Wake County residents awaiting the fate of their schools might have a hard time getting worked up about schools, or lack thereof, on the other side of the world. Still, now’s as good a time as any to do just that. Nicholas Kristof made the point in his Thursday NYT column that Afghanistan would benefit more from school-building than nation-building, particularly of the Martial Plan variety we’re poised to ratchet up.
Education isn’t a panacea, and no policy in Afghanistan is a sure bet. But all in all, the evidence suggests that education can help foster a virtuous cycle that promotes stability and moderation. So instead of sending 40,000 troops more to Afghanistan, how about opening 40,000 schools?”
Today’s Fayetteville Observer has an article that reinforces this view. Retired soldier George Michelson grew up in Germany and remembers the power of his experience as a member of Hitler Youth.
When Michelson turned 10, he and his friends were able to sign up for the Hitler Youth. He remembers marching, camping and playing sports with them.
The Nazi way of life was all he knew, and he supported it.
‘I was 10 years old, 11 years old, what do you expect from me?’ he asked.
The key in changing his mind was removing the rogue leadership and showing him something better.”
He didn’t rethink his support for the Nazi regime until his stint in the US Army taught him what democracy truly means in an individual’s life. Being able to speak freely, he realized, was not something anyone enjoyed under the Nazis. He sees the parallels with our experience in Afghanistan:
He said the deep fight in Afghanistan is for the hearts and minds of the young people.
‘We can only beat an idea with a better idea.’ he said. ‘You can’t cram it down their throats. You have to show them what right looks like.'”
What better way to teach young people around the world about freedom than to break the binding chains of illiteracy? If you think I’m sitting here with stars in my eyes, sparkling all the more for the candy-colored glasses in front of them, consider Kristof again:
When I travel in Pakistan, I see evidence that one group — Islamic extremists — believes in the transformative power of education. They pay for madrassas that provide free schooling and often free meals for students. They then offer scholarships for the best pupils to study abroad in Wahhabi madrassas before returning to become leaders of their communities. What I don’t see on my trips is similar numbers of American-backed schools. It breaks my heart that we don’t invest in schools as much as medieval, misogynist extremists.”