The Other McCain

"One should either write ruthlessly what one believes to be the truth, or else shut up." — Arthur Koestler

Greg Mortenson’s Hope and Change

Posted on | April 20, 2011 | 6 Comments

A topic we blogged last week gets a deeper examination from Alanna Shaikh at Foreign Policy:

The world was shocked by a report on CBS’s 60 Minutes this week that accused bestselling author and humanitarian Greg Mortenson of being a fraud. Not only were some of the stories from his book fabricated, 60 Minutes alleges, but the charity that Mortenson created to build schools in Pakistan and Afghanistan never built many of the facilities it has taken credit for. Mortenson’s Three Cups of Tea didn’t, as it claimed, bring education to rural Pakistan and Afghanistan. Its finances are a mess, and the charity does not even seem to have kept track of how many schools it built or how many students attended them. . . .
Why, exactly, did we ever think that Mortenson’s model for education, exemplified in his Central Asia Institute (CAI), was going to work? Its focus was on building schools — and that’s it. . . .
Over the last 50 years of studying international development, scholars have built a large body of research and theory on how to improve education in the developing world. None of it has recommended providing more school buildings, because according to decades of research, buildings aren’t what matter. Teachers matter. Curriculum matters. Funding for education matters. Where classes actually take place? Not really.
The whole CAI model was wrong. But here’s the truly awful thing: Looking back, it’s clear that everyone knew that that CAI’s approach didn’t work. It was just that no one wanted to talk about it.

Read the whole story, which is quite timely.

New York Times columnist Nick Kristof was completely taken in by Mortenson’s idea of building schools as a better way to fight terrorism than, y’know, actually fighting terrorism.

Mortenson’s book reportedly sold 4 million copies, because it told the bien pensants what they wanted to hear: The key to peace is education! “The more I do this, I’m convinced that education should be the top global priority. . . . We can drop bombs, we can build roads, we can put in electricity, but unless the girls are educated a society won’t change,” Mortenson said in a university speech where he “was greeted by a standing ovation.”

Now, it appears that Greg Mortenson was just a slick flimflam artist with a clever and appealing narrative, promoting an impractical scheme that would not actually achieve its stated goals.

Sound familiar?

Perhaps you will be surprised to learn that the U.K. Guardian describes Mortenson as a “favourite of President Barack Obama.” Perhaps not.


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