I had an ex-coworker say many times, “I don’t believe in education, especially college. I think it’s a waste of time. Everything I learn, I can learn in the real world.”
This is coming from a man. He’s privileged. He comes from money. He’s white. He is European, French to be exact.
Growing up, my parents instilled the need to go to school—not just any school but higher education schooling, meaning college. My parents were not lucky enough to go to school. My father finished primary schooling before leaving to help out on the land. My mother didn’t finished primary school because a famine came and she could no longer attend. And then war and genocide broke out. Both my parents were children of farmers. They tilled the land. They worked before the sun rose until the sun set. It was a grueling job. When they came to America, they didn’t have the same privileges as other refugees, who had some college education. All they could do was work in the factory, doing mindless task of boxing things and carrying heavy objects.
I never heard them complain. Maybe I was too childish to understand them.
But my mother always told me, “I want my children to have a better life than me. Instead of being a cattle that tills the land, be something else. You don’t have to work and break your back. This is America. You have a chance to live in comfort. Try for it.”
As the oldest daughter, it was my responsibility to set blueprint. I studied hard. I worked hard. I never knew the concept of “sleepovers” or “having friends over”. Of course, I minded that a lot as a child, barely traditional Khmer but not American enough. But I grew to prefer my solitude with a few handful of friends who knew what it’s like to be a Khmerican.
The day I graduated college, my mother was there. She was so proud of me. I was the first ever in her line of family to obtain a college degree.
I had a job lined up in New York before graduating. I had found an apartment in Queens. I was preparing for my flight out to Paris (first ever to leave the US soil since Thailand) with my hard-earned money (2 jobs all 4 years) while in college.
I never really understood it at the time why my mother forces me to go to school.
But 10 years later, I started to understand why education was so important to my mother.
I never had to worry, “will I have enough money to feed my family?” “Will I have enough money to buy medicine?” “Is there enough crops to feed the family?”
Often, I see photos and videos of children in third world countries walking to school with barely a shoe. They never complain. Sometimes, they trek long and arduous trips. My cousins who live on the farm had to be pulled out of school at 14 or 15 to help the house. They never had the opportunity to better themselves.
Education isn’t a silly matter. What separates us from the animal kingdom is our ability to learn and critically think, reason, and react to those “enlightenment”.
For someone who lives in a house with plumbing and electricity and with parents who bring home food for them, they will see education as a waste of time because everything they learn, they can learn from world. But they forget that it’s because their parents taught them how to think, how to observe, and how to see the world as a tangible world and not of a mystical, mysterious world. They are privileged. These basic privileges will them a jumpstart into a world that most people don’t have that chance. They never known hardship of wondering, “will I have food tomorrow?”
Education begs you to think, to wonder, to question the world. Sure, you have to do the monotonous counting numbers and writing letters. But some people don’t even know how to write their own names. They can’t even read their own names.
Higher education asks to critically question and use sound reason for everyday life. It helps guide you to think conceptually, abstractly, and most importantly, to meet people who could open doors for you when your entire family has no connection to CEOs or VPs or managers.
Being educated gives you a platform to talk and to be heard. Not all knowledge is equal but being educated gives you the power to discern between fact and fiction, it asks you to think instead of following blindly, it asks you to question instead of bowing down. It asks you to stand up for yourself, your family, and your community. It gives you an identity, which no one can take away.
If my cousins had a chance to keep going to school, they would have the opportunity to work at a retail shop. They could open a small restaurant. They could work at a bank. All of this sounds like demeaning jobs but they could help their family. They wouldn’t have to keep this cycle where they just toil on the land, depending a crop that could die based on Mother Nature.
I am a strong advocate in education. Education might not be the foolproof method to stupidity and intolerance but it’s a good stepping stone out of the dark ages.
People may think it’s meaningless or silly. But what I got from education led me to a life in which I can depend on myself, be proud of who I have become and will become, lead an honest life, and keep striving to make my life better. My mother taught me the basics of cooking, sewing, knitting, and cleaning. I learned to think, speak, and stand up for myself and for the people that mean something to me.
So for the people who make fun of education, try being oppressed and poor and no chance of ever coming out of the rut cycle that you’ve been born into and then tell me that education is silly.