Even the poorest children know education is the key

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By Phyllis McLaughlin


The News-Democrat

While the Carroll County Reads program is all wrapped up, I am still thinking about some of the issues the book, “Three Cups of Tea,” raised in my mind.

I picture these poorest of children living in mud-walled houses that are heated in the winter with dried yak dung.

Yes, yak dung.

The families have very little. For some, a good quilt is an heirloom to be handled with great care and brought out only for the most important company.

Greg Mortenson, founder of the Central Asia Institute, has traveled all over Pakistan and Afghanistan to build much-needed and coveted schools in far-away villages. Just to reach many of these remote places takes an incredible amount of grit and determination.

These people subsist on very little, living among the peaks of the tallest mountains in the world. For them, a meal with meat is a special occasion that may only come a couple times a year.

They don’t have bicycles, or rooms filled with toys. Most probably don’t have television and wouldn’t know what to do with an iPod or XBox if you handed them one. Would they even have an outlet to plug one into?

But the most striking thing about these children, for me, is their desire for education, a thirst for knowledge.

Even in those remote areas, where options are limited for children as they grow up, they know that education is the one thing that can help them out of poverty.

Mortenson’s first encounter with these children was near their village, on a flat rock where they all huddled together – without a building and without a teacher – practicing what they had been taught when the teacher last visited. Few had paper and writing implements, or even chalk boards. Some were doing math problems in the dirt, using sticks.

In our country, children scorn education. It is a burden to bear until that golden age of 18, for those who actually choose to graduate, or 16 for those who choose not to.

And college? Well, who wants that? Yes, many of our graduates do go to college, and I feel pride for those who take advantage of all that we have here.

Yet I’ve heard countless tales in the past six years of young people who have earned full-ride athletic scholarships but got homesick once they were away at school and dropped out.

Dropped out. And their parents let them. OK. Sometimes it’s hard to get a kid, especially an adult kid, to do what you know is best for them. But, still.

School can be a bore. But kids, let me tell you – work can be, too. Especially if you leave school – be it high school or college – and settle for jobs that don’t pay well, don’t have benefits and offer very little future. Those jobs, if you don’t love them, get old. Fast.

Even when you have a job you love, one that you went to college for, work can be tedious some days.

Life is just that way.

So, young people of Carroll County – as the new school year looms like dark clouds over the horizon of summer vacation, think about everything you have that others would die for.

You live in a country where it’s mandatory for you to go to school – for free. It may feel, at times, like a prison sentence, but there are many adults who would give anything to go back and do better, or even graduate.

Education is the key to a better life. Even the poorest of children in the world know that. I hope that you do, too.

Phyllis McLaughlin is editor of The News-Democrat.