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Educate Boys and Girls Equally. Both Matter.

Posted by Richard Conniff on October 25, 2012

I believe in increasing educational opportunities for girls.  But I am disturbed by what seems to be a corresponding tendency to trivialize education of boys. Look on the internet, and you will see the idea sanctified with a supposed African proverb:  “Educate a boy and you educate an individual. Educate a girl and you educate a community.”

As far as I have been able to tell (and please correct me if anybody out there can point out an actual African origin), this fantasy “African proverb” is actually a sort of Reader’s Digest condensation of a thought in Greg Mortenson’s book Three Cups of Tea.

Here’s what Mortenson wrote:

“Once you educate the boys, they tend to leave the villages and go search for work in cities. But the girls stay home, become leaders in the community and pass on what they’ve learned. If you really want to change a culture, to empower women, improve basic hygiene and health care, and fight high rates of infant mortality, the answer is to educate girls.”

So here’s a better condensation of the first half of what Mortenson wrote:  “Educate a boy and you educate a city,” and thus perhaps a nation.

And regarding the second half:  Isn’t it kind of patronizing to think that all you do when you educate a girl is educate a village?

Malala Yousafzai was reaching a little higher than that.  Boys can, too.

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