Malala Yousafzai Inspires Children Worldwide to Speak Up for the Right to an Education

Janusz Korczak often wrote about the difficulty of being a child in an adult world. The story of Malala Yousafzai has brought this story to life in our times. This is an issue of human rights. Not politics. Not religion. Too many short-sighted people are using the story of Malala and the broader issue of girls to create short-sighted propaganda. The issue here (politics and religion aside) is simple: all children have the right to an education. Here is a New York Times documentary on the issue of the right of girls to receive an education:

On her birthday, July 12, 2013, the courageous Malala Yousafzai gave an inspiring speech to the United Nations – for all world leaders to take note.

Finally, a group of girls put together a touching video as a tribute to Malala and all she stands for. The Korczakian themes are especially striking:

“How can anybody young like me,
Can find even find any truth,
When nobody’s lookin’ for truth in the youth?
…then Malala gave me a voice!”
A beautiful, inspiring video.

Happy Birthday, Malala. The Struggle for Your Cause Continues

Today is a day to celebrate Malala Yousafzai’s 16th birthday and the courage she represents. As an article in the July 12, 2013, New York Times points out, however, the struggle among girls in Taliban-controlled sections of Pakistan continue unabated. And the situation indeed looks grim. What kind of government would deem it proper to deny any child the right to an education, just because that child happens to be female? The right of the child to discover, to fly, to dream, to imagine, and more… these are the very foundation of the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child. Anything less is against the dignity of children and all the people associated with them. The Taliban does not represent the interests of the people, of humanity, or the Muslim faith, which would never condone such actions. (I know several female scholars and leaders of the Muslim faith.) It’s a day of celebration. It’s also a day of mourning, when children do not go to school because they fear for their safety—not just the taunts of bullies, but their very survival. It is also a day to recognize the many heroes, otherwise ordinary people, who are defying the decrees of the Taliban. By doing so, they stand for the dignity of the children of Pakistan and children the world over.

Education for Girls Worldwide Must Become a Priority.

According to a group, A World at School, some 57 million children do not have access to a basic education. Women and girls are disproportionately affected.

Remember Malala? On July 12, less than a year after she was shot by the Taliban for her strong voice in this fight. Malala Yousafzai will mark her 16th birthday by delivering the highest leadership of the U.N. a set of education demands written by youth, for youth, to United Nations Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon. The child’s right to an education is central to the UN Declaration of the Rights of the Child, that extraordinary document that was inspired by the teachings of Janusz Korczak, both in his life and his writings, especially The Child’s Right to Respect and How to Love a Child.

Here’s one way we can show our solidarity with Malala: Please sign this letter to Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon to show your demand for emergency action in support for Malala’s education fight.


Priceless Writings from a Great Man Who’s Teachings Are Still Relevant

Selected Works of JK originalReview of Selected Works of Janusz Korczak (Wibor Pizm)

I was fortunate to locate a copy of this extremely rare book; it is among my most prized possessions.  My colleague Robert Oppenheimer, from the Janusz Korczak Association of Canada has made the complete text of this most important work available online.
Janusz Korczak was the pen name of Henryk Goldszmit, a man still very much admired in his native Poland, Israel, Germany, and the Netherlands but little known in North America. This is an extraordinary pity, as his philosophy of teaching and raising children are as important today as they were during the first half of the twentieth century, when Korczak put them in place. In North America, he is best remembered for his Ghetto Diary, which he composed while he was incarcerated in the Warsaw Ghetto during the Nazi German occupation of Poland and shortly before he led the orphans in his care to the transport that would take them all to Treblinka and certain death. Although he was offered many times the chance to escape the Ghetto, he refused, promising to stay with the children he cared for – “One does not abandon a child in need.” More has been written about Dr. Korczak elsewhere on the Internet; for a comprehensive biography, I heartily recommend Betty Jean Lifton’s excellent biography, “The King of Children.”

As poignant as Korczak’s final moments are, the Old Doctor (as he was sometimes known) is much more than a memorial, a statue. His work is a living philosophy, important reading for teachers, parents, and anyone else who cares for or about children. Sadly, precious little of this great man’s work is available in English. Aside from the “Ghetto Diary,” one can still find translations of his most famous children’s novel, “King Matt the First,” and “When I Am Little Again” and the “Child’s Right to Respect.” His most important work, How to Love a Child, is available in translation only in this volume and as a collection of quotations in two volumes by Sandra Joseph. This volume, therefore, is of immense historical significance to English-language readers. (Many of Korczak’s works have been translated into German, French, Dutch, and Hebrew.)

Back in 1967, a University of California, Berkeley, professor named Martin Wolins realized this gap and arranged for this translation of Wybor Pism by Jerzy Bachrach. Included is a translated introduction by Igor Newerly, who worked with Korczak for many years. It is interesting to note that while other volumes on Korczak were published in 1978, on the centennial of his birth, this volume was issued on the 25th anniversary of his death at the hands of the Nazis. Unfortunately, this precious volume was printed in very limited numbers – colleagues of mine estimate about 500 to 600 copies, most of which are hidden in academic libraries. Therefore, I count myself as extremely fortunate to have located a copy on eBay. As an admirer of Janusz Korczak, it is my plan to collaborate with two other scholars to make these works available again.

In “How to Love a Child,” Korczak gives his best description of his pedagogical practices at his orphanage in Warsaw, including his famous Children’s Court, a system of peer review of infractions by children and staff that included ways for the offender to repair damage to the community. He also discusses his equally famous Summer Camps, which enabled inner-city children to experience the wonder of nature in a cooperative setting. In this work, as well as in “The Child’s Right” to Respect, Janusz Korczak discusses the importance of seeing everything from the perspective of the child, to listen to the child and respect him as a human being, not merely as a future adult.

The other essays are “Educational Factors,” “On the School Newspaper,” “The Special School,” “Forgive Me, Children,” and his “Memoirs.”

More than bronze statues, commemorative stamps, and medallions, Korczak’s writings are the foremost monument to this great and gentle man.

For the Sake of the Children, Let Us Not Neglect the Humanities!

Ancient Athens is seen in modern times. How many buildings of the Athenian Acrokolis can you identify?
Photo by A. Savin, via Wikimedia Commons


No, I am not talking about stem-cell research; rather, I am referring to that hackneyed acronym, STEM. That is, “Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics.” All these are worthy fields. Yet, when I look at this list, is not something terribly important missing? Art? History? Literature? Philosophy?

Three thoughtful essays have appeared recently to address this issue. David Brooks, an erudite columnist for the New York Times expressed why I, both as a student and, later, an educator, have felt so strongly about the importance of the humanities in education. He ends, “Teachers … were zealous for the humanities. A few years in that company leaves a lifelong mark.” Exactly! As a history major myself (with a concentration in anthropology), my studies in the liberal arts continue to this day, history and folklore making up the bulk of what I like to read. As many educators like to put it, the humanities have instilled in me “a lifelong love of learning.” His essay speaks of this well.

Verlyn Klinkenborg, a New York Times essayist—and a very fine writer, in my opinion—spoke about the English major: “In the drift from the humanities, we lose something of ourselves.” I heartily recommend his article!

Finally, for a perspective from the U.K., a colleague of mine suggested this, an older article, which also provides sources for further reading: How many of us are able to identify the buildings of ancient Athens to which the article refers?

Dr. Korczak believed that each of his orphans should take with him (or her) the sense of humanity and ethics when he (or she) embarks upon the world.  From the writings of Itzhak Belfer, Igor Newerly, and others, the Old Doctor certainly succeeded.