It’s hard to stand in the shoes of someone in another country who’s never been able to go to school. It’s hard to imagine standing in the dusty road outside a school watching others filing in and longing to join them. If you can imagine it, though, it’s easy to see how alluring the promises of learning, education and advancement would be.
Imagine having no books, not even a single one. Imagine seeing school as the great palace of books, holding out the golden promise of literacy. No wonder people can seek schooling at great cost or clamour for it as a civil right or anything that they think might get them a hearing. For reading is the key to life.
Too late we see the trap. Once everyone is inside, the doors are locked and the books are taken away. Or if not the books, then at least the ability to read them. This happened throughout the West in the 1930s, with the introduction of look-and-say ‘reading’; literacy levels and education have never recovered from it. That was a long time ago now, practically out of living memory, and few people today know what happened or why they can’t read in spite of having been shut up in schools for twelve of the best years of their lives.
I think one of the great challenges available to our normally-educated children in the future will be to find out some way of aiding the third world, even doing child sponsorship and education, without using schools. I wouldn’t like to suggest how it might be done, but I’m sure it’s possible. It would be sort of nice if some country out there could stay free of the deadly virus of universal schooling – not only for its own sake, but so that other people would have somewhere to flee.