It's so simple to be wise.  Just think of something stupid to say, and then don't say it.     Sam Levenson (1911-1980)

Saturday, January 17, 2009

The Price of an Education

This year Elder P began fourth grade in a new school.  While the dress code of her previous school (grades 1-3) permitted girls to attend school wearing trousers, her current school requires skirts. 

Over the summer Elder P received a lovely tunic that reaches mid-thigh, which she always wears with trousers.  I figured it was only a matter of time before she was told not to wear it to school, and I had even warned her, but left it up to her to continue wearing it or not.  

Last Thursday evening, right before bedtime (why do these things always come up right before bedtime?), Elder Princeski mentioned that her teacher had pulled her aside for The Conversation.  The tunic isn't long enough;  you need to wear something longer.  I was surprised it had taken this long.

* * * * *

Flashback.  Earlier in that same evening, Elder P and I are snuggled side-by-side on the sofa, huddling over my MacBook, reading aloud this article from the NY Times.
Afghan Schoolgirls Undeterred by Attack

KANDAHAR, Afghanistan — One morning two months ago, Shamsia Husseini and her sister were walking through the muddy streets to the local girls school when a man pulled alongside them on a motorcycle and posed what seemed like an ordinary question.

“Are you going to school?”

Then the man pulled Shamsia’s burqa from her head and sprayed her face with burning acid...

I first read the whole article to myself, then hesitated.  Should I share this with my daughter? Shamsia is 17 years old, the age of Elder P's Bnei Akiva madricha (youth group counselor).   Other, much younger girls were attacked as well, along with teachers --fourteen women and girls in all.   It's nearly always a dilemma for me;  How do we educate our kids, especially our girls, without tearing down their (mis)perception that the world -- their world -- is a mostly-safe place? 

I decided to begin by showing her the accompanying slide show, which pictures the girls studying, playing and walking around the Mirwais School for Girls.  In the photos, Shamsia's scars are visible but not overwhelming. Then we went over the article, which exudes optimism.  Reporter Dexter Filkins writes that since the attack, all but a few girls have returned to school, that their parents are eager for them to go, and that the girls experience their school as a haven.  I was struck by the way that Shamsia and her family seem acutely aware of what is at stake, for themselves and their society.
“My parents told me to keep coming to school even if I am killed,” said Shamsia, 17, in a moment after class. Shamsia’s mother, like nearly all of the adult women in the area, is unable to read or write. “The people who did this to me don’t want women to be educated. They want us to be stupid things...

“The people who did this,” she said, “do not feel the pain of others.”
After reading the article, Elder P and I reviewed some of the ideas mentioned.  I tried to explain the concept of the Taliban and their agenda.  I was curious what Elder P had absorbed from our reading and accompanying conversation, so I asked what she thought about the article, and why, in her opinion, the girls had been attacked.  
It's sad. They [the Taliban] don't want the girls to lead.  They don't want them to go to school.  They want [the girls] to stay at home and not learn how to be in charge.
Sounds like she got the gist of it.

* * * * *

To the teacher's credit, Elder P was not at all upset about the skirt-length conversation, and she breezily accepted the dress code requirement.  I was relieved that she had been pulled her aside, and not embarrassed in front of her class. During the first parent-teacher conference of the year, this teacher told us that she emphasizes interpersonal relations and positive midot (personality traits) in her teaching, and I felt that her approach toward my daughter only supported this.

I don't wish to exaggerate, or find connections that don't exist;  even so, I couldn't help but feel the irony that evening.  The Taliban know that to control their society, they have to control the women of their society, by limiting how they dress, where they go, and what they learn.  The families there understand and oppose the Taliban's hurtful agenda.  The understand that modesty does not equal ignorance.

My daughter loves to read -- in two languages.  She loves math.  She's learning how to do an internet search, and how to write a book report.  For now, her curriculum and that of the boys in her grade (who learn in separate classrooms within the same school) is pretty much identical.  In a few short years, it won't be.  The boys will continue to study Talmud for several additional hours a week, while the girls will not.  If my daughter does well enough in school, she'll be able to go on to study anything she likes --  medicine, law, teaching, science, computers. Unlike Shamsia.

Keep the balance,



Anonymous said...

Interesting perspective. I've always found dresscode hard to accet though. However I spent a year in England when I was 17 and had to comply to the rules.

RivkA with a capital A said...

Ahhh, the dress code issue. So much to say....

therapydoc said...

I've always felt that if we emphasize the beauty,they'll keep at it and make up their own minds. But it's the human condition to crave order, and if that means conforming, we'll do, individuality be d____. I tell the kids it's not choosing to accept or reject a skirt length, it's accepting the narrow-mindedness that will really be hard in the end.

Jewish taliban. Still scares me.

A Living Nadneyda said...

I agree, this is a tough one, and the lines are really not clear to me. How far do we go -- and there are places, not far from our moshav, that come to mind -- before the rules appear to limit women in mind, body and soul? I want to continue thinking about this issue... for a later post.