Three Cups of Tea (by Greg Mortenson) was the second book I “read” for the book club at work. I use sarcastic quotation marks for read because I used audiobook for this one. Audiobook took FOREVER, but I had good reasons for using it, which I shall discuss in an upcoming post.
This post is not about the merits of audiobook, however, but about the book itself.
Three Cups of Tea is all the rage for the hipsters right now. It’s ostensibly a story which follows co-author Greg Mortenson around from the day he fails his summit of K2 in the early ’90s until the mid 2000s, when he has created an organization which builds schools in developing countries, starting in Pakistan.
I’ll be honest, I was all set to dismiss this book. The political bias is apparent when the story begins, and only gets more “in your face” as it progresses. And, like Eat, Pray, Love, I figured there was no way the book was as good as the hype. Which was actually a correct assumption. Three Cups of Tea is not the modern-day peace-promoting powerhouse it is touted to be.
However. This is a good book.
The basic “give a man a fish…” message is reinvented with children in developing countries and education. I was particularly interested in some of the social repercussions of what Mortenson is trying to do with his Central Asia Institute. First, he firmly believes that, contrary to popular objection, the real possibility of upsetting societal and industrial development is not (ever) a good enough reason to withhold education.
I liked that. I warmed to the cause.
Then, the authors explain that accessible education is the key component which created (and sustains) the modern-day Taliban. Extremist groups with vast funds started throwing up schools in impoverished villages in the mid-nineties, expanding this program at an exponential rate. The most promising students in the villages are sent to “finishing” schools. Whoever has provided education for the kids obviously gets undying support, both from the students, and often from their parents or villagers. And when kids are being taught radical religion and modern warfare instead of readin’ and ‘rithmatic, the result is eventually terrorism. (Or whatever the Taliban is into. I guess if they focused their cirriculum on cranberry farming we’d be over our heads with the bog-fruits.)
This made sense to me, and was intriguing since I haven’t given much thought to the practical impact education can make on previously non-educated areas. I kept reading.
Finally, Mortenson makes the early connection between education for girls and the improvement in quality of life for entire communities. His argument is that males grow up and, especially if they’re educated, they leave the village. Some return, but many do not. Females, on the other hand, usually remain. When these women are educated, the entire village benifits from their education, because the women re-invest in their families and communities. They also become willing and able to fight for social change because they are a product of it. Education for girls becomes a self-sustaining improvement.
Ultimately, I was impressed by the book. Mortenson strikes me as kind of a jerk, but he’s a jerk with a mission I can get behind. Three Cups of Tea wasn’t so amazing that I’d insist you MUST read it, but if you asked me my opinion, I’d say it’s worth the hours you spend on it (in my audiobook-case, days).
As a final thought, I leave you with this video, which is promoted by Mortenson: