Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Educating Girls


When I was a sophomore in college I was on the staff of the school paper, The Campus Chat. (a pretty lame name for a newspaper and possibly the reason my journalism career never took off. )  As a new reporter with only modest grades they assigned me to the most boring beat on the campus-- to cover the office of the Dean of Women.  But this was the fall of 1966 and student protests were about to begin on college campuses across the US.  Within two weeks of the fall semester I had my first front page byline. Come to think of it, it was the only one.

My story was accompanied by a half-page photo of a girl wearing blue jeans under a skirt, standing in front of the Administration building and holding a sign saying, “Does Dean Dickey Bug You?”  The lone student told me she was protesting arbitrary rules set by the dean.

Dear old Dean Dickey loved to go by her entire formal name which I’m sure she thought made her sound very patrician:  Imogene Bentley Dickey.  It won’t take much imagination to figure to figure out what the student body called her.

I tell you this story because Dean Dickey’s name came to mind in a flash the other day when Sarah and I were shopping at Walmart. 

We passed the sewing department and considered a sewing project.  I thought of getting some of that  gathered and elasticized material with beautiful print—all it takes is one seam and voila you have a skirt.  I could be an easy instant heroine if I showed her how to make a skirt out of this material.  So, I asked Sarah if many girls wore skirts to school.

                “It’s against the code.”
                “Beg your pardon?”
                It’s against the dress code.”
               
The store stood still as my brain whirled.  Time stopped.  Random scenes and conversations during the years 1963-1969 flashed through my mind.  I could tell you each conversation--where we were, who was talking and what she wore. 

                “Say that again.”
                “It’s against the dress code to wear a skirt to high school.”

She went on to explain something about not knowing what the other schools did but it was against the code at hers but I had stopped listening.  I could not speak for a while and we just stood there. I didn’t know whether to laugh, cry, or cheer.  I felt an urge to call every woman I went to high school and college with.

Finally I was able to speak, “Sarah, it was against dress code to wear pants to school when I was your age.”

The pendulum had swung back.

The student protestor I interviewed who wore jeans under her skirt was technically following the rules by wearing that skirt (while throwing rules of fashion out the window.)  But that was the 60’s and all the things you’ve heard about the 60’s are true.  We were a pretty mental generation.

Sarah stood there in Walmart with no idea how much we had wished to have permission to wear pants instead of skirts.  How little the use of logic swayed our elders:  that pants were actually more modest.  No argument would work.  We were forced to observe rules that were arbitrary and senseless. And today my granddaughter will not be allowed to wear a skirt even if it’s cute and long and she keeps her legs together. 

She didn’t seem upset.  For once logic was on the right side.

Being a girl in the education system has never been easy.  And we come to the reason I have gathered you all here today.

Last week I saw a speech Malala Yousafzai made to the UN on her 16th birthday.  I wanted to show our Sunday School class how something as small as a mustard seed can grow into the Kingdom of God so I showed them a clip from the speech.  You can go to this link to watch the entire speech. 

A few years ago we started encouraging donations to charity at Christmas instead of material gifts, especially for Beaven and myself.  We don’t need any thing.  I’d rather give my kids a challenge and see what they do with it. 

“Donate to any charity you want and connect it to an interest you perceive we have.” We've had some pretty interesting donations.

One year Elizabeth donated to clean up a river she knew my brother and I especially enjoyed. Her gift to Beaven that year was to Alzheimer research because Beaven’s dad had it.  And the following year his gift was to breast cancer research.  Breast cancer research for a man?

“He has five females he dearly loves and wants to keep healthy,” was her reasoning. 

The first year we announced that now we had finished paying for their education we would send someone else to school.  We began donating to help send a kid to school in Guatemala. For the next five years we sent money for a boy named Jorge to go from the first grade through the fifth grade.  Every Christmas our kids got a photo of Jorge so they could see how he had grown. 

Last year we started donating to the Malala Fund.   It's easy to do on-line:  www.themalalafund.org

Here is a girl who literally risked her life to go to school.  The Taliban shot Malala Yousafzai in the head but she survived.  Following a dress code is such an insignificant obstacle as to be laughable.  All Malala asks is for “One pupil. One teacher. One book. One pen.”

Something so small  has the power to change the world. 

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