Wednesday, April 27, 2011

What I Think About: Greg Mortenson

As an avid reader, I devoured Three Cups of Tea when it became popular enough for me to notice it.

As a human, I was moved by the story (albeit somewhat vainglorious) of a bottoms-up approach to literacy and peace.

As an educator, I was inspired by the gentle reminder that what I do makes a difference (even if it looks like I'm failing kids on their high stakes tests!).

I've followed Greg Morentson since his book was published and when he came to my town to speak a few weeks ago, I dragged my spouse and in-laws to watch him.  And then I stood in line for two hours to have him sign my copy of Stones into Schools.

When Mortenson spoke, he was not eloquent.  He did not sound like a shiester buttering me up for a donation.  He talked like a man with a passion and drive to make a difference. He looked tired and unwell.  I was thrilled he seemed so human.

And then 60 Minutes happened and this man who seemed to be doing good, was called a sham.

I went on the defensive because I think 60 Minutes--whose sole purpose of raising this controversy is inexplicably linked to their desire to get more viewers because viewers equal money--did some pretty bad research and reporting.  (I'm not even going to go into the fact that John Kraukauer, who has done some not-so-honest research on his books, was co-leading the charge.)

For instance, they claim Mortenson lied about being held by the Taliban because five men photographed as Taliban claimed, when interviewed, that they were tour guides.

Think about that a minute, will you?

If you were a part of the Taliban in a country occupied by U.S. troops and you had held a U.S. citizen captive for eight days, would you admit to being a part of the Taliban--or would you lie and say that you were a tour guide for Mortenson?

60 Minutes goes on to attack Mortenson for receiving financial honorarium for speaking engagements (wonder if they'll attack Presidents Bush or Obama for this?), for flying on chartered flights, and for not talking to him when they accost him paparazzi style at a speaking engagement (that action in and of itself shows a complete lack of media ethics!).

I will not sit here and say that I know Mortenson to be an upstanding kind of guy because I don't.  As far as I know, he lied in his book and has pilferd some money.   

But I can't deny that he has done good things.  He wants to achieve primary education for girls around the world and he leaves his family and risks his physical safety to do that.  I have a hard time sitting in my comfy living room begrudging a man and calling him a sham because a disgruntled former employee has a different story.

When I sit back and watch Mortenson and the Central Asia Institute attacked like this, I think of the well-spoken words of Mother Teresea and how much they apply in this situation.

If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives.  Be kind anyway. 
What you spend years creating, others could destroy overnight.  Create anyway.  
If you find serenity and happiness, some may be jealous.  Be happy anyway.  
The good you do today will often be forgotten tomorrow. Do good anyway.  
Give the best you have and it will never be enough.  Give your best anyway.  
In the final analysis, it is between you and God.  It was never between you and them anyway.

What I think about Greg Mortenson is that he is still an educational hero of mine.  He certainly has faults but he's fighting the good fight and it's going to take more than some sketchy, biased research on the part of 60 Minutes to change my mind.

_____Want more information?_____

To hear "the rest of the story" click here

To read Greg Mortenson's response to 60 Minutes questions click here.

The Board of the Central Asia Institute answers 60 Minutes questions here.

Daniel Glick provides a good personal reflection in this piece.

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