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When the whole world is silent, even one voice becomes powerful

I recently finished reading the book I am Malala, which is a memoir of the young woman who just recently won the Nobel Peace Prize campaigning for women’s education. Since I do not spend much time watching the news I was relatively unaware of her story. A few months ago I saw her appear on John Stewart, and was so impressed that I had to read about her life. Make no mistake: books like this do have the ability to change how you see the world.

I was instantly drawn into her story as it transported me to the hills of Northern Pakistan, where her family is from. The book begins by helping the reader to understand life in that culture as well as the place women are allowed to play in it. I have heard these ideas before, but this book helped me to understand, from a real life example, what life in this part of the world was like. The story goes on to tell of the role of women’s education, the rise of the Taliban and eventually how Malala survived the hit put on her by the Taliban themselves. While I suggest you read the story if you are interested, here are the two main points I took from this story.

1. Small Changes can lead to big ones with enough time

The way the Taliban starts making their presence known in the book is incredibly interesting. First, they come into the area and promise the people whatever it was that the government was not providing. This helps to get an initial group on their side. Next they start raising money based on the idea of helping to overthrow the corrupt government, making the changes the people want to see, etc. When they have raised the money, they start to instruct their new followers on different rules they must follow, such as women cannot walk in public without covering their heads. While annoying to many of the women, it is not the end of the world so they accept it. Next, the rules get more intense, such as women cannot shop in the market place. After that it is women cannot go to school. At the end of the time described in the novel for them to take power, they are actually killing people who help to teach women by bombing schools.

I was impacted by this idea because I feel like it is true in every way of life. The more small compromises we make, the easier it is to chip away at our convictions and beliefs until there is not much left of what we originally were. We have to be able to see the full story. We have to be visionary enough to perceive how these little changes will lead to bigger ones so that we do not give up the rights we are born to protect.

2. I can make a big difference just with what I have

The other idea that convicted me was how little Malala and her family had and yet how big of a difference she was able to make. I think it is extremely easy to think that we do not have the platform necessary to make a difference, but I would challenge that we have access to a 100 times better and more platform than someone born in a third world country has. We have money, time, basic human rights, and all of the pieces necessary to change the world. We also have Netflix, iPhones, internet and fast food which can lead us to happily sedate ourselves to what is really out there that needs to be changed. Do not let this happen.

Through reading Malala‚Äôs account, I was convicted about and challenged to not just be happy with simply going through my daily life and living with my personal comforts. I have been given many more opportunities than that. If a 16 year old girl in Pakistan can change the world, then why am I wasting time on anything that isn’t?

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A Review Of There are no Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz

People have differing opinions on the effectiveness of No Child Left Behind. Regardless of your general thoughts on the legislation, one thing we can all agree on is that the data generated as a result of the act made the “achievement gap” public knowledge (See here, here, and here for statistics and general information). The achievement gap is the difference in educational outcomes between students from minority and low-income families and the outcomes of more affluent and Caucasian students. What is not as widely realized is that a large reason behind this gap in achievement is related to social justice. I’ve heard many people argue that “some parents” just don’t care as much about their child’s education or “some groups of people” don’t emphasize education “as much as they should”. In response to this sort of thinking, I generally recommend that people read a book called There are no Children Here by Alex Kotlowitz.

This book provides a window into the lives of two brothers living in the Henry Horner Homes housing project in Chicago. Readers become aware of the issues these young boys face at home and come to understand more of the experiences of many American youth. The effects of gang violence, domestic abuse, and human rights violations are undeniable. Reading this book can’t but help people understand that a leading cause of the achievement gap is not that some students don’t care about education, but that these students must focus their energies on mere survival and not if their homework is done each night. This book brings awareness to the living situations of many of America’s youth.

Some argue that the mother, LaJoe, is responsible for the situation of her children, but I challenge those readers to really think about what she has the power and ability to do given the situation she faces. While Kotlowitz focuses on the children, a follow-up or even ending chapter that addressed some issues at the parental level might help to address these criticisms. I also wish there was an elaboration on the methods used to collect the data for this narrative. While it would be distracting in the actual text, an appendix chapter giving the details would be nice for those who wish to understand more regarding how this book came to fruition. Despite these criticisms, with over 20% of America’s children living in poverty, it is important for society to be aware of the varied home life experiences of children. This book helps people to understand just that.

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