Education Opinion

What We Can Learn From Malala

By Pedro Noguera — January 08, 2013 3 min read

Happy 2013 Deb,

I hope you had a restful holiday. I’ve been thinking about Malala Yousafzai, the 15-year-old girl from Pakistan who was shot in the head by the Taliban for promoting the education of young women and girls. Though the injury she suffered was considered life-threatening, she was released from a hospital in Birmingham, England, late last week, and it looks as though she could recover fully.

Her story is truly remarkable and it should be shared with young people all over the world, especially here in the United States. Recognizing that girls throughout the area in Pakistan where she lived were being kept out of school, Malala began writing about the importance of educating girls in a blog for the BBC. She also appeared in a documentary produced by The New York Times on girls’ education, which made her even more of a target for those who see the education of woman as a threat to their power.

Malala’s bravery in standing up for the rights of girls to be educated got me thinking about how little we do to get American children to understand and appreciate the importance of education. Unlike Malala, we live in a country where children are required to go to school by law. The challenge we face is getting our children to take their education seriously and to be motivated to learn. Ironically, despite the fact that so much of the focus of education policy has been on raising student achievement, we have done very little to help children to value education and to understand why learning is important. Something is wrong with this approach.

Sadly, too many American children take education for granted. Some cut school if they can; others drop out altogether. Of course, some are pushed out in subtle and sometimes obvious ways because their presence is seen as a threat to obtaining higher scores and better performance. But others leave or become disengaged because their experience in school has left them bored and uninspired. Rather than developing a love of learning, too often students become less interested in it the longer they spend time in school.

We have not done enough to make education compelling and important. We have also not focused on creating schools where children would be excited and motivated to learn. Instead, we have devised policies that motivate children by fear. We threaten them with failure if they don’t get good grades and test scores, and we rely on pressure to motivate them to do their best academically.

For many American kids this strategy isn’t working. The pursuit of education has been totally disconnected with things that truly matter like helping one’s family, solving the problems facing a community, or using education to fight for justice. It is hardly surprising that many students, including many of those who do well, treat education as a chore, a burden, and an unpleasant responsibility foisted upon them by adults who seek to make their lives miserable.

This is the reason why I think that the example of Malala is so important. She was willing to risk her life to ensure that she and others could have an education. She understood that knowledge is power and that being educated was the key to participating fully as a citizen in her country. American students need to understand this, too. Even if no one is threatening their right to learn, they need to understand that education can be used to further justice and promote peace through understanding.

Perhaps we should move in this direction by rejecting fear as a motivator and begin tapping into the hopes and dreams of students to get them motivated and inspired.

Happy New Year, Deb.


The opinions expressed in Bridging Differences are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.

Let us know what you think!

We’re looking for feedback on our new site to make sure we continue to provide you the best experience.


This content is provided by our sponsor. It is not written by and does not necessarily reflect the views of Education Week's editorial staff.
Future of Work Webinar
Digital Literacy Strategies to Promote Equity
Our new world has only increased our students’ dependence on technology. This makes digital literacy no longer a “nice to have” but a “need to have.” How do we ensure that every student can navigate
Content provided by Learning.com
Mathematics Online Summit Teaching Math in a Pandemic
Attend this online summit to ask questions about how COVID-19 has affected achievement, instruction, assessment, and engagement in math.
School & District Management Webinar Examining the Evidence: Catching Kids Up at a Distance
As districts, schools, and families navigate a new normal following the abrupt end of in-person schooling this spring, students’ learning opportunities vary enormously across the nation. Access to devices and broadband internet and a secure

EdWeek Top School Jobs

Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools
Great Oaks AmeriCorps Fellow August 2021 - June 2022
New York City, New York (US)
Great Oaks Charter Schools
Data Analyst
New York, NY, US
New Visions for Public Schools

Read Next

Education Obituary In Memory of Michele Molnar, EdWeek Market Brief Writer and Editor
EdWeek Market Brief Associate Editor Michele Molnar, who was instrumental in launching the publication, succumbed to cancer.
5 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: December 9, 2020
Here's a look at some recent Education Week articles you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of articles from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read
Education Briefly Stated Briefly Stated: Stories You May Have Missed
A collection of stories from the previous week that you may have missed.
8 min read