In the Wizard of Oz, the cowardly lion joins Dorothy in search of courage only to find that he had it all along. Like the lion, courage is a quality that most of us wish we had - or had more of. While characters in our favorite books and movies show off their courage in facing down villains, in real life social activists and other leaders are the ones with the real stuff.
In the United States (U.S.), February is Black History Month. It's a time to celebrate major advances, but it's also a time to reflect on significant acts of courage. Think of Rosa Parks refusing to give up her seat. Consider Martin Luther King, Jr., sharing a dream that was unpopular and put him in such physical danger that he lost his life. And if you think it's only adults who show courage, think again. Ruby Bridges was only a child when the simple act of going to school required a flock of U.S. Marshall bodyguards.
Psychologists tell us there are six qualities that courageous people possess. Courageous people feel fear but decide to act anyway. They follow their heart (or their dream), even when it doesn't seem like that dream will ever happen. They stand up for what they know is right and they don't let setbacks or suffering change who they are.
Courage is a choice we make but it's also a hard, painful, and often slow process. It's easier to let fear take over or to "go along to get along." It's difficult to keep working toward a goal that always seems to keep moving just out of your reach.
Quiet actions are often as courageous and capable of far-reaching change as actions that make the headlines. Going to school, entering a public space as an equal, raising your voice, writing a letter or research paper, and becoming an informed citizen - these are all acts of courage. They were hard-won freedoms by courageous people who have gone before us.
We honor that courage every day when we live the full lives they fought to give us.
I've been getting to know the Justice Girls for several years! But it wasn't until about a year ago that I finally began writing their story. Here's the path to the Justice Girls series. What a long, strange trip it's been!
I used to teach college students about different governments, women in politics, and human rights. These are all subjects that are important to me and I've shared them with my daughter.
As she grew older, I noticed a giant gaping hole in middle grade books. There were historical fiction books (my daughter loves the Dear America series), there were books on girls in science, there were books on girls solving mysteries, but there was NOTHING on girls being political and socially active.
So I started kicking around the idea of the Justice Girls. Then I read the Young Reader's edition of I Am Malala to my daughter. We both ended that book elated but also sad. There were no fictional characters that my daughter could read about who did things like Malala. And how did Malala learn how to do all of that stuff anyway?
Well, now I was motivated. Now, I was ready. The Justice Girls had been growing up, just like my daughter. They were ready to tell their story and I was ready to write it. The Justice Girls is all about letting girls see what they can do in the world. It's also about important ideas like compromise, tolerance, and respect.
Recently, Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia passed away. There has been a great deal of commentary on his remarkable friendship with his fellow Justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Why is this considered so remarkable? Because they were polar opposites in terms of their political views - he a staunch conservative and she a fierce liberal. Yet they were friends and why wouldn't they be? Why shouldn't they be? That this friendship is seen as so rare is precisely why I wrote The Justice Girls series.
The United States (U.S.) constitution, and the government it created, are unique in many ways. The U.S. constitution has inspired people in many countries. Yet, too many forget that our constitution was forged in the spirit of compromise. Some of those compromises were positive and others were morally wrong. But it wasn't a "my way or the highway" approach, in stark contrast to politics now in too many places.
The Justice Girls series isn't just about teaching girls how to make a difference by writing a letter or collecting money for a cause. It's about teaching girls how to remain friends even when you fundamentally disagree about everything, except maybe opera.
In a college commencement speech in 2011, the United Nation's (UN) Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, declared the 21st century would be the "century of girls and women." Education, she declared, was a key way to empower girls and women throughout the world. Women have heeded the education call to arms and officials have noted that few development dollars provide a larger payoff than educating girls and women. In the United States (U.S.) women are outnumbering men in higher education. The developing world has been more varied, with girls showing progress in completing primary education but falling off in large numbers by the secondary and tertiary levels.
But equality in the classroom is about more than a presence. It's about attitude and expectations. In a recent study of 1,700 university-level biology students in the U.S., male respondents under-estimated the abilities of their female classmates and over-estimated the males. In other words, a woman would need to earn an "A" grade to match the prestige of a male's "B" grade. Think this only has to do with a few barely post-adolescent boys? Think again. Women who co-author economics papers are given less credit (this is very bad in the publish-or-perish world of academia). It's not just academic economists that seem to have a woman problem. It plagues the field. Ditto the sciences, and even that once female domain of nursing is witnessing male nurses out-earning their female counterparts despite still being a small fraction of the profession.
The list is really endless. Every day, whether I want to or not, I'm confronted with the persistent and pernicious reality of gender bias. And we have it relatively good here in the United States. But regardless of the particulars, gender bias is about believing that women and girls are somehow lesser beings, whether social, political, economic, or all of the above. This belief becomes institutionalized and socialized in a vicious circle that is difficult to overcome. While education is critically important, that education must begin in the home and focus on the equal and intrinsic worth of the female child. From this all other changes become possible.