbs UP. I’ve got to re-blog this!

  7. Reblogged this on Berna's Vibe~The Way I See IT and commented:
    “Education is a power for women.”..Quote by Malala Yousafzai..This is a must-read for ALL..The message is one I believe in strongly & this young woman “gets” it. 4ever Sincere, Berna(the 1 & Only)

  8. I think of two things when I hear this and yes it is great to be a peaceful person but there is one intrinsic truth, the perp would kill her. So she is to stand there? And even if she did strike him with a shoe, well we saw George W. Bush sidestep the two shoes and you know the offender is only going to be more enraged and judging by the way things go there, well I wouldn’t be betting on Mia or Malala. Right?

  9. Pingback: Freshly Riffed 52: Love And Depression, Among Other Things | A VERY STRANGE PLACE

  10. I think she’s amazing, and I think that it’s really wonderful that you’ve addressed these issues with your class and provided a space for them to discuss these things. Well done! 🙂

  11. What a wonderful question to set your students to ponder – now THAT’S how to teach/learn:-) Congrats on the Freshly Pressed – well deserved.

  12. Awesome, can we see any more posts soon?

  13. congrats on being freshly pressed

  14. thespiritualrebel

    Fabulous post, Malala is an inspiration, when my niece bemoans having to go to school, I recount her bravery to her, tell her of the struggle for some girls to get an education in other parts of the world. It’s not lost on her, she often asks follow up questions about why education is important, why in some places are women not to be educated, what is the difference between boys and girls that boys are allowed an education whilst girls deprived? (I paraphrase for clarity). Answering these questions honestly and without terrorising her of different cultural views and instilling an anti-male view in her is difficult at times, she is not the type of child who would be fobbed off and I am not the type of aunt to do the fobbing. I explain that some cultures see men as the primary bread winners and compare that to how we in the western world used to view things in a similar way. Eventually exhausted from the constant questioner I drop her at school, tell her I love her and prepare for the continued discussion on the walk home and her final question is always the same will they (the other cultures) change and what’s for tea?

  15. I so wish I had you as a teacher growing up. I was raised in rural Texas and most of my teachers were male coaches who read straight from the textbook and didn’t care one bit about critical thinking. I remember thinking, around 14 I think, that there had to be more to education than blindly reading whatever who ever wrote the book wanted us to believe. I started researching topics I was interested in, and I started to understand myself in a whole new way. I love that role models like Malala exist for my future children to look to.

  16. Hello, I think your blog miight be havingg browser compatibility issues.
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  17. G.T. Chow

    Nice… I’m becoming a teacher soon and I believe as much the power of education. I will do my best! Thanks for sharing =)

  18. I had a professor in college who asked questions like this. They were asked as an open ended, no right answer and generated great class discussions. It is nice to see the views that other classmates have. Especially since we all were from different backgrounds.
    Thanks for a great post.

  19. Sounds like real learning was accomplished in your classroom. This is not something that can be packaged as a core standard and then tested using standardized methods. Thanks for encouraging your students to think outside the box.

  20. Pingback: #WriteMyCommunity (National Day on Writing 2014) | View from the Nest

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