Common Knowledge

by Sam Butcher (age 16, Mayo)

You have the right to a good quality education. You should be encouraged to go to school to the highest level you can. Photograph: Getty Images

You have the right to a good quality education. You should be encouraged to go to school to the highest level you can. Photograph: Getty Images


I fumbled around my bedside table and finally smacked the blaring alarm clock off the table.

It read 7am. Many years ago, that would’ve been my cue to throw on a uniform, eat breakfast, freshen up and leg it out the door. Instead, I got comfortable in my bed again. “You can’t learn,” I reminded myself, “It isn’t the way anymore, it’s not for our kind with our status.” I grumbled in frustration.

Personally, I liked school back in the day. Now that it was illegal for most people, we were encouraged to just carry out the menial tasks of the world for very little in return. That was just the New Yorker life.

When the clock struck nine, I got out of bed, said bye to mom and walked across the street to the printing press where I printed newspapers, for twelve hours, six days a week.

I got a jump this morning as the local authorities carried a man out of the factory. They had found science notes in his duffel bag, a source of knowledge. He was shoved into the cop car kicking and screaming. “Knowledge is power!” he screamed. “Tell it to the Supreme Court!” yelled one of the cops. The car drove off down the street.

“Amateur,” I thought to myself. I shrugged it off, this was the fourth arrest here this week. I’d learned how to deal with it at this point.

Twelve inky hours later, I shuffled into the tiny apartment in which my mom and I lived. I gave her a kiss on the cheek and crashed onto my futon, which hurt my ribs a little. I turned on the news channel. News was knowledge so it was only really announcements for my area but it was better than the propaganda on the other channel about knowledge being “dangerous”. My eyes drifted shut.

I was rudely awoken by a punch square in the face. “What the hell man?!” I yelled. A shadowy figure came and put handcuffs around my wrists. “Wade Jones,” he said sternly, “you have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to speak to an attorney, and to have an attorney present during any questioning.”

“I don’t know what this is about!” I shouted, but it fell on deaf ears as a bag was placed over my head and I was led out of the apartment and into a cop car.

I sat in a waiting room for what felt like a month. I was suddenly alerted and shown through two large oak doors that opened out into a large hall. A man wearing a white wig loomed over me as I walked to the front of the room.

I was in the Supreme Court.

“Silence please,” His voice boomed throughout the room. “Mr Jones, you have been charged with multiple counts of first degree education. The New Constitution declared by the regime states that education is strictly forbidden to anyone classed as a rank B citizen or below. It is a practice strictly directed towards families of scientific or wealthy descent. Sentences span from 40 years to life in prison. Yesterday, at exactly nine in the evening, a member of the night shift accidentally broke open your locker. As a result of this, sheets upon sheets of math and history related information were found and reported to the authorities.”

I was in a mind-numbing state of shock and panic! “Those aren’t mine!” I cried. I was encouraged to stay silent by the attorney sitting next to me; he said it could jeopardise my chances. An hour passed, my pleading of not guilty did nothing to stop the eventual sentence being concluded as life in prison.

The world stopped in my head, all of a sudden, I was being committed to a life of confinement for being in possession of information. I wasn’t going to stand for this. I wasn’t going to stop until education was legal for everyone. That man who got arrested was right, knowledge is power and it was something we all needed right now in this world.

Now was the time to plan. I was given a month to get my affairs in order. I took this month as an opportunity. Technically, I wasn’t allowed to work in the printing press anymore so all I did, when I went to get my things, was doctor the newspapers a little bit. Hopefully this would ignite a spark. All I did was change the front page article to “KNOWLEDGE IS POWER” with a little subtitle saying “Why not learn a little”. I collected my things and left the building casually.

I woke up to the sound of a riot on the streets. I saw banners with historical and scientific facts on them. It continued on throughout the week. So many people were getting arrested, left, right and centre. Prisons were overflowing and people just kept coming. It felt strange a newspaper could make such a difference but as it was the only source of information and the only newspaper for our type of people, it didn’t come as a surprise. I couldn’t help but smile a little.

People were preaching that knowledge is good all over the country by the end of week two. There were hunger strikes, monuments being torn down and general chaos happening everywhere and the government couldn’t handle it.

Eventually, activists were permitted to go into talks with the government. There was a global outcry that everyone should be allowed to learn and slowly but surely the governments were listening. My sentence was put on hold as there was literally no space in the prisons anymore. I was eventually traced back as the instigator. People called me the father of a revolution, a pretty flattering remark if you ask me. It wasn’t long before I was asked to talk in Washington DC about the right to education and how it was a basic human need.

When I got to the event, I felt a little bit like Martin Luther King Jr, who had, all those years ago, spoken where I was now standing. There was a crowd stretched back as far as the eye could see. I was frozen in place briefly but I eventually worked up the courage to step up to the podium.

“Um, good morning,” I was met with a response of deafening cheers and declarations of people’s love toward me. “Well, I never thought I’d be up here,” I said, “I’m happy to see so many people agree with me. I know the men in black behind me are far less than impressed but I’m glad to see that they have realised they really can’t stop a nation of people.”

I looked down at my cue cards and dropped them to the ground. “I’m speaking today to speak about the right that should’ve never been taken away in the first place, the right to education. I feel like this shouldn’t even be a topic of conflict and the fact it was made illegal makes me sick to my stomach. We were fed the lie that knowledge is dangerous and detrimental to our wellbeing but that’s just not true! It’s a beautiful thing that should grow with us as a civilisation, not a privilege that should be restricted to the so called higher-ups!”

I was angry about this, really angry. I couldn’t stop my ranting. “So if I leave here today and nothing changes, humanity is doomed. If people can’t learn, what’s the point in anything? We’ve hit a point that is the complete opposite of progression! It’s a regression to the norms of the 19th century and if we still can’t learn in the mid 21st century that we need to let everyone shine then what’s the point in our civilisation existing? I implore the governments of the world to strongly consider our needs as human beings and not as pawns working only to the gain of the wealthy.” There were tears in my eyes.

“Thank you all for listening, here’s to the future of mankind!” I threw my fist into the air. I was quickly led off the podium and away from the goings on. I was led into a room where none other than the man who created the law against education in the first place was sitting.

“Sit down,” he said. “We have much to discuss. Fear twisted like a knife in my gut. “This is it,” I thought, “I’m going back to prison.”

I stood in front of the minister, wondering whether or not I should make a run for it, when he gestured for me to take a seat in front of his desk. “There may be some use in what you’ve been talking about,” he said. “I’d like you to work for me. Become an ambassador for uneducational rights.”

I was surprised. I hesitated for only a moment. But in that moment my mind was bombarded with thoughts; I thought about the screaming man who got arrested, probably rotting in a jail cell somewhere. I thought about how I was mistreated day in and out, in my job at the printing press. I thought about knowledge, and the power I always craved. I took a deep breath, looking the minister square in the eyes, and said,

“Okay. I’ll be your man.”

Article 28

You have the right to a good quality education. You should be encouraged to go to school to the highest level you can

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