What Greg Mortenson Got Right

Roger Lemoyne/UN (Creative Commons)

Credible journalists — Steve Kroft of 60 Minutes and John Krakauer — have accused Greg Mortenson, humanitarian and popular author of Three Cups of Tea, of wrongdoing. But regardless of the charges being leveled against him, Mortenson is ultimately right about one thing: the need to reestablish education in Afghanistan.

Two out of every five Afghan men can read, and only one of ten women are literate.

Afghanistan once had a very promising education system. Girls and boys alike, especially in the cities, attended school, learned foreign languages, traveled abroad, and even joined the Scouts.

Decades of turmoil — including the Soviet invasion, civil war, and rule by the Taliban — put an end to that enlightened era. Today, attempts to re-establish education in the war-ravaged nation face severe challenges. 

President John Kennedy famously said that the progress of a nation can be no swifter than the progress of its education system. An Afghan version of this message is what Mortenson has amplified to the world. And while there's evidently good reason to doubt aspects of Mortenson's work, it's important not to doubt his original, underlying message: Afghanistan needs good schools. 

Here are two videos from Asia Society's Homeland Afghanistan website about education in Afghanistan:

A World-Class Education, Circa 1929 CE (3 min., 22 sec.)

Educating Girls, Circa 1970 CE (4 min., 19 sec.)