Nonfiction in response to Quality Education
April 2018
By Ilana Arougheti
CC Image Courtesy of Fredrik Rubensson

Within the wider goal of improving education worldwide, it is imperative that literacy reads as an essential first priority.

 

The primary function of education is to help people successfully navigate and contribute to society. Most things that one learns in school depend on being able to interact with the information you are learning through the read word, to formalize and capture your understanding through the written word. My grandmother loves to tell the story of how at the age of three, I went to visit my mother and newborn brother at the hospital and shocked all the nurses by reading out loud from passing patients’ charts. Every single one of my younger cousins had an impressive shelf of board books by the time they were old enough to hold one. The American Academy of Pediatrics estimates that a child should have learned how to read by age seven at least. One could say that the 57 million children still not enrolled in school worldwide, the 750 million adults still illiterate worldwide, haven’t been quite so lucky. But it goes deeper than that – illiteracy is not misfortune, but deprivation. And for the sake of the global community at large, ensuring literacy for every last person must become a top objective for anyone with the power to implement such a program at any level.

 

Words are the key to all people, everywhere, understanding each other. What would have happened if we had never been linked by the Rosetta Stone, had never written a loved one a letter or marked down the scientific concepts and mathematical formulas behind engines and medication and stars? What would have happened to humankind’s best stories if they had never made it beyond oral tradition? What does it say about us if we can dread these prospects in our own lives but tolerate them in the lives of unknown others? It has been said that it is impossible to hate someone whose story you know. It has also been said that novels can expose you to thousands of new worlds. Our worldview should not be limited to the scope of our experience, our minds should be nurtured on what the thoughts and experiences of others can teach us. This is an essential form of empowerment, dependent on the written word and bordering on natural right.

 

While we’re on the subject of rights, history has already shown us that where literacy lacks, oppression flourishes. Plantation owners in the 19th-century American South prohibited their slaves from reading, because they feared that a literate slave would learn their rights and revolt. Certain governments around the world keep their constituents under control by restricting google searches.

 

Without the power to harness words, people will lack the ability to inspire social change. Written communication is necessary in keeping pertinent issues in the forefront of international attention, as the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School are learning right now. It is the backbone of the speeches that motivate everyday people to fight for what they believe in; think about Martin Luther King’s famous “I Have A Dream” speech, think about the first reading of the Declaration of Independence, think about the beseechings of Nelson Mandela that once rang out from a 1964 Pretoria courtroom. There are children in underdeveloped parts of the world who are doing incredible things just to get to school every day: hiking dangerous passageways, weathering hours of transportation, even taking the bullets of oppressors. These young minds have already shown a commitment to education. It would be an incredible misfortune to curtail their progress and potential by neglecting to ensure that literacy could be included in their hard-won arsenals, fostering self-empowerment, curiosity, and communication skills.

 

I am a journalist. I am a writer, a thinker, and sometimes when I feel hopeless I sit back and tell myself that as long as I retain the ability to put pen to paper and create, I can still better myself, can still change the world. The idea that any person, of any age or circumstance but especially in youth, untapped and unjaded, still lacks this opportunity is almost inconceivably painful.

 

Our children simply must all be taught to read and write. Communication, learning, inquiry, permanency of thought, should not be a battle to obtain, should not be restricted to the patrician or the modern or the able even if such a restriction lacks malice.

 

For the sake of every word, hope or thought that deserves as much of a chance to be read or written as mine, I call on every world government, humanitarian organization and individual community to prioritize the spread of literacy. It is a program that could open the door to so much positive growth, and it deserves to be at the top of any agenda which seeks to improve the lives of those impacted. Other important changes will follow.

 

Learning is lifelong, but only with a fair, literate start.

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