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The Value of Education

September 22, 2017

Another Way for week of September 23, 2017

The Value of Education

School’s been back in session for most children for over a month now, and families and teachers are settling into the fall routine. Most of us had some excellent, favorite teachers as we went through school (thinking here particularly of elementary through

Typical valley classroom; photo by Melodie Davis

high school). My hat is off to all of those great teachers, and they are far the majority. Then there are those who because of lack of training or career suitability, or perhaps a personal crisis, fail their students and themselves. They usually also lack the ability to control a classroom—and thus have no way to really teach anything, other than how not to be a teacher.

My second grade teacher was that kind of teacher. I hadn’t thought about her in years. But a description of a teacher in a book I am reading suddenly brought Mrs. S. vividly and sadly to my mind: “She begged for attention, but no one gave it to her. ‘Listen to me!’ she screamed. … her screams proved useless as she still was unable to gain the attention of a single child” 

Kaffir Boy: An Autobiography--The True Story of a Black Youth's Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa

In the book by Mark Mathabane, Kaffir Boy (which I also mentioned briefly last week), beatings for misbehavior—or not wearing a uniform or not paying school fees—were common in that country and time. Mark’s very young and inexperienced teacher completely lost composure and began beating the small children in a chaotically crowded classroom. How horrible, and wrong.

School was at the time not compulsory, just as many children around the world today are living in countries or communities where either families can’t afford it, no school is available, or girls—especially—are not permitted to go. However, Mark’s mother worked very hard to not only get the proper paperwork for him completed, but to talk her son into the value of an education when other boys his age were already running wild, living on the streets (ages 7-8) all day. Her eloquent speech as written down many years later by her son went something like this:

“Though our lot isn’t any better today, an education will get you a decent job. If you can read and write you’ll be better off than those of us who can’t. Take my situation: I can’t find a job because I don’t have papers, and I can’t get papers because white people mainly want to register people who can read and write. But I want things to be different for you, child. I want you to go to school, because I believe that an education is the key you need to open up a new world and a new life for yourself. It is the only key that can do that, and only those who seek it earnestly and perseveringly will get anywhere in the white man’s world. Education will open doors where none seem to exist. It will make people talk to you, listen to you and help you; people who otherwise wouldn’t bother. It will make you soar, like a bird lifting up into the endless blue sky, and leave poverty, hunger and suffering behind. It’ll teach you to learn to embrace what’s good and shun what’s bad and evil. … That’s why I want you to go to school, child, so that education can do all that, and more, for you” (from Kaffir Boy: The True Story of a Black Youth’s Coming of Age in Apartheid South Africa, by Mark Mathabane, Free Press, p. 138).

Here in North America, we take these things for granted, don’t we? A free education is available to all and in many cases, even the public schools have excellent programs, teachers and facilities. Shamefully, too often in our inner cities children experience the kind of second rate and failing classrooms young Mark experienced. But following his mother’s counsel, he graduated college and today has written numerous books after studying journalism and moving to the U.S. His book is reawakening in me an appreciation for the education I was given—both in classrooms and at home, through travel, my work, and learning to know different kinds of people. I also have new joy that our church was able to help start an academy for young children in the very township in South Africa where young Mark began his education.

If your children hate school or struggle or are in a questionable classroom situation, their education and future is worth your involvement. Not helicopter parents completing their homework, heaven forbid, but reminding kids that doors will certainly shut for those who drop out early or don’t understand how important true learning is. A thirst for knowledge begins at home. Education happens in and out of the classroom.


I’d love to hear your stories of great or bad teachers and how you or your family coped. Send to Another Way Media, Box 363, Singers Glen, Va. 22850 or

Another Way is a column by Melodie Davis, in syndication since 1987. Another Way columns are posted at a week after newspaper publication.

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