+ “Three Cups of Tea”: A Book to Change the World

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Kevin Feldman’s newsletter this month talks about the sleeper best-seller by Greg Mortenson and David Oliver Relin, “Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace…One School at a Time.”

People are lined up to hear Greg Mortenson everywhere he goes.  Hundreds of people find themselves turned away from his talks about the book.

In 1993 Mortenson was descending from his failed attempt to reach the peak of K2, the toughest mountain in the world.  Exhausted and disoriented, he wandered away from his group into the most desolate reaches of northern Pakistan.  Alone, without food, water, or shelter he eventually stumbled into an impoverished Pakistani village, where he was nursed back to health.

While recovering he observed the village’s 84 children sitting outdoors, scratching their lessons in the dirt with sticks.  This village was so poor that it could not afford the $1 a day salary to hire a teacher.

When he left the village, he promised that he would return to build them a school.

From that rash, heartfelt promise grew one of the most incredible humanitarian campaigns of our time.  Greg Mortenson’s one-man mission is to counteract extremism and terrorism by building schools — especially for girls — throughout the breeding ground of the Taliban. 

“If you promote peace, that’s based on hope,” said Mortenson at one of his talks in Seattle.  “The real enemy is ignorance because it’s based on hatred.”

Mortenson said when he first wrote the book the publishers sent him a mock-up with the subtitle “One Man’s Mission to Fight Terrorism and Build Nations… One School at a Time.”

This wasn’t his message, Mortenson felt.  He wanted it to say “One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace.”

He didn’t get it on the hardcover edition, but it is on the softcover, which is now on the New York Times’s Best Seller List, and has been for 34 weeks.

Mortenson had no reason to believe he could fulfill his promise to the village.  In an early effort to raise money he wrote letters to 580 celebrities, businesspeople, and other prominent Americans.  His only reply was a $100 check from Tom Brokaw.

Selling everything he owned, he still only raised $2,000.  But his luck began to change when a group of elementary schoolchildren in River Falls Wisconsin donated $623 in pennies, thereby inspiring adults to take his cause more seriously.

Twelve years later, he’s built 55 more schools.

Mortenson’s premise starts with an African proverb: “If you educate a boy, you educate an individual; if you educate a girl, you educate a community.”

When a boy goes to school, it’s assumed he will leave his village and work.  But a girl stays.  If she is educated, she grows into a woman, bears healthy children and encourages them to be educated.

Consider the word “jihad,” Mortenson suggests.  In one context, the word means a violent quest.  But the word has other meanings — reflecting other pursuits.  Before beginning a jihad, Mortenson said, you ask your mother for permission.  If she’s educated, she’s less likely to give approval for a violent mission, he contends.

Those who dismiss education say that many of the 9/11 hijackers were educated — and that’s true, Mortenson says.  “But none of their mothers were educated.”

According to Mortenson, there is urgent need to build more schools.  “There are 145 million children without education — and the numbers are going up — because of slavery, gender discrimination, religious intolerance and corrupt governments.”  Think what we could do if we wanted to.

Tom Brokaw calls the book “One of the most remarkable adventure stories of our time… It’s proof that one ordinary person, with the right combination of character and determination, really can change the world.”

Currently Mortenson, the director of the Central Asia Institute, is a resident of Montana, but spends several months a year in Pakistan and Afghanistan. 

David Oliver Relin is a contributing editor for “Parade Magazine” and “Skiing Magazine,” and has more than forty awards for his work as a writer and editor. 

Visit www.threecupsoftea.com for more about the book as well as Mortenson and his projects.  Purchasing it from that site (through Amazon) will generate up to 7% of proceeds to benefit Central Asia Institute, of which Mortenson is the director. 

The book is published by Viking Penguin; ISBN 0670034827.  There is an audio CD set and a single track music CD.

Thanks once again to Kevin Feldman and his listserve newsletter for this information.  You can receive it for information about leading-edge teaching and educational research by emailing literacy-on@lists.scoe.org

Feldman always notes that the news and information represents his own biased views and not those of the Sonoma County Office of Education.  He hopes you will share it with interested colleagues.

tutoring in Columbus OH:   Adrienne Edwards   614-579-6021   or email  aedwardstutor@columbus.rr.com


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