The other day, Bill Maher was on Larry King’s show on CNN, and in his usual forthright manner, talked about terrorism and Afghanistan and how war is not the best way to fight terrorism.
As I listened to Maher speak, I wondered if Greg Mortenson was also watching. I could picture him sitting in his home in Bozeman, Montana, and agreeing with every word that Bill Maher said.
I have just finished reading “Stones into Schools”, Mortenson’s account of how he built 145 schools (most of them exclusively girls’ schools) in Afghanistan and Pakistan. This book continues the story he started telling in the wildly popular “Three Cups of Tea”. I have to confess that I found “Three Cups of Tea” rather hard to read. It seemed to me that the target audience was exclusively five-year olds. Anyway, the very awkward writing is probably the fault of the co-author, David Oliver Relin. The second book lacks both that co-author and the awkward writing. It is, in fact, very well-written and gripping.
“Stones into Schools” is also heartwarming at about six different levels. It is an incredible tale, written in a matter-of-fact manner. You read about people who are so determined to get their children educated they have schools in tents, in the open air, and in buildings that were once public toilets (with the floor boarded up). Or how a neglected, isolated cluster of villages deep in the High Pamir in Afghanistan wanted schools so badly that they sent as emissaries fourteen Kirghiz horsemen. The horsemen rode for 6 days through high-altitude passes without stopping, carrying no food and little water, into Pakistan to meet Mortenson. After they had delivered their entreaties for a school, the Kirghiz horsemen were back on the road the next day, trying to reach home before the snow started falling.
Apparently, word had spread into even the remotest parts of Afghanistan that there was this American in Pakistan who was building schools. It’s amazing how much goodwill this seems to have generated.
Greg Mortenson (by his own admission) did not want to have anything to do with the US Army, or even the appearance of having anything to do with the US Army, for a very long time. But if the US Army had started its own initiative for building schools and hospitals in Afghanistan, perhaps that would be what Bill Maher would have considered a good way to fight terrorism.
Of course, this strategy (of winning over hearts by building schools) only works because the people there have such a zest for education – even when the mere act of going to school carries deadly risks. You read in the newspapers about Afghan girls having acid thrown in their faces, or being exposed to poisonous gas, all for attending school.
So in one corner of the world, we have children who value education very highly but do not have access to it. In another corner, we have students who apparently couldn’t care too much about attending school. Economist Robert J. Samuelson writes in Newsweek:
“The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation. Students, after all, have to do the work. If the students aren’t motivated, even capable teachers may fail. Motivation comes from many sources: curiosity and ambition; parental expectations; the desire to get into a “good” college; inspiring or intimidating teachers; peer pressure……Motivation is weak because more students (of all races and economic classes, let it be added) don’t like school, don’t work hard and don’t do well.
Perhaps they should make “Stones into Schools” mandatory reading in US schools. Perhaps after reading the book, at least some students in the US might find enough motivation to do well in school.