Wanjiku or the dream of education, September 30, 2020

In his acceptance speech for the International Catalonia Prize, Ngugi wa Thiongo said: "My mother, whose name was Wanjiku, never went to school. She did not know how to read or write, but she was the one who sent me to school. It was Mother Wanjiku who instilled in me the dream of education. "

I would like to continue transcribing this speech that the Kenyan writer delivered in Kikuyu, his mother tongue - which the organization of the award offered us with subtitles in Catalan - because each of his observations deserves a deeper reflection.

I would like, for example, to comment on what it suggested to me to hear that "monolingualism is the carbon monoxide of cultures, while multilingualism is their oxygen."

I would also like to follow his idea of ??a mother's direct link with the mother tongue when he said: "Mother Wanjiku, wherever your soul rests, I beg you to forgive me for all the years that I abandoned the language that you gave me at birth, the language in which you sang lullabies to me and told me stories that filled my heart with emotion. I have come back home: I have embraced my mother tongue ... "

And I would especially like to stop at this point, when his old man's voice became a poem full of music and the singing escaped him: "The prodigal son has returned / I have wandered a lot / now I regret / I leave behind all rebellion / I am coming home / let me come back to you / let me stop my wandering / I beg you to take me in / yes, mother Wanjiku, I have come back to you and accept this wonderful award on your behalf. "

I would even like to follow his praise of translators who create bridges between cultures and make our cultural traditions great, no matter what the number of speakers of a particular language is.

But if I have decided to write this article, it is because of the impact it had on me to hear the words with which he described his mother's loving attitude: "she instilled in me the dream of education."

The expression "instilling a dream" transported me both to the farmer who plants a seed and to the attentive gaze of anyone who gets lost in the contemplation of the sky on a summer night full of stars anywhere.

 "The dream of education" was the thunder that follows the lightning.

Education, this concept on everyone's lips right now but of such uncertain significance, finally found its own space. Education is a dream. It is a wish. It is the aspiration of a pregnant mother who contributes, consciously and patiently, to the arrival of the future. The mother who meditates on everything she has not had, but about which she feels great curiosity.

The writer converts a single verb, to instill, into this enormous number of daily actions that define the life of his mother while he was a child growing up beside her. Instilling is a form of transmission appropriate to the desire to perpetuate what is most valued.

Instill a dream. It seems that you cannot go further. But you can: instilling the dream of education is already the opening of an infinite universe full of all colors and all textures. It is the very entrance to the humanity of humans.

These days, the whole world is debating the return to school of girls and boys, of young people who have been scattered among loneliness and screens for months, of university students who are training to change their learning habits. Everywhere there is talk of the need to return to the classroom. Many practical aspects of this reopening fill the undoubtedly necessary debates of the last weeks.

But perhaps that is why we must also remember, with the same intensity, what we are talking about when we talk about education. Right now, opening schools, for some, simply means allowing adults to develop their working lives smoothly; Others hope that curricular programs will resume as soon as possible to ensure that all kinds of tests can be passed; Others may be waiting to see how the changes in social life since last spring will influence schooling and its more shopworn coordinates ... 

It is at this very confusing moment when education is on everyone's lips that a Kenyan poet, speaking of his mother without studies, gives shape to the expression: "instill the dream of education."

Could this little phrase illuminate some of the connecting paths between the classrooms that are about to open their doors and the treasure troves of cultural heritage that confinement has released to us?

Lessons from illustrious scientists, concerts, theater performances, films, guided visits to museum centers, debates and readings of all kinds ... Everything that cultural institutions have let us see and that we have received on our screens as forms of permanent education, don't they have to do with education as a dream?

If we thought of education as a dream to be instilled, would we not more easily realize that education is a changing environment that must be adapted to new living conditions and that, for this, we need to return over and over again to review the human history that has preceded us?

Even for those who find this idea of ??education as a dream excessively poetic, can they discard it without being forced to consider why it is so important to reopen schools as soon as possible?

I want to thank with all my heart Ngugi wa Thiongo for his speech and, above all, his mother Wanjiku who knew how to do what so many of us want to know how to do without always succeeding.

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