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Monday, April 28, 2003


So Creative Associates International landed the big job of shipping American made schoolbooks to the schoolkids of Iraq. Just as they had previously landed the contract with Afghanistan. One wonders if Smilin' Jay Garner will be celebrated in the spirit to which Iraq's previous despots have become accustomed. But NO!!! These will be American style textbooks, so they will presumably induce the instant amnesia on all things historical and geographic so endearingly characteristic of American education.

Americans are, apparently, old hands with textbooks. In Afghanistan, in the pre-9/11 days, Americans produced textbooks that even the Taliban approved of. An old Wash Post story about this, on the Emperors-clothes site, begins like this:

"In the twilight of the Cold War, the United States spent millions of dollars to supply Afghan schoolchildren with textbooks filled with violent images and militant Islamic teachings, part of covert attempts to spur resistance to the Soviet occupation.

The primers, which were filled with talk of jihad and featured drawings of guns, bullets, soldiers and mines, have served since then as the Afghan school system's core curriculum. Even the Taliban used the American-produced books, though the radical movement scratched out human faces in keeping with its strict fundamentalist code.

As Afghan schools reopen today, the United States is back in the business of providing schoolbooks. But now it is wrestling with the unintended consequences of its successful strategy of stirring Islamic fervor to fight communism. What seemed like a good idea in the context of the Cold War is being criticized by humanitarian workers as a crude tool that steeped a generation in violence."

Being a turn on a dime nation, we have now decided that history is no good. History now has a new, friendlier face, in which we have always, always been opposed to Islamofascism, man. We wonder who contracted to ship the old, jihadist textbooks to Afghanistan. At least we know who created those books -- the University of Nebraska. Here's a description of what the US taxpayer paid for:

"Published in the dominant Afghan languages of Dari and Pashtu, the textbooks were developed in the early 1980s under an AID grant to the University of Nebraska-Omaha and its Center for Afghanistan Studies. The agency spent $51 million on the university's education programs in Afghanistan from 1984 to 1994. During that time of Soviet occupation, regional military leaders in Afghanistan helped the U.S. smuggle books into the country. They demanded that the primers contain anti-Soviet passages. Children were taught to count with illustrations showing tanks, missiles and land mines, agency officials said. They acknowledged that at the time it also suited U.S. interests to stoke hatred of foreign invaders."

Well, let's just forget that, shall we? If we forget it hard enough, we can deny it ever happened. Of course, the same group that produced textbooks that taught six year olds the adorable and enriching arts of planting land mines have moved on, and are now producing the NEW textbooks.

Apparently about four to nine million books have gone off the presses. But we do wonder -- where do those books end up? The Kabul government, by all accounts, has a difficult enough time sending soldiers out into the provinces -- so do they send school teachers? An article about the problems of reconstruction in the The WashPost today indicates that the school teachers are reading the textbooks, whatever their content, to each other in Kabul, if they are being read at all:

"Afghanistan showed the essential need for security and accountability. Administrators of AID programs in Kabul are barred from leaving their compound without high-level approval and a heavily armed military escort, the inspector general's report noted. Even then, bandits, landmines and fractured roads make travel difficult or impossible.

One consultant recently wrote in a private assessment, obtained by The Washington Post, that security issues have made it "almost impossible" for U.S.-backed education officials to work in 24 of the nation's 34 provinces. An International Red Cross worker was stopped along a roadway March 26 and shot 20 times, becoming the first foreign aid worker killed since the Taliban's fall. Continuing attacks have forced some humanitarian groups to withdraw altogether."

However, for those who worry that the printing presses in Omaha will shut down -- don't: from the point of view of ROI, there's no bad news. Since it is the government, and since the American government has every inducement to enrich its subalterns, the textbook makers will get paid, and get their over-runs paid. Everything's still good in Omaha.

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