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Break over, now back to school

During the spring break for our schools came the news of our First Lady Michelle Obama’s trip to Japan and Cambodia in the cause of the Let Girls Learn U.S.-Japan initiative.

I read up on the program, pleased by what has led to its birthing. What I learned made up for my great disappointment when the worm was found in the rotten core of the once-popular book touting girls’ education overseas, Greg Mortensen’s “Three Cups of Tea.”

As a woman, I have come to realize that when I was born I already had two strikes against me: one, being born a girl; two, being brought up in a family of hybrid cultural mix, often dealing with polarities in balancing between European good manners, Scots bravado, British “stiff upper lip” attitudes and criticality, Asian cultural ways, and then, American forthrightness.

On the plus side, there are, of course, more strikes for me than against me in my particular setting. I always knew I could expect to attend school, or learn, even if immediate circumstances (such as war) prevented school attendance.

I also absorbed the idea, from a tender age, that there was much to be learned, much to discover — and enjoy.

As spring break ends, this, no doubt, is why it doesn’t just irritate but truly vexes me to hear young people — especially our Kauai girls —speak about their disinterest in returning to their (boring) school classrooms.

I felt this a while back when I read student quotes in this paper to the effect that they were “bummed” to learn that their school week was once again being restored to normal.

That was when the state budget shortfall supposedly required Hawaii public schools to short our kids one day of school instruction out of five.

I was appalled by that move, and relieved to see the return of the school “week” for our students. This would at least give them a chance at education and a better life, too.

By chance, it was my luck to be born to a mother who was trained as a teacher (also, a born teacher) and a father who valued higher learning. It happens that my grandfather was a respected teacher and principal, my aunt and uncles also became teachers and professors.

I wasn’t surprised when one of my children became a science teacher, while the other three taught in their chosen lines, whether it was about computers in business, flora and fauna as a naturalist, or fresh and sea water environmental concerns.

As a writer, I’ve come to understand that learning and teaching go hand in hand. Anyone who teaches anything at all to another person must be a student of that subject at one time, and master it enough to be able to successfully convey the subject, technique or special knowledge.

Beyond that, a passion for the subject makes the difference between the ho-hums and the wow-let’s-learn reaction engendered.

I saw that passion in my teacher husband, now retired, who not only cared about what he taught of life, its marvels and miracles, in the biology classroom for over 35 years, but also genuinely liked his students.

His approach to educating was not based on the idea of stuffing young heads with facts and figures, but based on the meaning of the word, education, from its Latin root. “Educare” means to lead out, or stimulate the wish or desire to learn. This, then, is the real aim of education, to make learning a lifelong desire and passion.

How does one wake up a young person who does not understand what a difference this makes in life?

The experts have answered this in many ways, but it usually comes back to the planting of desire for learning, and the excitement about personal best in the way of knowledge and proficiency — and enjoyment — gained, and how that translates to the champagne bubbles in individual lives.

Maybe we should make Malala’s Yousafi’s story (“I Am Malala”) required reading for our pre-teens.

This life story hammers home the bravery of a Pashtun girl in speaking out for education for girls in a culture that seeks to keep girls barefoot and in the home, totally reliant on their husbands.

Malala was shot point-blank for her courage, terribly injured and gave up sight in one eye — while it could well have been her life — in order to attend school and speak out for her schoolmates.

Malala, the youngest recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize (2014) will speak in Denver, Colorado, this June. I am hoping to be there to cheer her on. Her book is available in our public libraries.

I liked the audio book version of it because she spoke the introduction. Hearing her voice as it prepared me for the story that quite shockingly unfolds served to make it more real to me.

As to Mrs. Obama’s involvement with Let Girls Learn, I will quote you our U.S. First Lady’s words directly off the Internet:

“While the focus of this work is international, Let Girls Learn is also about inspiring young people here at home to commit to their education. Through Let Girls Learn, I want girls — and boys — here in the U.S. to learn about the challenges girls worldwide face in getting an education. I want them to understand that even though their own school might be far from perfect — and my husband is working hard to change that — they still have a responsibility to show up every day and learn as much as they can. And I want them to connect with other young people from every background and nationality, particularly young women who set such a powerful example.

“These girls walk miles each day to school, study for hours each night, and stand strong against those who say they are unworthy of an education. If they are prepared to make those sacrifices, the global community should be able to summon the resources to help them fulfill their promise and the promise of their families, communities and countries.”

Let us think more along these lines, and encourage our daughters and sons, also, to consider them well.

With the help of the Peace Corps carrying out the programs in developing nations, Let Girls Learn may be the springboard toward the world peace we always hold in mind as a beacon.

As Mrs. Obama reminds us, “National security experts have even noted that educating women can be a powerful tool to fight extremism, violence and instability.”


Dawn Fraser Kawahara, author and poet, regularly instructs on the topics of history and Hawaiian culture for visitors to Kauai through Hawaii Pacific University’s “Road Scholar” program through Pacific Islands Institute. The writer is completing her second memoir, based on the Burma of pre- and post-World War II times, toward Burmese independence. She continues as owner/principal of DAWN Enterprises–TropicBird Press and TropicBird Weddings & Celebrations-Kauai.


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