Nicholas Kristof wrote a column this week about a 14-year-old girl in Vietnam, Dao Ngoc Phung, who takes her education so seriously that she gets up at 3:00 a.m. every day and rides her bike 90 minutes each way for the privilege of attending school. She is one of many impoverished young girls around the world who scrape and scrimp for the opportunity to learn and improve her possibilities for the future.
Phung’s mother died of cancer, so during the week she also has responsibility for her two younger siblings while her father is off working in the city to pay down medical debt. I encourage you to read Phung’s story by clicking here to access Kristof’s column.
Many of us have parents and grandparents who talk about walking miles to school (uphill both ways), sharing books and school supplies, and toting lunch pails. My mother was one of those youngsters. She grew up on a farm in the foothills of Kentucky as one of 10 children. They never had much in the way of money, but her parents put a high store by education and saw that all of their children graduated from high school. Many went on to college. My mother went to a state teacher’s college and earned her emergency teacher’s certification and taught in a tiny one room school in rural Powell County, Kentucky. My mother values education; in fact, the only time I ever saw her REALLY angry was when I failed to take high school algebra class seriously enough and earned a low score. She set me straight and how.
I am extremely fortunate. I was able to go to elementary and secondary school, to college, AND to earn two graduate degrees and a certificate. Yes, I am still paying for the second graduate degree (and will be for a long time), but I was able to study and learn and grow. I had lots of opportunity, and for that I am grateful. If I want to continue to learn, all I have to do is go to iTunes, YouTube, or a variety of college websites to access free lectures on almost any subject. The parish I serve contributes to my continuing education for ministry. I have much for which to be thankful!
It doesn’t stop there. My children have access to education. My oldest daughter graduated from a fine university with a reasonable amount of student debt. My youngest daughter chose to finish her senior year of high school through our local school district’s online program so that she can pursue dance and voice instruction and audition for musicals. They even provided her with a laptop and reimbursement for our Internet service as long as she makes satisfactory progress. My daughters have much for which to be thankful!
My oldest daughter teaches English in South Korea. Doing so has given her an entirely new perspective on education. Children there face much more rigorous and longer school days. Education is taken seriously. While she doesn’t agree with all methods and practices, it has been an eye-opening experience for her. She has much for which to be thankful!
Teachers in the United States complain, and rightfully so, about the lack of parental support and discipline. Students rebel against difficult assignments and rigorous homework loads. Friends who are teachers tell stories about how parents are not willing to support them and do not seem to care whether their children succeed in school. Attendance at school conferences and programs is often poor. Maybe we need to be reminded more frequently by young women like Dao Ngoc Phung of exactly how fortunate we are.
Teachers, thank you for what you do! Tax payers, thank you for making education possible for our youth. Mom and dad, thanks for instilling in me the value of education. Yes, I am thankful. How about you?