Disclaimer: Yes, I’m fully aware that this isn’t a terribly timely post, but still cleaning out some of the draft ideas I’ve been sitting on for a while, so bear with me. I’ll get to the recently stupid soon enough. Also, let me be clear: I love Dr. Seuss. I think they make for an amazing way to teach kids how to read. It’s how I learned. I also happen to think it’s nauseating that someone would co-opt Dr. Seuss to support COIN. Feel free to disagree.
So I’ve tried to be shiny, happy, and etc. about the way ISAF does business, especially when it comes to kids, but no luck here.
I’ve tweeted about this, and was planning on doing a post for a few months, but: apparently someone’s done something very cool with Dr. Seuss’ books: turning them into a Language Arts program. This would be cool if this were happening in America, or, say, adapted into the native language and culture to connect better with the kids. Like we did with Sesame Street.
OK, maybe Sesame Street isn’t the best example.
Here’s the short version of the problem: Afghanistan is still full of kids who can’t read or write in their own language. The educational system in this country, while improving, is still in desperate need of teachers and supplies to teach Afghan kids in languages like Dari, and Pashto. Which, are spoken here.
Enter ISAF, which has gone and co-opted these wonderful books as a counterinsurgency tool.
That’s right: check out the COINerific aweseomeness that drops at :45.
[iframe src="http://www.dvidshub.net/video/embed/150100" width="100%" height="300"]
Hearts and minds? Really? It’s Cat in the Hat! And maybe your unit’s not doing enough random urinanalysis if you think that some Americans with guns and uniforms teaching the abc’s are going to convince these kids we’re the good guys. Let alone the fact that “hearts and minds” doesn’t even get a PARAGRAPH in FM 3.24.
So there’s that.
Here’s today’s super duper easy question…can these kids even read in Dari? Pashto? You know, the two primary languages of this Magic-Marker-meets-a-map experiment that we’re calling a country?
Doesn’t matter…you’re going to teach them letters. Colors. Shapes. And then, you’re going to send them to a cute little graduation ceremony, so you get to feel better about yourselves.
Color me cynical, but that’s what these kinds of programs are designed to do…help coalition troops feel better about being…coalition troops. In that vein, I give you Exhibit B, this story being Exhibit A:
“This boosts the morale of our volunteers and gives them the opportunity to do something that makes a difference in the lives of many people,” said Baars.
“I have really enjoyed making a difference,” said Brummett.
That’s from a story about helping kids of families detained by the coalition. At Bagram.
It’s an unsustainable, unrealistic (twice weekly for a language class?) effort that’s not supporting long term efforts to promote education in Afghanistan. Based on the facts in the DVIDS story, it’s not coordinated in any way with Ministry of Education efforts in the area, so it’s operating in a vacuum, which does nothing toward the legitimization of the Afghan government for the people. Which, as the Brits have learned, in Helmand, always turns out just dandy.
Is it really hurting anything? No, except for the fact that this will last just about as long as the coalition’s at Bagram, so you’ve managed to enable a few kids to learn a few fundamentals of the ABCs and give you, the White in Shining Armor, something to write home about or in your diary. Or blog. This isn’t a journal. It’s a blog. Big difference.
Then, there is this, which might be the actual summit of Pointless Mountain.
Seriously? Return…to…sender? If you can’t figure out who the package is addressed to, you’d rather spend all that time and energy mailing shoes back to the US, vs. finding, I dunno, an Afghan kid without shoes and giving them to that kid? Ms. Archambeau, I hope you’re not somewhere reading this and wondering why those shoes got sent back to you. It’s not clear from the CITHLAC post what was in the boxes, since obviously someone’s worried about postal regulations, but woe unto us if we apply any common sense in this situation and just make sure some kids somewhere get some shoes.
So why pick on troops just trying to do some good? A few reasons.
1. Already listed the biggest issues I have with this above: it’s typical of the short-term thinking that plagues efforts here.
2. Since it’s in a vacuum, it’s not being developed with the future of the country in mind. In that respect it’s a fairly selfish, narrow-minded approach to aid and helping kids.
3. Schools here desperately need those very supplies these volunteers are using to teach the kids about the great Seuss. Sure, that supply chain will dry up, too…but maybe it gets them a little closer to learning in an environment that’s going to be here longer than the Americans will be.
So get off my lawn.
And you stay sunny, Kabul!