Date of this Version
Published in Child Abuse & Neglect 44 (2015), pp 1–4.
On December 10, 2014, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded in Oslo, Norway, to Kailash Satyarthi and Malala Yousafzai “for their struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education” (Nobel Media AB, 2014). Satyarthi, who lives in New Delhi, India, has a long record as an international activist for the rights of children and youth. Yousafzai was already known to the world as Malala, the Pakistani girl who was shot in the head by the Taliban for her support of education for girls (Yousafzai, 2013).
Then, life went on. Within a week the Pakistani Taliban attacked a school in Peshawar, Pakistan. They killed more than 140 individuals, including more than 130 schoolchildren.
In a recent study, Elisabeth King (2014) analyzed education in Rwanda over the past century. Rwanda is of course quite different from Pakistan. But in Rwanda, as in Pakistan, India, and everywhere else, complex histories and identities figure prominently in education and violence (Moshman, 2004, 2009, 2011). In recognition of the 2014 Peace Prize focus on children, youth, and education, I provide here an overview of King’s illuminating book, which has implications far beyond Rwanda. But first, a brief general history....
The 2014 Nobel Peace Prize highlighted the “struggle against the suppression of children and young people and for the right of all children to education.” In presenting this as a single struggle, it seemed to construe the struggle for the right to education as part of, or at least consistent with, the struggle against suppression of children. But the story of Rwanda reminds us that official curricula and associated school practices are not always part of the struggle against suppression. On the contrary they often contribute to the suppression of children and young people through ideological approaches to history and stringent restrictions on expression, discussion, and identity. For education to serve the role assumed in the Nobel citation we cannot define it so broadly as to encompass any and all curricula governments devise and anything schools happen to do. To the extent that students are being constrained and indoctrinated, they are not engaged in genuine learning or development and thus are not being educated. We must insist on curricula and pedagogical practices that make education part of the “struggle against the suppression of children and young people” rather than part of the system of suppression. Rwanda is just one small country, but it is typical in important ways. Every country has its own problems of history, identity, violence, denial, and indoctrination. Systematic manipulations of social identity and associated falsifications of history often contribute to generations of violence. Thus, even as we do our best to make education available and safe for all children and youth, we must not be satisfied with exposing children to whatever schools happen to do. Moving beyond the 2014 Peace Prize, we must ensure that what passes for education is really education.