“Why are all of these kids at the library?”
“Do these kids have parents?”
“If these kids are going to come to the library, they could at least shower before they come.”
Have you said any of these recently? Many of us have. I have. You probably have, too. We tend to think of our small, lackluster towns as though they are dumps because nobody in these towns cares enough to help rebuild their communities. It is as though we blame everyone else around us for the bleak blankets shielding our communities rather than lending hands to our neighbors in order to help each other stand up. We blame everyone else before asking ourselves, “What can we do to make these communities better places to live?”
We scoff when we see new reports about meth labs or drug deals on the streets because we distance ourselves from our own communities. It is as though we distance ourselves by saying, “[Insert town here] is so trashy. All we have here are drugs and unemployed residents,” then we separate ourselves from being parts of these communities; however, we do not stop to think about those people who live in these sections of these communities in which daily horrors run rapid throughout the streets.
Think about the last time you were at the library. Were kids grouped together, talking, without paying the slightest bit of attention toward the library’s resources? How many times have we asked, “Why don’t they just go home?” Have we ever followed up this question with: “Do they have a home?”
Houses contain four walls, people who may or may not live in them, minimal or even excess food, and they possess the possibility of encompassing furniture. They can include the bare minimum or they can even possess too many belongings. There is a large spectrum of what a house may or may not occupy within its four walls. Homes are different, though. Homes have people who encourage dreams beyond their city limits, people who inspire their children to pursue their passions, and materials for children to expand their knowledge about the world.
Listen to the stories these children keep within themselves. If you listen long enough, they might tell you a haunted house on their street has “creepy sounds of people screaming” and “drugs that make your eyes bleed.” To the average child, this story–a story told by their parents or other adults around them–probably seems as though it is a haunted house; however, to the average listener, this house possesses nightmares of drugs and abuse beyond the minds of mere nine-year-old girls in a public library. Do we want these girls to go back to their houses and pass by this haunted house with sounds creeping from the confined walls resembling tortured screams?
Children should feel welcome in the library. Here, they are given a place in which they can warm their bones in the cold months, and maybe even meet other children who experience their same terrors day after day. Here, staff members can offer movie nights, book clubs, and crafts to children who only venture home when they need to sleep at night–only if their guardians allow this.
Rather than succumbing to the thought of these children only taking up space in the local library, we should acknowledge thoughts we never have to suffer on our own: While these children and teenagers might have houses to visit, they may not possess homes quite like the public library.
We live in a world where not everyone is given the same opportunities, and those who take their gifts for granted shield their eyes from the horrors of those who cannot speak for themselves. We live in a country where we receive the ability to share our humble and not-so-humble opinions, where we receive the ability to practice any religion we desire, and where we receive the ability to go for a Sunday drive without the worry of an air raid.
We possess privileges, but so little of us use them.
We live in a world where six-year-old children are sold into prostitution because they are deemed as property. Young people around the world do not receive the right to earn college degrees because their countries cannot afford the means to support universities. Many people around the world cannot even receive formal schooling at the elementary and high school levels because of their countries’ tragic economic states. Parents cannot find food for their children because terrorist groups roam their streets. Safety seems to overrule the need for nourishment.
We live in a country where we receive the opportunities to work for companies such as Amnesty International in order to help these oppressed individuals find their voices. Attorneys, such as Kimberley Motley, can work pro bono in other countries in order to help these underprivileged individuals seek justice. College students can help organizations bring clean water to third world countries.
We live in a country where young people matter, and their voices matter. The topic of most economic discussions in classrooms revolves around the price of tuition for public universities. Who creates the largest percentage of these college-goers? Young people, of course.
When we turn eighteen, we receive the ability to vote. We receive the ability to go out into the community in which we can use our age to make a difference. Instead of turning eighteen and simply buying cigarettes, young people have the ability to show the world their levels of competency when casting a vote in order to help their futures. We can exemplify our competence for social and economic issues, and we can share our opinions on how to better ourselves in order to help those around us.
This is not a post to promote a campaign. This is not a persuasion essay to convince you to vote right or to vote left. This is simply a message you can ponder, sift through your fingers, or clench between your teeth: If you have the ability to make a difference, then why don’t you use your ability?
When I was a young girl, I was the human form of an encyclopedia. My parents couldn’t keep enough reading material available for me as I tore through the pages, reciting everything I learned and everything I read.
At one point, I swear they thought I was going to become a meteorologist. It was a winter day, one of those days where snow covered the driveway and if you stepped outside you could have sworn you were going to die from every inch of your body experiencing the frigid effect of hypothermia. Being a seven-year-old, I craved any form of human interaction. My brother was a toddler, you see, so my mom’s hair resembled a frayed mop when she was trying to run around and make sure he didn’t cause complete chaos everywhere he waddled. Between him creating a sticky trail and my constant whining because I wanted to play with my cousin who lived next door, I’m surprised she didn’t send both of us to our rooms with the doors locked while she befriended the sunny paradise of Malibu.
So there I was, whining (“MoOooOm, can I pleeeease call Jacob?”) and following her around while she cleared the path of destruction crafted by a clumsy two-year-old. Then, she paused. A sticky note appeared on the counter as she scribbled numbers I could hardly make out from her quick scrawl, but I could see them: The numbers granting me the permission to call my cousin.
Hastily, I grabbed the phone and untangled the nearly strangled wire connecting it to the wall. Seven quick number taps and I would be on my way to reuniting with my cousin.
The receiver greeted me: “Good afternoon. Today’s date is . . . “
And that’s when I realized it. My mom had fooled me. Rather than providing me with the number to call my cousin, she had given me the local number for the time and temperature. Side note: A bank in our hometown had a specific number so when people in our area dialed it, they were greeted by an automated voice with the exact time and the forecast for the day. What she wasn’t aware of, though, was this was the birth of my need for information. Nobody had asked me to, nor was it ever a burden to, call this number and receive the information I needed day-to-day in order to be fully prepared for what lied ahead as a mere child. What had started as a joke created by my mom turned into the formation of a curious mind and a need to know everything. I began calling this number daily in order to be well aware of how I should prepare myself for any outdoor and indoor activities: Would I need a jacket? Was it warm enough to wear shorts? Would my class go outside for recess? All I needed to know was how cold or warm it would be, and if the day would give us any forms of precipitation.
This was one of the moments in which I became fully conscious of my love for learning. I wasn’t being tested, although, my parents quizzed me out of sheer humor when they wanted to see if I had memorized the current day’s weather. I enjoyed answering questions correctly everyday, and when I forgot to call the number during one of my parents’ daily quizzes, it only instilled in me the importance of always being aware and always being an active learner.
The funny thing about learning is our elders tell us we need to learn as much as we can when we’re young, but then what they fail to realize is they stopped learning a long time ago. It’s as though once they left the structured educational system, they thought they learned everything they needed to know. The difference with me, though, is I enjoy learning. I ever prefer learning outside of the classroom. Being confined in a classroom with a set list of standards given to my teacher when I was in elementary school was what held me back. Sure, I found most subjects interesting; however, I wasn’t able to expand my knowledge on those other subjects I found completely perplexing and stimulating. For example, I loved reading, but I wasn’t able to read those books I found interesting for my classes. I had to read them during my own time. I guess this was why I chose to venture into the world of Harry Potter as a mere first grade student, though. While we were reading books with more pictures than words during our scheduled read-aloud time, I was able to spend my free time with chapters of imagination. The series was long, dealt with fascinating themes, and provided me with a new and thought-provoking wondrous world.
Diving deeper into a subject is what should intrigue the human race. Maybe I only feel this way because it’s parallel to how I feel about deeper conversations in comparison to small talk, but it applies. Small talk bores me. It’s simply a way to pass time either to not feel guilty about not conversing with someone or to not feel guilty about those few wasted moments spent in silence and soft breaths. Deeper conversations, though: Those are interesting. They allow you to truly learn the finer points about a person. Everyone shares basic facts: We all possess an age, height, and favorite color. Most of those we probably even share with a few other people. But have we ever truly learned about what makes someone’s eyes sparkle–both from sadness or delight? Have we ever truly learned about a moment in which someone had fallen to the bottom of the earth? It’s in these moments when we truly learn the honest aspects about another person.
Everything we learn deals with these finer points about people. When we read a fictional work about a girl who dies as a result of a decade-long battle with cancer, we can ponder about whether or not the author has experienced this form of sorrow. No longer do I gloss over the deeper details of people. Instead, I swim around in them, open my eyes despite the burning sensation from either the water or the murkiness within the moments, and I embrace them, whether or not the water is cold. Temperatures used to matter to me, but they don’t anymore. They were simply stepping-stones to a greater understanding about the process of education.
While the image of a classroom setting may present itself when the word “education” appears, this is not the only instance of earning an education. Most of what we learn is developed through trial-and-error, the act of gaining a friendship, the scenario of losing a loved one, and reading through works we enjoy. What we choose to learn about is where our true passions lie, and we cannot prevent these momentous aspects of our interest from coming to the forefront. When we find a heavy interest in the anatomy of a person, we begin to understand our mind’s desire to venture into the world of medicine. When we find a heavy interest in the formation and lyricism between words, our minds wander to the possibilities of telling stories in the written form. What we further educate ourselves about is where we need to be.
While sitting in classrooms at early ages, we’re given the well-rounded design of learning: spelling, math, science, social studies, music, art, physical education, and English. We’re confined in classrooms, and the art of a structured classroom is at times restricting to those who wish to learn on their own. As we age, we still learn these topics, however, we dive deeper into these subjects. Once we reach the opportunity of achieving a higher education, we pick one of these to study for a set number of years. Then, within these chosen subject areas, we learn the basics. These basics then dive deeper into worlds we wouldn’t have known had we never experienced the need to pursue these interests.
Sometimes, we leave our classrooms feeling curious. We realize the perplexities behind an author’s ideas, or we are drawn to the way his or her words implanted themselves into our minds. From here, we feel pulled to learn more, discover more. This is why I’ve always loved learning. There is never a stopping point to within the world of being curious, and there’s always room for new findings, new discoveries, and new moments of pondering.
A good education will leave us wondering. It will leave us curious. Even though I no longer worry myself with the numbers on the temperature scale, I have found within myself an ever-present, never-ceasing trait: When I want to know something, I feel a pull to understand it. Once I understand it, I feel the need to know more, comprehend more, and understand each intricate aspect of the subject. An education is good for setting the foundation and allowing us to understand the basics. The process of learning for our personal selves, however, is never-ending, and this is why the absorption of knowledge will never cease to amaze me.
Lauren is a Ball State University alumna with a Bachelor's degree in English and a concentration in Creative Writing. She enjoys breakfast for dinner with a side of literary enjoyment.