The memoir “I am Malala,” by Nobel Peace Prize recipient Malala Yousafzai, is the community read this year at Cony Middle and High School. As the librarian for the school district, I’ve been discussing the various themes that arise from Malala’s story with seventh- and-eighth grade students.

Malala was shot at point-blank range by a Taliban gunman as she rode home from school in her Pakistani city. The militant, extremist group wanted to silence Malala because she spoke out publicly about girls’ right to an education. The Taliban forbade young women to go to class; they bombed schools.

Why? That is an essential question. Why does the Taliban so fear education?

I was gratified that students knew the answer. That bodes well for the future of our republic.

These 12- and 13-year-olds understand that knowledge is power. It is far easier to impose dictatorial rule over people if they are uneducated. It may feel wrong to be prohibited from listening to music or watching TV, but how do you know what you could do about it if you’ve never studied history? Do you even know that revolt is a possibility?

How can you communicate effectively with others to effect change if you can’t read and write?

American slave owners knew the power of education. Slaves were rarely allowed to learn to read. Frederick Douglass was an exception, though his mistress later regretted having taught him. He wrote: “Nothing seemed to make her more angry than to see me with a newspaper. She seemed to think that here lay the danger. I have had her rush at me with a face made all up of fury, and snatch from me a newspaper. … (a) little experience soon demonstrated, to her satisfaction, that education and slavery were incompatible with each other.”

Of course they were. The eloquent Douglass went on to be an inspirational and powerful abolitionist.

A while back, there was a poem that was used as a slogan for National Library Week and used on posters and bookmarks: “The more you read, the more you know. The more you know, the smarter you grow. The smarter you grow, the stronger your voice, when speaking your mind or making your choice.”

I’ve always loved this ditty, because it speaks the truth directly, simply and succinctly. The more we know, the better able we are to make our voices heard.

We just had a mind-blowing election. All sides, voters of every stripe, turned out in droves. Maine elected its first female governor. More than 100 women were elected to Congress. The president likes to call the news media “the enemy of the people,” but the people are paying attention to the media.

We are reading, watching and listening.

So when the president’s press secretary, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, recently tried to pass off an obviously doctored video, she was met with widespread derision. Viewers had watched live as President Donald J. Trump derided CNN reporter Jim Acosta. The subsequent film that showed Acosta pushing the arm of an intern who tried to take his mic was laughably fake.

Laughable, that is, if it wasn’t all so serious. The media educates us by telling us what is going on in the world. It helps us make our voices strong. It helps us make important choices, whether we’re at the car dealership or the grocery market or the voting booth (because we vote with what we buy as well as with the ballot). Whenever the media are attacked, whenever education is attacked, whenever free speech is attacked, our “danger, danger” alarms should go off. Our spidey sense should be activated. Our antennae should be fully extended.

The more we read, the more we know. Without knowledge, we are doomed.

The 19th-century educational reformer Horace Mann wanted public schools to turn out students who would be good citizens. He said, “Education is our only political safety. Outside of this ark, all is deluge.”

A very modern thought. Nowadays, though, we see developing critical thinking skills as the path to good citizenship. To know the Holocaust happened is only a first step. When we ask how it could have happened, we learn that violent anti-Semitism dates back to the Middle Ages. We see how, tragically, it can continue today. We can’t act on issues, we can’t try to resolve problems, unless we understand them. Good citizens question, and questioning leads to understanding.

“Once you learn to read,” Frederick Douglass said, “you will be forever free.”

To think. To speak. To make your choice.

Liz Soares welcomes e-mail at [email protected]

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