Tuesday, 15 July 2008

Literacy Programs, Building Schools and Omar Khadir: How to Make a Change in the World, and How Not To

Sophie is back from a conference on literacy interventions and reading problems in Halifax. She and her boss gave a presentation on some very effective techniques being used in primary grades in the Lester B. Pearson School Board here. It went well, it seems. Good, because learning to read is about the most important thing a person can learn to do.

In Sunday’s New York Times, Nicolas Kristof expounded along those lines in a column, “It Takes a School, Not Missiles.” In it he shines a spotlight on Greg Mortensen who has been building schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan with the help of locals since 2003. “Schools are a much more effective bang for the buck than missiles or chasing some Taliban around the country,” Kristof quotes Mortenson, a U.S. Army veteran.

Kristof goes on: ’“I am convinced that the long-term solution to terrorism in general, and Afghanistan specifically, is education,” Lt. Col. Christopher Kolenda, who works on the Afghan front lines, said in an e-mail in which he raved about Mr. Mortenson’s work. “The conflict here will not be won with bombs but with books. ... The thirst for education here is palpable.”’

Compare that with the videos released this morning of child soldier Omar Khadir, a Canadian citizen still in jail in Guantanamo. He has been charged with killing a U.S. soldier in Afghanistan when he was 15. It appears that for the last six years he has been held in solitary confinement and subjected to very harsh treatment. Nothing educational has gone on in that time—except make a misled boy in a very troubled young man. What would have happened if he'd dedicated teachers like Sophie, or a chance to help build school?

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