Monday, June 6, 2011

Having it Easy

"You kids have it so easy these days. Back in my days, we used to have to walk to school, up the hill, down the hill, in the cold, in the rain, in sleet, with no shoes..."

A lot of us have heard this old chestnut and it always makes us smile to think of how our grandparents would chide us when we claim that life is tough. Older people are always quick to remind us of the hardships that they endured and all the luxuries that we consider standard that they never had. But it looks like a school in the Philippines puts us all to shame, grandpa and grandma included, as a Facebook campaign raised money to buy a boat so that the children no longer have to swim to school. That's right: swim. Holding their books over their heads, arriving to school soaking wet with no change of clothes.

That probably even beats out sleet.

The story of the dirt poor village in the Philippines which still believes in the importance of education despite poverty, dilapidated buildings and congested schoolrooms really makes you stop and think. While kids in North America are being driven to school or are taking buses, looking glassy eyed and bored to even be at school, there are kids in the world who are willing to swim to their classrooms because education may be the only way out of a poverty stricken existence.

So little value is put on education in North America. Perhaps it's because lack of education is not necessarily a barrier to success; many uneducated people have been able to make great careers in entertainment or even gain political office. As well, education for the sake of education, meaning the love of learning, is often seen as nerdy by teenage peers or snobby by adult ones.

In Europe, a well-educated person is seen as cultured, mature and intelligent, but there doesn't appear to be the same level of appreciation in North America. Take, for example, the public's perception of Michael Ignatieff, former Liberal Party Leader. He was seen by many as being too 'academic.' Being worldly, recognized and published by several reputable printing presses is apparently not what the average Canadian wants to vote for. Sound bites about the average Canadian family and tax cuts are much more effective with the general public.

But this just highlights how much people have lost their respect for education. It's not seen as the way to overcome social barriers and advance in today's society through merit and hard work; probably because merit and hard work are no longer used to measure success. Blatant nepotism and office politics have seen to that. It's not what you know, it's who you know, after all.

Basic education may be seen as a right in North America, but it should be seen as what it is for poorer countries: a privilege. A chance to make a better life for yourself and to learn because it improves the mind, rather than your chances of not getting grounded for bringing home a D. People shouldn't bask in their ignorance, as more and more people appear to be doing. 'Book learning' doesn't harm you. Homework doesn't kill you. And academic is not a dirty word.

And be happy you don't have to swim to get to school, holding your books over your head.

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