Syrian Refugee Children #ImagineASchool

A picture of refugee children from Syria.

Photo credit: huseyin ozdemir1 / Shutterstock

The Syrian crisis has caused untold damage to not only Syria, but to many of the surrounding countries. Many of the refugees fleeing the war zone into the neighboring country of Lebanon are children. And while their lives may be in less immediate danger outside of Syria, their futures remain uncertain.

That’s due in large part to the fact that 187,000 of those children—almost half of the Syrian refugees in Lebanon—are not going to school. Instead, they’re being pushed into manual labor or marriage to help financially support their struggling families.

“Poverty, social exclusion, insecurity, and language barriers are preventing Syrian children from getting an education, leaving an entire generation disadvantaged, impoverished, and at risk of being pushed into early marriage and child labor,” said UNICEF Lebanon Representative Tanya Chapuisat in an interview with Reuters.

In response, UNICEF has come up with an original idea to spread the word about the importance of education for these Syrian refugee children.

UNICEF’s #ImagineASchool project is an interactive online documentary website that allows visitors to watch and listen to interviews with Syrian children about their desire to attend school. Filmed during the summer of 2016, the #ImagineASchool project involved gathering more than 80 children together for traditional class photos. Each class was photographed twice: once with all the children, and once with just the children in that group who were actively attending school.

The results were shocking. Whereas each individual class might contain 8-12 students, the number actually going to school was about half that for each class.

“You risk losing an entire generation,” lamented Chapuisat in the documentary footage. “A generation that will not achieve their potential, a generation that won’t be able to contribute to society. A generation that won’t be able to educate their children in the same way going forward.”

The photographers and filmographers noticed a distinct difference between the children they interviewed who had been to school and those who hadn’t. Children without systematic education had trouble telling a cohesive narrative and answering questions. Those who attended school did not.

UNICEF is working hard to create more opportunities for these students. The organization is present in 1,300 schools and 2,000 informal tent settlements in Lebanon. In 2015-2016, UNICEF and Lebanon’s Ministry of Education and Higher Education supported about 150,000 Syrian refugee children and about 197,000 Lebanese children in enrolling and staying in school. UNICEF covers all associated educational fees as well as providing learning materials, enrollment support, school transport, school uniforms, bags, and school supplies.

Their work isn’t just about providing education, though. It’s also about keeping these refugee children away from dangerous physical labor and early marriage, both of which can detract from a child’s ability to flourish in adulthood. With refugees already at a disadvantage due to the language barrier (many Syrian children grew up learning Arabic, while schools in Lebanon generally teach in French and English), it’s vital that these children be given every opportunity to learn and adapt to their new homes.

Nearly half a million Syrian children between the ages of 3 and 17 now live in Lebanon. According to UNICEF, all 1,283 Lebanese schools have opened their doors to refugees, who only need to show an ID to be enrolled. But they will also need the support of organizations like UNICEF to overcome the stigma of being poor refugees and to be able to build a better life for themselves and their families.

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5 Things to Know About Betsy DeVos

A picture of Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump.

Betsy DeVos and Donald Trump.
Photo credit: a katz / Shutterstock

If you’re not familiar with Betsy DeVos yet, you’ve come to the right place. I’m writing this post for people who want a brief synopsis of who she is. With that being said, let’s start with the basics. Betsy DeVos is Donald Trump’s pick for secretary of education. You’ve probably seen her in the news a lot lately following her Senate confirmation hearing. Here’s what you need to know.

  1. She Doesn’t Have Any Prior Experience with Public Education

If confirmed into office, Betsy Devos would be the first secretary of education to have zero prior experience with public schools. She has never attended a public school, worked in one, nor sent her children to one. Many Congressmen and women find her unqualified for the position because of this.

  1. She’s a Big Believer in Private Education

During the Senate hearing, Betsy DeVos refused to answer a question as to whether or not she would reallocate public school funds towards private education. But that’s fine, considering that her family’s donations do all the talking. Her family has contributed a total of $8.6 million to private Christian schools.

  1. She Supports Gay Conversion Therapy

Betsy DeVos comes from an extremely wealthy family, and by wealthy, I’m talking they’re worth billions. In the past, DeVos and her family have donated extravagant amounts of money to anti-LGBT organizations such as Focus on the Family. Focus on the Family believes that homosexuality is “preventable and treatable.”

  1. She Has No Idea What IDEA Is

IDEA stands for Individuals with Disabilities Education Act. You’d be forgiven if you weren’t familiar with the term, but anyone who works in education should be. That’s why it came as a shock when, during the Senate confirmation hearing, DeVos appeared completely clueless as to whether or not all schools should be required to comply with IDEA. She eventually ended up saying that it should be “left up to the states,” even though IDEA is a federal law.

  1. She May Try to Repeal Title IX Guidelines

When DeVos was asked about Title IX guidelines as it relates to campus sexual assault, she was unsure as to whether or not she would uphold those laws.

“Senator, I know that there’s a lot of conflicting ideas and opinions around that guidance — and if confirmed I would look forward to working with you and your colleagues and understand the range of opinion and understand the issues from the higher-ed institutions that are charged with resolving these and addressing them and I would look forward to working together to find some resolutions,” DeVos stated.

 And there you have it, folks. That’s your next secretary of education. Happy Inauguration Day, by the way.

My Struggle With Finding a Job After College

A diagram with the words "job search" in the middle.

Image credit: Shutterstock

Look, I get it. I’ve been there myself. I graduated from the University of Iowa with my Master’s in Library and Information Science. While that’s not your typical “basket-weaving degree,” I will say that I did struggle to find employment after college.

It took me a total of eight months to find a job once I graduated. Even then, my first job out of college wasn’t within my field. I’m ashamed to admit it, but I was so desperate for employment that I took a job as a secretary for $15 an hour.

My meager wages combined with my lack of self-confidence spiraled me into a deep depression. I was poor, humiliated, and completely dissatisfied with how my life turned out. I couldn’t help but to think I wasted six years of my life on a degree that was essentially useless.

However, I’m here to tell you that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. But I’m not going to sugar coat it: it takes a whole hell of a lot of effort to reach that light.

For me, I had to sacrifice one of the values I hold dearest to me: family. I grew up in a small town in Iowa. After college, I confined my job hunt to places within the surrounding area. I didn’t want to break away from my parents, siblings, nieces, and nephews. They mean the world to me.

But I knew that if I wanted to get the job of my dreams, I had to start searching in other areas. I eventually ended up taking a job in St. Louis. Again, it’s not how I originally envisioned my life, but I’m a lot happier now that I’m making more money and working within my chosen field.

My advice for you is this: get out of your comfort zone. What boundaries, values, or rules have you set for yourself that are holding you back? What are you afraid of losing if you let go of this particular belief? What do you stand to gain if you let go of it?

Fighting Fake News Requires Teaching Kids to Identify It

A rolled up newspaper with the headline "fake news" on it.

Image credit: Shutterstock

The recent election cycle taught us a lot about America. Among the things we learned was that “fake news” is a plague upon society, one that many of us are scrambling to figure out how to stop.

Fake news refers to unreliable sources that are shared on the Internet due to people assuming that they’re true. This could be an unverified tweet or photo, an article from a biased “source” like Breitbart, or advertisements passed off as news stories.

There are people on the Internet deliberately trying to mislead us. But the problem is less that these things exist, and more that people are incapable of distinguishing them from actual news.

A recent study completed by Stanford researchers found that the core problem is that students are not being taught how to distinguish between good and bad sources. Middle schoolers, high schoolers, and even college students have trouble doing this. It’s something that they need to be taught.

But before we blame teachers, let’s sit back and realize that they probably don’t have these skills either. Anybody can have an audience on the Internet, and while that can be a very powerful tool for activism, it can also be very dangerous. The public education system hasn’t taught people how to distinguish between good and bad sources because we haven’t really had this problem before.

Breitbart and fake Twitter accounts did not exist twenty years ago. In the old days, people got their news from reliable sources such as newspapers, magazines, and TV news.

Nobody has been able to keep up with the ways in which information is being produced, curated, or disseminated any more. The answer, of course, is to educate everyone. We need to teach more critical thinking and analysis skills to kids, starting in elementary school. This problem is a threat to democracy, and it’s one that will take a great amount of effort to solve.