"The Way to School"
By: Grace Castillo
There is a documentary on Netflix called “On the Way to School.” The documentary’s main goal is to show how students from around the world travel to school each day. There are students who walk or ride anywhere from a few miles to a full day's journey to school; these students typically stay for an extended period and return only for break. The enormous lengths that these students take to travel to school reinforce both the importance of an education as well as our own lucky fortunes. I do not know anyone who must walk two hours through the savannah and run from elephants in order to go to class. I find most inspiring the young girls who make enormous treks to school in countries that do not traditionally support women’s education. Often, these journeys are made necessary because they are not allowed to go to school with the boys, and therefore must find somewhere else to learn. Historically, women have been systematically denied quality educations in comparison to their male counterparts. This injustice speaks to me as an educator and a woman, and perhaps I am biased, but I know that women’s education must be a top priority if we as society wish to thrive.
In present-day America, women have more opportunities than ever to receive an education. Currently, women are earning more than half of the bachelor’s degrees awarded, which is a highly encouraging sign of progress. When women are educated, the world reaps the benefits. Educated women are more likely to find work, support families, and live independently. Their chances of early or unplanned pregnancies are significantly decreased. Furthermore, when women are educated, the pay gap becomes smaller.
This progress did not happen quickly or easily. It took until 1920 for women to attend universities in America (while men had been university educated as long as we’ve been here). And it was only in 1972 that we decided that women deserved equal funding for sports and other activities in schools (Title IX is great, people). When the first public school opened in 1848, girls were required to take Home Economics (men were not) and did not find equal opportunity to succeed in other classes. I extend a metaphorical hand of gratitude to the advocates who came before me that allowed for my athletic, academic, and (eventual) career success.
We find remnants of women’s educational limitations today. The great myth of women’s education is the idea of female ineptitude in STEM classes. Still, I hear comments that describe men as “naturally” better at science and math while women are better suited for the liberal arts. Whenever questions about technology arise, people look to the men in the room to solve the problem. These superstitions, along with many others, must fade in order for women to be entirely free to reach their potential. A woman in an engineering class shouldn’t be an anomaly. And, if I’m being intersectional, a man in an education class shouldn’t be one either.
There is still a long way to go in order to achieve women’s academic equality. Disadvantaged women, single mothers, and other ostracized members of society must be provided a more accessible education. A degree can no longer be a symbol of the elite, but an achievable goal for all. In order to do this, we must become advocates for ourselves and understand the advantages that an education allows. Furthermore, we must vote for leaders who will make education a top priority and not merely use it as a cliché for our support. Lastly, awareness of all those who cannot find their way to school must be increased. We must campaign for the millions of girls who are taken out of their schools and forced into factory work or marriages. Education is the foundation upon which we build a functional and ethical society. There is no alternative -- women and girls must be a part of this in order for social and economic progress. I look forward to a generation where daughters around the world have the same opportunities as my own.