Last week, Trisha Wooldridge and I spent quite a while discussing freedom, safety, education and other assorted issues on our blogs. Yesterday, she wrote a particularly thought-provoking short essay on questioning as a response to those conversations. She said that of the ideas that we discussed, that was the one that stood out to her the most. For me, the idea to which I kept returning was that of personal choice.
Adults – especially American adults – have the freedom of choice for everything in their lives. They can go to college or not; they can have children or not; they can get a job or not. So many people feel stuck in their lives. If only I could save more money, they say. If only I could go back to school. If only, if only. I am just cynical enough to believe that people can choose to better their lives.
But that is a double-edged sword, most people would tell me. The single mother on welfare doesn’t think that she has any choices. But that’s not what I believe. She could work full time and take online courses toward a degree which would net her a better job. I balance my cynicism with a basic belief in the human spirit. With hard work, all things are possible. “Can I be president someday?” my young son asks me. I assure him that if he works hard enough, it is indeed possible that he could be president. Stay in school; don’t get pregnant; don’t do drugs. These are the things I tell my kids. They have to make smart choices – it is my job as their mother to help them make smart choices.
The problems lie within the education system. We take education for granted in the U.S. and even here in Japan where the literacy rate is well over 90%. Not all people have the access to schools the way we do. There are millions of children across the globe who do not have the opportunity to attend school, whether it’s because they have to work to help the family or it’s to dangerous or even too far to get to a school. We need to appreciate the gift of education – what education gives us in the long run. Throwing money at the problem is not going to help. What is going to help is people choosing to value that education. Parents have to choose to support the schools not financially, but with volunteer hours and belief in the system. Tell the kids to behave in school. Model good behavior. These are choices that parents and children have to make in order to succeed.
As I pointed out in the conversation last week, there are no easy answers to any of these questions. But it is important to ask the questions, search for the answers and ultimately to make good choices. Sometimes the right choice isn’t the popular choice, but doing what is right should trump doing what is easy. And that, my friends, takes hard work. But that’s a conversation for another day.