The more you learn…

the less you know.

That saying has rung true to me for years now. I really think that the only time when I felt like I knew everything (pretty much) was when I was River’s age, about 30 years ago. Now, I feel like my IQ is just going in the dumps. I mean really, every time I feel strongly about something, I turn around and learn something new, and wonder how it was that I didn’t look at  it this way before. Ug, life is so confusing.

OK, so what in the world am I (specifically) talking about? Well, until recently (January) I had been working on my proposal for my dissertation that had to do with educating the rural poor in Nepal. I was taking 2 fabulous organizations, NAMLO and the Sarswati Foundation (which I am a part of), and doing a qualitative study about how they have developed and what kind of community they are serving. There was a lot to this dissertation that I was very excited about, but with everything that was happening with my personal life, and the knowledge that I couldn’t easily get to Nepal this summer, I decided to change my path. (After MANY written pages). I am now writing my proposal (get this) about how blogging impacts perspective adoptive parents.

So, in the near future (hopefully) I am going to be turning to some of you for some help on my research, but that will be later… I’m diverting the subject here.

“As a geography teacher I come across many statistics on the state of the world and its various countries. When I learn about nations that are struggling, and the people who live within it, my heart and mind wonder why. Why does life need to be so difficult for some, and so easy for others? What can I do to make the world a little more equal and provide others with the opportunity to grow and succeed? Every time I ask these questions, the same answer pops into my head: educating everyone equally.”

This was the initial introduction paragraph for my “first round” dissertation. I think it sounds ok. It makes sense, and it was really the reason why I chose to discuss this topic for such length. But now, the more I think about it, I’m wondering if it is really true?

First, what does “equal schooling” really mean? This could be misconstrued to assume so many things. Obviously, kids in rural Nepal shouldn’t have to learn about American history like we do here, as well as other topics that are focusing on our western and American culture. Also by thinking this way, are we (westerners) saying that our form of education is the absolute best way to educate all the people around the world? That’s where I’m not so sure.

Now please don’t be thinking that I do not support those 2 organizations that I almost wrote my dissertation about. They are doing a fantastic job of working with the communities that they are in and are not only educating them, but embracing their culture and lifestyle. They are giving kids an opportunity to go to school and live at home with their families, instead of traveling to boarding school many days walk away. They are doing this education thing right, in my humble opinion.

This rant is basically coming from the new criticism of one of my heros, Greg Mortenson, who wrote one of my favorite books, “3 Cups of Tea”. I fully believe that he has been/is doing amazing work for the kids, and specifically the girls of Afghanistan and Pakistan. But even though he is still at the top of my “people I want to meet” list, the current criticism makes me think about about how we as westerners are going about this “educating the world” thing. Is it really a good thing to do?

Then today, I come upon this video, schooling the world. This too makes me think. Is it truly appropriate for us to take on this challenge? Or are we just going back to the ideas of our old school European ancestors when they came over to the Americas for the first time, and Australia, and India, etc, etc…

Well, if I have to be quick about this, and say what I felt about “should we still keep helping organizations who are trying to educate the impoverished peoples of the world”, I would still say a strong, YES. But we need to be very cautious about how it is done. We have to be educated on the organizations and the tactics that they use. I can personally vouch for NAMLO and Sarswati, but I am sure there are orgs out there who may be less than ideal.

Honestly, trying to help people be successful (and success is not always measured by money, remember) and not making/encouraging them to veer away from their culture and customs is, I think, always a good thing. It’s just not crossing those invisible “you need to be like me” lines that I feel is important.

But hey, I’m just an 8th grade geography teacher. 🙂

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2 thoughts on “The more you learn…

  1. Hey Erin,
    I just finished ‘Three Cups of Tea’, and I too am infatuated with Mortenson. If only we gave him all the money we have spent on bombs we could have a much more peaceful Middle East:)

    I think it depends on how the projects are initiated and maintained. It needs to be at the request of the community. It needs to respect the local traditions, cultures and religions of the area. It needs to be organized and controlled as locally as possible. It isn’t so much the type of education that is the problem in impoverished areas, it is the accessibility for all.

    When you consider the ‘colonial’ past, the main purpose of introducing an education system was to convert people to Christianity. It was to ‘civilize’ people and change them.

    Thank goodness organizations are now respecting the diversity of these cultures and not trying to change who they are, but improve their quality of life in general.

    Looking at some of the pupils and classes in these countries I would say we could learn something about education from them:)

  2. Hi Erin-
    There’s a lot out of research out there on how effective foreign aid and development (including education of youth and adults) can be done. The bottom line is – whatever “equal education” means, chances are it can’t be accomplished without the full buy-in and participation of those the program is meant to serve. This takes a lot of time and prep work and patience, until consensus happens between those who want to help and those who being helped, about what exactly a program is supposed to achieve.

    You might like the blog AID Watch (tag line: “Just asking that aid benefit the poor.” )

    The primary blogger is Bill Easterly, who wrote “”The White Man’s Burden: Why the West’s Efforts to Aid the Rest Have Done So Much Ill and So Little Good”. Blog can be found here:
    http://aidwatchers.com/

    Easterly and Claudia Williamson recently released a paper called,
    “Rhetoric vs Reality: the Best and Worst of Aid Agency Practices.”
    found here –
    http://williameasterly.files.wordpress.com/2010/08/61_easterly_williamson_rhetoricvsreality_prp.pdf

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