Growing up in America, white, middle-class, and able to read easily, I liked school. Certainly, there were days I didn’t want to go: If I had a test I hadn’t prepared for or I had done something childish/stupid/mean the day before and was afraid of the consequences. But really I had it very, very easy. I recognize my privilege now because I’ve learned how very difficult it is for some children.
If I had dyslexia, school would have been hell. It’s probably a little better now — now that learning disabilities can be spotted. But the stigma is still there, kids absorb it, and our schools are strongly skewed to reading and verbal skills. My 1960’s elementary school class had reading groups segregated by Red Birds, Blue Birds, and Yellow Birds. All of us knew the Yellow Birds were the weakest readers, especially those Yellow Bird kids. Anyone who isn’t a strong reader and still makes it through to graduate high school has done a Herculean task.
School can be a safe place if home isn’t. School can be a few hours of adult caring, available food, warmth, and clean bathrooms when home doesn’t have that. But school can be harsh and cruel, too. My age group called it “getting picked on.” Now it’s labeled bullying or harassment. Same thing, whether it is another student or a teacher that does it. I was not a victim, and I search my memory to see if I was the perpetrator for anyone.
Completing school is certainly a Hero’s Journey for many girls around the world. Only 66% of countries have gender parity for girls’ education. It’s pretty easy arithmetic. Line up ten girls from around the world, and four of them are excluded from the power of learning. Do that exclusion counting until we have 62 million girls who will never get educated.
I know how fortunate and valuable my education has been. Because of that, even though I personally do not have any children, I usually vote yes for school bonds in my community. Good schools are a reliable indicator of a solid community. Room to Read is my favorite charity and literacy tutoring is my volunteer activity. I want to help give everyone the choices that education provides. It’s my way of Returning to the Village with the Magic, the ending stage of my Hero’s Journey.