This week, the Province of British Columbia (in Canada, of course) is seeing yet another labour dispute. Nothing new for a province with a history of labour unrest largely due, in my opinion, to the endless disagreement of a much bigger issue of rights versus privileges. Many people who know of me are often surprised that I have my issues with trade unions. They make the mistake that I am anti labour…WRONG!
My father, Jack Law was one of the hardest labourers I have ever met. He was a mechanic for 57 years and could fix anything. He was also a service manager for over 25 years so he knew both sides of the fence. He was not a fan of unions because he believed that if management was doing its job properly, unions were unnecessary. Well, we all know how that can open Pandora’s Box so I digress because this blog is not about arguing one over the other. In fact, a completely different motivation led me to write this.
Three hundred plus girls were kidnapped in Nigeria over a month ago. Strangely, my wife and I were in Uganda around the same time but we didn’t hear about it until we got home. Just the same, I know the Uganda experience put a very different face on the horrible circumstance of these young women being taken at gunpoint from their school. It is unthinkable that anyone could do this and even more disgusting they are doing it in the name of religion, but again, I didn’t open this discussion for that purpose either.
I am not an expert on this matter but I know more about education in Africa today than I did a month ago. I witnessed first hand how going to school on that continent is nothing like going to school in North America. First, it is largely expensive there, especially for post-primary. Second, outside of the urban areas, schools, if they exist, are usually many miles from the student’s homes and unlike way too many kids here who get driven everywhere, they must walk. Third, a growing number of schools, with the support of various charities including Rotary International, which was why we were in Uganda, are building dormitories so the older students can stay where the school is and spend the extra hours studying instead of walking. Fourth, and most important reason for this blog; a problem I had never heard of exists in too many parts of Africa. Most schools do not have washrooms catering to female hygiene so it is very common for girls becoming women to miss a week to ten days of school every month, inevitably falling behind in their studies and that conspires with the cost of these schools and they just drop out! Next thing you know, they are pregnant because of the moral arguments of birth control and voila, you have what the world judges as…well, that’s Africa!
Needless to say, something has to be done to find these girls not to mention eradicating Boca Haram who stole them and continues to kill countless Nigerian citizens. What I want to say is why do we in the West believe education is a right? I mean, I get it. We have tons of “rights” and I am not suggesting we shouldn’t. But too often, we confuse a right with a privilege.
As usual, if you know my story, pardon my repetition but my parents had to push hard to get me into the public school, albeit Catholic, right across the street from my home! In those days, it was unheard of for disabled students to go to public schools. It just didn’t happen! It sounds absurd today because we have advanced our society to a completely different place. My parents, by the way, didn’t hire a lawyer, start a protest or go on a hunger strike. They worked together with the school’s administration, its board and the Catholic Archdiocese to work out a solution that proved to be a game changer for me. And as much as I was a typical kid who sometimes struggled to get my butt to school, and as much as I got occasionally bullied and struggled with that, I viewed my education as a privilege. More important, with the inclusion of disabled students into mainstream education, our schools become a reflection of our society. In fact, wouldn’t it be wonderful if we stopped calling these students, “special needs” and just call them students?
The girls taken in Africa are being called Nigerians and that is technically accurate, kinda like “special needs”. But there is a Twitter hashtag, #freeourgirls, that says it better. I am not boasting my worldliness, but the simple fact is, having just come from Africa, it proved a feeling I have had for many years. Yes their majority have black skin and wherever Darlene and I went, we were the very clear minority, but I truly saw the people I met in Uganda as my brothers and sisters, and not in the pop-culture wannabe cool way. Our world has shifted. Whatever caused it, our planet has shrunk and in my view, we have moved toward less regionalisms and more globalisms. I grew up in Saskatchewan and I call myself Canadian but my work and its travels have led me to conclude we are closer than we think.
I have told my story on five continents and there hasn’t been one single place I haven’t felt at “home”. I do, however, also understand every part of our planet has it’s own ways that may not always be understandable or even acceptable. But we must press on to a better world. The kidnapping of these courageous young women is more than just a terrorist act. It is a statement of how living in the past halts progress to a better world. These young women are pursuing a better life through education. They are not criticizing their own, just wanting more in their own lives and as I learned in Uganda, it seems the majority stay in their own countries and work to improve the standard of living for “everyone”.
The dispute in BC’s schools is all about politics and that is truly pathetic. A small number of people who care more about their own jobs than they do about the futures of millions of students in the province are proving their misplaced priorities and it seems to me the missing link is a simple thought…is education a right or as privilege? Let’s hope someone finds those girls and ask them what they think. And by the way, they are “Our Girls”, so let’s make sure the thugs who did this hear the solidarity of an entire planet because “Everyone Has Value”!*
*Everyone Has Value” is taken from one of my Five Laws from Alvin’s Laws of Life, the title of my International Bestseller available on the main page of my website!