Special Education Opinion

Nobel Peace Prize Winners: Finding Common Ground

By Jill Berkowicz & Ann Myers — October 19, 2014 4 min read
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The Nobel Committee has chosen two advocates for children to share the Nobel Peace Prize. Kailash Satyarthi has worked for three decades to eliminate the problem of child slavery in India. The New York Times reported, “He worked to get undercover operatives and camera crews to find the airless workrooms and mine shafts where children were being kept.” Malala Yousafzai, perhaps better known to some, was the target of an attempted assassination at the age of 15 for fighting for the right for girls to receive an education in Pakistan. Now, these two, an Indian man and a Pakistani girl are sharing the Nobel Peace Prize.

These two nations used to be one when under British rule. They were eventually divided by majority religion; the Muslim section became Pakistan and the Hindu section became India. Two humanitarians, from countries separated by religion and border disputes, are heralded for devoting their work and attention to the same thing...the protection of and the education of children in places where both are hard won human rights. Two people, from countries with a history of differences, conflicts, and wars, have common ground in this regard.

Where is Our Common Ground?
Those trying to lead education forward all with different voices, coming from different perspectives, are all fighting for the quality of the system. All the constituencies, parents, teachers, leaders, policy makers, pundits, enter the conversation about education with different opinions, but all are fighting for what they believe is good for the children in our country. Let this be a call to move away from an environment that is rife with opposing positions about what is good for schools and children.

Are the standards fair? Are the tests that measure the standards well designed and an accurate measure? Do we need National Standards? Are schools preparing students to be adults in yet to be imagined careers? Is technology a help or a distraction? What is the best way to develop learning behaviors and academic achievement when we are only measuring the latter? How can we insure chances for success for students who enter our schools living in poverty, who may be disabled, or are students for whom English is a second language? For each of these questions, and the many more that are on the table, there are varying opinions and beliefs. That is not alarming; it is, in fact, the value of democracy. The danger lies in the conversion from opinion to positions, that solidify, refuse to listen for a shred of commonality, prevent dialogue and provoke oppositional rants. Then, we find ourselves unable to join together and discover the way to provide a 21st century education to make all of the students in this country college or career ready. What causes the tenacious grip on positions that overshadows the common commitment to secure children’s futures through a vibrant, exciting, engaging, safe, rich and meaningful education?

Get to the Common Denominator
What does it take to get to the bottom, to the place where common ground exists? For these two Nobel Laureates, they lived their beliefs about the welfare of children. Neither their countries nor their religion made a difference. It didn’t matter that their countries have been struggling with and against each other for over half a century. Separately, and in different countries, with different goals, these two humanitarians were recognized for the common denominator of rights for children.

In an ASCD Education Update entitled What is the Purpose of Education? Willona M. Sloan wrote:

In the United States, historically, the purpose of education has evolved according to the needs of society. Education’s primary purpose has ranged from instructing youth in religious doctrine, to preparing them to live in a democracy, to assimilating immigrants into mainstream society, to preparing workers for the industrialized 20th century workplace.

And now, as educators prepare young people for their futures in a world that is rapidly changing, what is the goal? To create adults who can compete in a global economy? To create lifelong learners? To create emotionally healthy adults who can engage in meaningful relationships?

Each evolution of the purpose of education has taken place, so far, in an environment that unfolded far slower than today’s. News was shared at the movie theatre, nightly, on the radio or in a daily newspaper. When time moved slower, there was an opportunity to process the information, even talk with others about it, before response and reaction occurred. In this iteration of the evolving purpose of education, we are faced with a different communication environment; one in which news is offered 24/7, coming at us at warp speed, with little time to process, and with a sense of a demand for action.

The irony is that there are more people now than ever focused on education. Parents, policy makers, news reporters, businesses, community members, everyone is talking about education. Somewhere in there common ground exists. Let us find that space where we come together with hope and purpose and care about our children and allow for our own Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai to rise from our crowd of concerned advocates. Let’s fight, not about who is right, but to make our purpose clear and raise our questions together.

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The opinions expressed in Leadership 360 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.