Monday, November 19, 2007

Education, the Last Great Hope... Or Is It?

"Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world."
--Nelson Mandela

Is it ever! The more I read about the early life of Josef (Soso!) Stalin, the more convinced I am that education is a very dangerous weapon, and one that is given much too much credit.

By the time Stalin had reached his second year in seminary, he declared himself an atheist and spent the year battling with the monks. There was one in particular, Father Abashidze (referred to as the "Black Spot" by Stalin), who was constantly watching him, and constantly capturing Stalin's collection of banned books.

According to Simon Sebag Montefiore, "Stalin did not qualify as a priest, but the boarding-school educated him classically -- and influenced him enormously. Black Spot had, perversely, turned Stalin into an atheist Marxist and taught him exactly the repressive tactics --"surveillance, spying, invasion of inner life, violation of feelings," in Stalin's own words -- that he would re-create in his Soviet police state."

So, he became an educated street thug with a classical education and a minor in "repressive tactics." Obviously, Stalin was an accident waiting to happen, but I think it could be well argued that his influence would have never been so great if he had done what his father wanted and grown up to be an uneducated cobbler.

Another example of a weapon-education would be Hamas. I'm fascinated with the founding of Hamas, and their exceptional commitment to education. From my understanding Hamas is not a bunch of street thugs, but a group led by the intellectuals and professionals of Palestine. In fact, the first thing they did when the men were originally ousted from Israel and living in tents on the border of Lebanon, was to start a trade organization in order to obtain books for a library. There was no time to be spent idle, they planned on educating those in the camp with them.

I find the statistics of poverty and literacy interesting as well.

For instance, according to the CIA World Factbook, Bolivia has an 86% literacy rate, yet still has over 64% of the population living beneath the poverty level. Stalin's own birth country, Georgia, boasts a 100% literacy rate but still has approximately 55% of the population living beneath the poverty level. (Kazakhstan claims a 99.5% literacy rate and a 19% poverty rate -- which certainly doesn't jive with what I saw while there. ) Kenya, The Dominican Republic, Kyrgyzstan, Ukraine, and Belarus all have literacy rates above 85%, yet also have poverty rates about 55%. (The US has a 99% literacy rate and a 12% poverty rate, FYI). So, somehow, education has not been the answer for these countries , most of whom also face serious environmental issues, human rights issues, and, in some cases violence.

So, when I hear people say, "Education is the answer!" I just have to bite my tongue. Although it sounds good on Oprah, obviously its not that simple.

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