This year, the Norwegian Nobel Committee received 278 nominations for its Peace Prize — the greatest number ever. I can't list the candidates here (and no one else can either) because each list is kept private for 50 years.
Of course, we all now know two of those nominated. This year's prize is being awarded to Kailash Satyarth and Malala Yousafzai "for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education."
Yes, those brilliant people in Norway see the connection between education and peace. Here in the suburban United States? Not so much.
We're a little too focused on other more immediate issues.
Last night, I attended the Open House at my daughter's high school. As she gets older, these annual events become a bit bittersweet. Settling onto a less than comfortable field house bleacher before the program began, I commiserated with other mothers. "This is our next-to-last one," we reminded each other, somehow making the hectic (and always inconvenient) evening feel precious and fleeting.
The principal welcomed us and shared mostly good news. We heard about MCAS scores, PSAT scores, SAT scores, AP test scores (do we see a pattern here, folks?). Our school performs quite well in all of the above. I'm glad, of course, but there seems to be an inordinate focus on numbers. We then went through an accelerated version of our teenagers' schedules.
A grateful aside here. My daughter, for the umpteenth time, provided me with a map as well as a list of courses and classrooms. She is a most considerate young woman. Or, she has very little confidence in her dear mama's navigational skills. Regardless, it was appreciated (and coveted by others). The students in her school probably score extremely high on psychology tests since the spanking new building seems to have been inspired by a rat's maze.
But I digress.
In short order, I ran through six ten-minute "classes" and browsed activity tables (and resisted bake sales) during two "study halls." The teachers were welcoming and talked about expectations and "outcomes." The same over-anxious parents I've known since pre-school asked obsessive questions about assignments and grades, GPAs and college acceptance. I couldn't help but cringe when I imagined how embarrassed their sons or daughters would be if they could hear them.
Of course, if these vigilant mums and dads care a little too much, most of our kids don't seem to care enough. There are surely some nerdy brains (God bless their pocket protectors), but for the rank and file sixteen- and seventeen-year olds, school is a necessary evil. It's a drag. It's a mandated interruption of whatever they actually do care about, whether that's hanging out on Snapchat or streaming "How I Met Your Mother" or, in my daughter's case, a horse.
These young people aren't stupid. They watch the news. They know that they're lucky to have access to a high quality (see test score paragraph above) free education — regardless of their financial situation, religion or gender. They know it, but they don't feel it.
They haven't had to.
Malala, now the youngest Nobel Peace Prize recipient at seventeen (the same age as my own daughter), once explained "Part of our human nature is that we don't learn the importance of anything until it's snatched from our hands. In Pakistan, when we were stopped from going to school, I realized that education is very important, and education is power for women."
I couldn't be happier that this year's Nobel Prize is recognizing education activists rather than political leaders. I'd like to think that ensuring a better future (not admission to an Ivy, but a safe and peaceful world) is more deeply rooted than our aggression, greed or competitiveness. That taking care of our children is at the heart of human nature.
Meanwhile, I do wish my daughter and her friends didn't take their education for granted.
But, as a wise and wonderful new Laureate noted, that's human nature too.
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