Starting a Conversation about Girls’ Education with Third Graders
Here at Firelight, in preparation for the second International Day of the Girl, we started collecting quotes from girls on why they think it’s important for girls to go to school. I immediately thought of my sweet and clever niece, Phoebe, who just turned eight, and wondered what she would say. So I wrote to my sister, Micki, and asked if she would be willing to get her daughter’s thoughts and share them with us. I gave her a bit of background on why I was asking and explained about International Day of the Girl. Micki wrote me back the same day with Phoebe’s response:
“Because everyone needs to learn. It doesn't matter if you are a boy or a girl. What's the difference? Then, you don't just have boys all day...you get to see what a girl does!”
I loved her comment, “you get to see what a girl does!” – because it’s so true that we’re all missing out when girls aren’t allowed in school.
But the best part was that I’d barely had time to thank her when Micki wrote me again to let me know that she had taken the conversation to Phoebe’s classroom. Her third grade teacher, Mrs. McGowan, was equally enthusiastic about bringing the conversation to her students. I loved how inspired they were by the question, so I asked her if she would share how it went. Here’s what Micki wrote back:
I had never heard of International Day of the Girl, but I was immediately inspired by it! Especially having a daughter of my own. So, thank you Evie for enlightening me!
When I talked to Phoebe about her thoughts on girls not being allowed to go to school, there was an obvious disconnect. She believes girls and boys are the same, equal in every way. It was really interesting to me, she had never considered an inequality. So, I had to explain that not all people feel that way. She continued to have trouble with that.
She started imagining this idea, and visualizing a classroom with all boys. She thought that the teachers, students and school were really missing out on what a girl does!
So, I thought, I bet more kids and more thinking about this issue would be very cool. I think that change begins with a conversation, just like you asked me to have with Phoebe. More conversations, more change!
Mrs. McGowan is a great teacher with a fierce appreciation for every kid’s individual gifts. I knew she would be excited too.
I started by asking the kids if they like going to school—resounding YES! Then I asked if they thought school was important—resounding YES! Then I told them that 31 million girls (that is the figured I heard on an interview with Malala Yousafzai) are not allowed to go to school. They were SHOCKED!!!
"That's so unfair!"
"But girls are the same as boys…"
"Everyone deserves to go to school."
"Why would you only pick boys?"
"Girls are great at school!"
And again and again—"But, boys and girls are equal!"
That was really the part they really couldn't understand.
So, I told them that the youngest Nobel Peace Prize nominee was a 16-year-old, who wants all girls to have an opportunity to be educated. This conversation is why the world is honoring her. She thinks girls should go to school, just like you do.
I told them, "You ALL think like a peace-prize nominee! Congratulations!" That made them smile.
So, we gave them their chance to tell the world why they believe girls should go to school. This is where some kids focused on external rewards of education; jobs, cars, money, etc. A bunch of kids focused on the specifics of how great school is; books, science, fun Fridays, jog-a-thon, field trips, prize tickets, recess, etc. Some kids really understood the depth of how crippling a lack of education would be: illiteracy, lack of community, poverty. A handful saw the future, if a mother is uneducated, how will she help educate her family? They understood that the problem would keep getting worse.
While all of the other kids set to work writing their responses, there was just one boy who continued to ask, "I still don't understand. Why would people do this to girls?" Mrs. McGowan and I were speechless. We both looked at each other a little lost. Finally, she said, "Well, not everyone see girls like we do. It's not the same in every country." He looked like he needed more, but we had nothing... that broke my heart. I wished I had a satisfactory answer for a third grader.
Ultimately, I felt that there was a great sense of hope in our conversation. The kids honestly felt that everyone should see how senseless and unfair it is to stop girls from going to school. In all of their hearts, there was disbelief. How could anyone not see the unlimited potential of a girl? That was truly inspiring!
Lastly, they wanted to know if their quotes would go to Africa, so the kids could see that they want them to go to school, all of them! It was really touching. They are very curious to know if real girls will know that they are on their side.
Special thanks to Micki Brown, a California working artist and mother of two, both for her contribution to this blog and for her enthusiasm in embracing and sharing International Day of the Girl.