Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace ... One School at a Time Three Cups of Tea discussion

"imperialistic education?"

Comments Showing 1-48 of 48 (48 new)    post a comment »
dateDown arrow    newest »

message 1: by Deborah (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:28AM) (new)

Deborah Neisel-Sanders I'm considering reading this book, but wondering if the subject matter might not be considered imperialistic?

We Americans unquestioningly accept education as the golden key to achievement of all goals great and glorious (including, clearly, peace), but that is not the case in all situations and cultures. When Afghanis (particularly women) say that their priority goal right now is physical safety and security, are we imposing Western standards on them to insist that the route to that is through sending their daughters outside the home to school every day?

Hey, I'm as pro-woman as Betty or Gloria - ;~) - but not to the externally imposed disintegration of a society that deserves to set its own priorities and evolve in its own time by its own people. "Colonial feminism" is no reason for some young white American man to build schools in a foreign country that might better allocate those resources to eliminate landmines.

Admittedly, I should probably *read* the book before leveling that charge - ;~) - but what do those who *have* read it think of the issue? (and, more importantly, knowing that's where I stand, would it piss me off to read it? because not pissing me off is one of my personal priorities.) ;~D

~ Deborah ~

message 2: by Meg (last edited Aug 25, 2016 11:54AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Meg I think you should read the book before making presumptions. The situation is a little different than what you think it is. I think that what Greg Mortenson is doing in Pakistan and Afghanistan is heroic, admirable, and I wish that I could help. Education is the key to keeping those young children from becoming the next generation of terrorists. As a teacher, I have seen first-hand the good an education can do and also the harm it can do.

message 3: by [deleted user] (new)

I myself am proof positive of the devastating effects of twisted, malformed educational curricula. I had never been warned of the nefarious nature of certain monkeys who make their homes in the sparsely populated jungles of South America. Their fiendish, black eyes were the last thing I saw before they nibbled off my eyelids and tripped me down the stairs of an ancient Peruvian pyramid. Eyelid-less and brutalized, I now find myself wondering why my Afghan high school education was so poor.

message 4: by Jenn (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:15PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jenn The thing that makes this book so powerful (at least to me) is the lack of "colonial feminism" or colonialism in general. Schools are built where there are already students trying to learn (without a building or supplies). No curriculum is mandated or controlled. In all cases that I recall, the services given to a village or refugee camp were asked for and driven by the people who lived there. It is remarkable and inspiring and I encourage you to read it - a refreshing change from all the sensationalism you see on the news.

message 5: by Megan (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:20PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Megan Deborah raises some good questions about imperialism. Reading the book, of course, will answer many of your questions. Greg Mortenson provides an excellent example of how development work should be approached. It was not his idea to build schools. The Pakistanis he met had the same aspirations. In fact, many of the villages had schools already, but no building! The girls wanted education so much the would meet outside for class! Mortenson helped unite the communities with resources to enact their own vision.
To address your question about how money should be used, I think building schools and promoting education will do far more towards promoting security and stability than any military action or even international diplomatic discussions. As far as landmines are concerned, let's get them out of there!

I adore this book. I have learned more about Pakistan, Afghanistan, and the Taliban from this book than any of the news stories I'd read. First and foremost, we must remember that these are real people we're talking about, not "issues". This book brought me closer to the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan, and for that I'm grateful.

message 6: by Kate (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:32PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kate I'm not sure you've been convinced yet to read this book, so I'm offering my humble opinion. It's much in the same vein as the other posts- *definitely* give this book a chance! I never thought of myself as a sentimental sap, but I was very moved & touched by this story. I believe Mr. Mortenson (or "Dr. Greg" as he becomes known)has been very careful to respect the religion, values and traditions of the people he has tried to (and succeeded in) help(ing). Though raised Christian, he learned to pray as a Muslim. He learned the languages necessary to build relations.
The reason his schools focus on the girls is because they are the most underserved. School is not mandated once the building is built, simply offered. The boys have more opportunity to recieve education in nearby "cities."
This is no "Feminine Mystique," or any sort of feminist treatise. Nor does it push an American agenda (almost to the contrary, the book points out the major flaws in our nation's actions in Afghanistan after our invasion- promises not kept.) It's simply a tale of trying to bring some humanitarian aid to fellow humans in need.
I hope you're able to read & enjoy this book!

message 7: by SueAnn (last edited Aug 25, 2016 12:32PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

SueAnn This book reminded me of our global commonalities, and in a world where there is so much emphasis on our differences, I found this story based in a place that is deeper and truer than any religion, culture or government – humanity.

message 8: by Kate (last edited Aug 25, 2016 02:16PM) (new) - rated it 4 stars

Kate Along the way, Mortenson learned a lot about how to do this right. The requests for schools come from the villages themselves. Before agreeing, he stipulates that the village must provide the labor, to ensure they maintain ownership over the project. According to the book, his "agenda" of promoting education, especially for girls, is also the villages' agenda.

I also understand the original poster's concern that landmines have a higher call on resources. Can both be done? Will the bright young graduates organize to work on it and the country's many other needs?

message 9: by Colin (new)

Colin I think this is a fascinating question -- one which may well prompt me to read the book, just for help in making up my own mind.

And the insightful, helpful comments from Jennifer, Megan and Kate just make me more interested. Thanks.

message 10: by Jenn (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jenn Hi Colin,

If you do read the book, please come back and let us know what you think! I'd be interested to hear your thoughts. Thanks!

Jenn :)

Cheryl S. I just wish I had half of Mortenson's energy. I tend to take a simple view--he saw a need and is filling it to the best of his abilities never mind what obsticles come his way.

message 12: by Paul (new) - rated it 5 stars

Paul I don't have much of anything to add- people have already tackled your questions well.
I would just add my own urging to go ahead and read it.
Worst case- you'll disagree with what he's doing but be that much more informed to have conversations like this in future.

I don't think you'll be disappointed though.
He works closely (and respectfully) with the local people to give them something they want (and which their own government has failed to provide). He does not impose any of his own values.
(here comes a small spoiler):

He even turned down some massive money from the US Government

So I'd say read it (but perhaps you already have, as this post was started back in July...)

Nancy Kramer I can't imagine that the book would "piss you off" -- there is nothing further from Greg Mortensen's agenda than imposing Western standards and culture through the schools he's been instrumental in building, and this has been attested to through numerous organizations in (and native to) both Pakistan and Afghanistan, as you will find if you read the book before passing further judgment. I think it will meet your standards.

Deborah From another Deborah and one who has traveled in Afghanistan and talked to educators teaching peace, I can tell you that Greg's schools are teaching young people their own history and their own language using their own teachers. The children graduating from these schools are going on to further education so that the benefit increases within each community. It is not teaching from without, but rather giving the opportunity for teaching from within.

Rebecca I'm a few chapters into the book. It takes a while to get through the "action" of how Greg ended up in the Pakistani village in the first place. If you're high adventure, the beginning is pretty compelling, and almost made me want to see these mountains described.
These comments have been interesting, esp. Greymoon...nice perspective. I agree that Greg has an enviable amount of energy and passion and that he focuses on service is a great example for us all. I know I can't help but feel inspired. I may not build schools across the globe, but I do feel inspired to serve in my own way.

Leslie Here's a website that helps raise money for Greg's projects.

I think he's going about all of this in the right way. He meets with the village leaders and respects their way of life. The people want his schools in their communities.

message 17: by Jen (last edited Mar 19, 2008 05:55AM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Jen I was absolutely enthralled with this book. I can't really add to what everyone else says, but I felt compelled to help as well. Greg Mortenson speaks around the country, usually at colleges and universities, and he sometimes holds benefit dinners to help pay for the schools he builds. You can visit this site to learn more:

Kimberly ~ Deborah ~
This book is amazing. Dr. Greg didn't come in like a lion roaring, "I am American, look at me." He came in humbly and wanted to do things as if he was one of them. I agree with Jen. Please, Please read this book. It really is something that makes you think about who we are.

Deborah I know this isn't terribly profound, but one of the big lessons from this book is the way Greg's parents raised him: with an eye toward the importance of service and always being supportive emotionally. With this kind of background it is easy to see why he is the way he is. He treats the families he serves in Asia the same way he treats and was treated by his own - with love and respect. I loved that he takes his family to meet the families he works with in Afghanistan, Pakistan and elsewhere. We should all be so open to new experience. I wish him all the best. After I saw him speak, I picked up a few of the "Hope" magazines and gave them to the local libraries so that more local people could learn about what the CAI is doing. I know a few schools in the region started "Pennies for Peace" drives as well.

Marti Morris I think that it is helpful to read the book before assuming that it is "imperialistic." Greg Mortensen helped those who wanted and could not be helped by their own government. He did what they asked.

David One of the things that struck me, near the end of the book was the description of what was going on in Pakistan and Afghanistan in the late 1990s and just before 9/11/2001. Mortensen watched Wahhabi Muslim fundamentalists from Saudi Arabia with suitcases full of petrodollars build 10s of thousands of Madrassas. Many of those Madrassas are where the uneducated and marginalized are recruited as terrorists. 10s of 1000s of Madrassas would be millions of potential recruits. It hardly seems imperialistic to provide alternatives to the Madrassas. No one is telling parents which school they should send their children to.

Deborah, you've sparked an interesting discussion. Now go read the book.

message 22: by Roxanne (last edited Apr 13, 2008 08:27PM) (new) - rated it 5 stars

Roxanne Reading this book, I was never uncomfortable about what Greg Mortenson was doing by building schools in Afghanistan. I felt that he made every effort to honor the culture of the people he served there.
Perhaps you have a more thorough understanding of the multifaceted aspects of tribal life in Afghanistan than I do, but I think it would be a mistake to make this claim of imperialistic motives before reading the book. I felt he was aware of, and even grappled with the traps of the negative consequences of the sort imperialism you write about.
The history of the development of the CAI that he recounts provides an understanding of his motivations, and for me, it showed deep respect for Afghani tribal culture, and a sincere love and admiration for the people of Afghanistan.
Read the book and please let us know what you think.

message 23: by Lulu (last edited Apr 20, 2008 05:43PM) (new) - added it

Lulu He builds schools...what's stopping you from removing the landmines? And before replying...I have done both. It constantly amazes me how people complain about someone else's contributions to humanity not being done to their liking....and by the way - I am not ashamed to march in and say "I am an American". It is an honor to be granted the blessing of living in this nation. American humanitarian aid far exceeds the combined efforts of other nations. We should hold our head high but also bow our knees in gratitude for the opportunity to serve others in need.

Roxanne Beautiful post, Lulu!

message 25: by Janet Rae (new) - added it

Janet Rae Jorgensen I am currently enjoying reading this book, and of course find his story inspirational. However, I can't help but think is all that money really necessary for a structure? Could we not just have a simple tent or even conduct true education outdoors? How about paying quality teachers higher wages?

David I would hazard a guess that the symbolism of dedicating a substantial structure to education is important in helping make sure it actually happens -- especially for girls. Also, these places are generally very high in the mountains and have extremely harsh winters.

Deborah I agree: it is an honor to live in a country that can afford to be the biggest dollarwise contributor to world foreign aid. I do feel a bit taken aback, though, when looking at the State Department's own report that puts the US last in order of how much of our GDI we give. Other countries give much higher percentages of their GDI than we do. We as individuals can surely do more on a person to person basis to help our brothers and sisters in the world. Greg Mortenson shows a good way to start.

Connie Yes, you should read the book before leveling any charges. Your arguments are so far off base, they are really in left field

message 29: by Janet Rae (new) - added it

Janet Rae Jorgensen Good point, David.

message 30: by Mary (new) - added it

Mary I am an ESL teacher who teaches and has taught many rural Pakistanis. The differences between people from Islamabad and the countryside is striking. It' is not the difference between educated and uneducated, cosmopolitan and provincial. These students have lived almost primitive lives. Even the affluent, educated Islamabadi have said that a Pakistani diploma is "worthless" and that they can be bought.

Many of my Pakistani students said that their parents have struggled for them to come to the United States for an education and economic opportunities and that if they were available to them in Pakistan (promised by, but not fulfilled by the government), they would not have emigrated.

It is rewarding for me to see the students learn to learn, to no longer learn by rote, and to question and think for themselves.
I think Imperialism is too harsh to describe the "author"'s efforts. As to feminism, look how long it took women in America, and we still don't have an equal rights amendment. Nor do we have child care and health benefits available in some European countries. Rural Pakistani women and Muslim women in particular face some tough battles. And talk about Imperialism, why should America's brand of feminism be the standard for the rest of the world?

Karen How can one be "pissed off" or know you would be? How can you asume somuch about a book? just curious.

message 32: by Lani (new) - rated it 4 stars

Lani I am obviously coming into the discussion late in the game, but there is another point no one has really mentioned that I think answers your questions more directly.

One of (several) reasons that Mortenson emphasizes educating women is that the education of women has a larger impact on certain aspects of life. I apologize, I don't have the book to cite here, but I have heard the point made in other academic forums as well. Educating and empowering women has been shown to impact infant mortality rates and other hygiene related problems within communities. Women are also more likely to return to their communities with the knowledge that they have gained through education. He points out that there is no reason to have a school if children die too young to get there.

There is a reason so many grassroots organizations focus on providing small loans to female run co-ops, etc.

message 33: by Mary (new) - added it

Mary Lani, I've also heard/read about the contributions women make to the community in developing countries. In fact, organizations that give micro-loans have found that women are more committed, are more successful in business, and pay back the loan more quickly.

I have found it interesting that my female Pakistani women are much more committed to their educations than their brothers (I teach ESL). I often tell the boys that they're not in Pakistan any more and that they will not be able to rely on their sisters or other women to do everything for them. The boys have told me that they don't need to know how to do certain things because "that's what women do." The girls regularly tell me that the boys are lazy. I remind the girls that if one of the boys forget a pencil that it's not their job to give them theirs and not do the work themselves.

An example of just how little valued Pakistani women are is how they treat female teachers. My Latino students regularly rush to pick things up, to carry a heavy box or my books if they see me in the hall, etc. We talked about this one day (Why do the Latino boys do these things and the Pakistani boys don't?), and the Latino boys said that it was because women are mothers and that they should be respected and honored and that women are special (although the Latinos have their own ideas that demean women).

The Pakistani boys had no idea why they didn't do similar things and were dismissive of all women (not even valuing female teachers). I suggested to them that it was because in their culture women were expectd to do everything for THEM. So they don't open or hold doors, rush to help women in any way, thank women or girls in any way, undervalue any woman's contribution. The Pakistani boys blanched, but I think they knew that it was true.

Blair As a returned Peace Corps volunteer (though not from Central Asia), I find that we Americans - especially those of a more liberal, worldly set - tend to be hypersensitive and overly self-critical on issues of "imperialism" or "colonialism." It sounds like what the CAI is doing is very constructive, and as others here have mentioned, in total cooperation with local structures, authorities and culture.

It bears mentioning that, while it's important to respect other societies' values and beliefs, it's also vital to remember why we hold our own. The oppression of women, just as an example, is not simply a "different" value - it's a bad one. It's not my place to go over to Pakistan and tell folks how to live, but I applaud Dunderhead for correcting folks from that culture who now live here.

"Three Cups of Tea," by the way, is a great book. I thought the cultural descriptions and tales of daring-do were fascinating. It's a little heavy on the "white man saint" theme occasionally, a la "Mountains Beyond Mountains," but nevertheless a fun read that I'd recommend to anyone!

message 35: by Rob (new) - rated it 5 stars

Rob This is a must-read book for any open-minded, thoughtful person. And I agree that the book and what greg mortenson are doing couldn't be further from american imperialism. What I got out of the book is that greg M and the CAI are absolutely NOT interested in pushing the US agenda in any way, shape, or form. They seem truly motivated to transforming people's lives in an incredibly profound way. It's a very moving and beautiful book and story.

Finally I can be proud of an american acting abroad. It's just possible that greg mortenson and the CAI can help undo some of the damage that our "war on terror" has caused. Greg leads with Humanity first, not peace, but peace and love naturally follows. Unlike the US, which leads with bombs first and wonders where the adoring crowds of foreigners are praising their US liberators.


Carol I am so happy to see all of this positive response to what I consider a true revelation in how to provide international assistance. Greg is a true entrepeneur who does not interfere in cultural or religious customs. He simply feeds a need. Sounds simple,but obviously it's not and has proved to be a great personal sacrifice for him. I hope that many of you , including me, will now act and help to support this cause. Greg speaks all over the world. Listen to him, save pennies, donate time and money.Tell everyone you know to read this book. Get the message out.It's the only way.

message 37: by Christine (new)

Christine This discussion has certainly made me want to go read this book.

I, like Blair, am a Returned Peace Corps Volunteer (served in East Africa). After Peace Corps I worked for a nonprofit in DC that coordinated short-term volunteer programs in Africa, Eurasia, and Russia. In reading all of your interesting replies to Deborah's initial entry, many of you have noted Dr. Greg's work and energy with admiration. It's wonderful that many of you have chosen to support his work.

If any of you have an opportunity to take two years to make a similar commitment, you can join the Peace Corps (US citizens, that is). When I served, we had folks from age 21 to 72. If you are from the UK, there is VSO, which is a similar organization that has more flexible time commitments.

Finally, there are lots of nonprofits that are looking for volunteer consultants (flights and fees are paid for) for 3-5 week programs on specialized assignments in many developing countries. Some organizations I can think of that do this is ACDI/VOCA, Winrock, VEGA, and Land O'Lakes.

My point in saying all of this is that many of us possess the very skills that are needed by these countries. You don't have to be a Vice President to have the business skills needed to help a small co-op get off the ground. You, too, can contribute. If you think you might be interested, check out those organizations, which do very good work. You can email me if you have any questions.

message 38: by [deleted user] (new)

By providing education and scholarships, the women are temporarily leaving the home, but they are coming back with valuable skills. The salient example from the book was the girl who started out in one of Mortenson's grade schools, and wound up being trained to be a doctor. She said that her plan was, after finishing, to come back and be a doctor for the village.

Perhaps it's hearltess to consider things in a utilitarian way, but it warrants consideration: she is one of fifty or so students, and the school was built and maintained for aroun 100,000 dollars (as an estimate). So for a few thousand dollars her village is getting a young woman who can care for her people's medical needs, and who has formalized education in other matters that might improve survival.

It would cost many, many times this to send a full-time doctor into the village, and even then it might not be appreciated. The only reason that Mortenson had the agency that he did was because he was seen as extended family by communities that he helped.

These girls aren't being forced into school, and it's ultimately the desicion of the family where they go afterwards. All Mortenson is doing is creating opportunity, which the villagers are happy to seize.

Plus Mortenson is operating with respect to the cultures of the villages he's helping. He's even complying with Sharia law (as distasteful as that system of governance seems to the West), and has been approved multiple times to educate women by Islamic high courts.

The issue of "colonial feminism" aside, the alternative is to allow Madrassas to be the sole voice of education in these remote areas. Madrassas offer no option in how their participants interpret their education - they are vehicles of millitant fundamentalism, which is an alien concept to many of the villages before the Madrassa is introduced.

message 39: by Jodi (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jodi Greg Mortensen did not go into these countries to impose Western ideas, he simply saw children who wanted to learn, and were doing so in horrible conditions. He simply wanted to give these children a place to study out of the elements and with the proper supplies (books, paper, pencils). He was very respectful of the beliefs and customs of the people. Sure he made a few cultural blunders and admitted them humbly in the book, but he had his heart in the right place. Also, he learned from his mistakes! The people he helped were truly grateful for his efforts. Read the book and I think you will understand that he is a humanitarian, not a "clueless" American trying to impose his beliefs on others.

Debbie I hope this isn't too much of a spoiler for you but you seem to be under the impression Greg went there to build schools. To the contrary he went for climb a repay a debt to a man who saved his life he agreed to help build them a structure for their existing school which was currently being held outside.....and from there it just blossomed....people kept asking him to build another one and really wasn't his idea at all...he was asked to help and so he did..what a world it would be if we all when asked to help simply did......

message 41: by Jodi (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jodi You're right, Greg Mortensen went to Pakistan for sport and built the first school to repay a debt. He continued to build more schools when asked by other villages. He would not have continued to help these people if he did not feel passion about what he was doing. At one point it was stated in the book that they way to stop terrorism is to educate people (not in Western values, but how to read, write, and do math). By being better educated the people in these countries will better be able to understand their own government and stand up for their own cultural beliefs.

Roxanne These last few posts make an important point about Greg Mortensen. He arrived in Afghanistan to climb a mountain and built the first school to honor the request of a man who saved his life when he lost his climbing party. I think the proof of his intentions occurs when he returns with the materials to build the school and learns that the people of the village have decided they need a bridge first. He then simply helps them build it. An imperialist arrives with an agenda and then pursues it regardless of the desires of the people. Mortensen didn't do any of that.

message 43: by Mary (new) - added it

Mary Very true points, Roxanne. In fact, Charlie WIlson said that the job was left undone in Afghanistan by not rebuilding, feeding, educating the Afghanis. So we're in a pickle there again.

message 44: by Jodi (new) - rated it 3 stars

Jodi Roxanne - I love your last sentence about imperialism. Wonderfully stated! Mortensen listened to the needs of the people.

Trena Deborah's question has been answered many times over but I'll add my voice to the chorus. Like her, I am verrrry wary of imperialism, whether it is of the "Noble Savage" or just plain "Savage" variety. I don't think living a traditional way of life without cell phones or even electricity is an inherently bad thing, and introducing these things--especially without long term infrastructure support--can be incredibly damaging. But Mortenson's goal is not to introduce meaningless luxury or impose a "good life" on people. Infrastructure changes are aimed directly at reducing infant mortality and increasing health (e.g., clean water supplies) and schools are built at the urgent wishes of the community. Curriculum is up to the local teachers. I think one of CAI's smartest policies is *not* to send volunteers over. Everything is done by locals, and all money stays in the local economy. While volunteering may feel good, money is so much more useful.

Patty He's not introducing education to them, he's building them schools so they can be in a building when they learn. They were already educating their people before Mortenson showed up. It's not imperialist.

message 47: by Kim (new) - rated it 5 stars

Kim M-M The way he grew up seems to inform his decisions about helping people, to him it's a natural thing, and started as a debt of honour. I don't think he's imperialist, because he tries to understand what exactly the community he's helping needs.

message 48: by Eva (new) - rated it 5 stars

Eva This is a great story which helped me believe in can achieve everything,when you strongly believe in it! Great great book!

back to top