Three Cups of Tea: An education

Sometimes, a life’s purpose is born from a failure.

Or, more accurately, from a perceived failure.

Because while Greg Mortenson failed to summit the Savage Mountain of K2 in Pakistan, his real life journey was just beginning.

His story as told in Three Cups of Tea: One Man’s Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time is as improbable as it is fascinating. Mortenson is a mountain climber who, upon being in severe physical danger after the failed attempt at the climb of K2, finds himself nursed back to health in a remote village in Northern Pakistan. Awed by the people around him, and inspired by his own personal story, he promises to return to the village to build a school for both the boys and the girls.

The tale twists as Mortenson returns to the United States to try and raise money for a school, then has to deal with the cultural and political ways of the Karakoram region. His plan to build one school for one village turns into a entire organization, dedicated to building educational centers to provide non-extremist education. The idea is to support community-based education — a non-biased education that gives the children of that area the skills they need to take control of their own lives.

Mortenson is also committed to education for girls — a complicated topic in some areas of the world. He wonders from time to time what type of resistance he will face, but each time the village elders support education for their girls as well as their boys. Each time he seeks approval from a higher Islamic authority, he is granted permission and encouragement.

The education of girls is the part of the story which resonates most with me.

Admittedly, I was surprised to read of the support he received for girls education, though upon further reflection, it makes sense. Wisdom does not come solely through books and it certainly is not dependent upon material luxury. The wisdom of the people in these remote, rural areas has me not just in awe but inspired to slow down and see my own wisdom through the clutter of busyness.

There is much offered in Three Cups of Tea to think about, even if at times the writing feels like it’s stretching just a tad.

And as the book rolled around in my head, my thoughts turned toward another part of education for girls: physical education.

Ah yes. Gym class. It’s deemed a luxury even in American schools where improving test scores seems to be the most important measure of success. It’s something that affluent school districts can offer or an experience parents of means can purchase for their kids. Even when it’s taken seriously as part of the “obesity epidemic” it often comes with a lower-class stigma. And at the end of the day, it seems difficult to argue that a good 45 minutes or so of soccer at lunch time is just as important to educational development as long division.

Only I think it is.

Especially for girls.

It’s not about vanity. It’s not about “winning” and “losing” or making everyone into an athlete or even necessarily about competition.

It’s about movement.

Our bodies are powerful and girls, too often, are left without any sense of power. In some cases, that literally includes power over their own bodies. There is a freedom and a confidence and, yes, a power that develops through physical movement. Whether it’s a soccer match, running or yoga, there are valuable lessons physical education teaches that compliment an academic education.

There is a deep connection made with oneself through the body —  a sense of ownership not just of your person but of your destiny.

Isn’t that one of the true gifts of an education?

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