Sunday, December 10, 2006

First, Kill All of the Teachers

First, kill all of the teachers.

This adaptation to Shakespeare is the policy of the resurgent Islamic fundamentalists in Afghanistan. Their program, all done in the name of God, is to take action to ensure that nobody commits the crime of teaching in the country – particularly the crime of teaching young girls.

According to a report from the Associated Press, over 20 teachers have been killed this year, and 150 schools have been burned down.

The article suggests that the reason for this is that the Taliban sees the schools (and their teachers) as traitors who are giving aid and comfort to the enemy – the United States. Indeed, anybody who works to make the lives of the common Afghani better – even aid workers – are targeted.

When I was young, and first considering how I was going to carry out my project of making the world better than it would have otherwise been, the profession that topped my list of options was that of teacher.

Of course, just being a teacher was not enough. One had to be a good teacher. A teacher always had to ask himself, “Would these students be better off with the teacher that would replace me if I were not here?” If the answer to this question was ‘yes’, then such a teacher was actually doing harm to his students by keeping them away from that better teacher.

I will admit that my first attempt at teaching was a failure. Or, at least, it felt like a failure to me. Yet, I was determined to be a good teacher and changed my teaching style in ways that seemed to work. One of the most serious changes is that I quit going to class with a stack of prepared notes to lecture on, and spent my class time instead actually interacting with my students. I would put moral arguments on the board and we would spend class time attacking and defending premises.

I had a grading policy where the students had to turn in three papers before the end of the year. They could turn in as many drafts as they would like. If I thought that the paper deserved an A, I would record an A. If not, I would hand it back with comments – questions and objections that the student needed to answer. Students always got their papers back at the next class. In one class, I had written 750 pages of typed comments for 30 students.

Yet, among the Taliban, this type of effort would be considered a capital crime.

Within the doctrine of desire utilitarianism, desires are the only ‘reasons for action’ that exist. People act so as to ‘fulfill’ their desires, meaning that they act so as to make or keep true the propositions that are the objects of those desires. This means that they need to know whether the objects of those desires are true in any given state of affairs, and how to make or keep them true. This means that they need true beliefs and sound reason.

Desire utilitarianism also says that they need good desires – desires that tend to fulfill the desires of others. A willingness to kill teachers – a willingness to kill those who are seeking to give others true beliefs and sound reason – is not a ‘good desire’ and is not an act that a person with good desires would perform. In fact, those who would attack teachers and schools show themselves to be quite evil. They are a type of people that rational individuals have many strong reasons to answer with condemnation and punishment.

In fact, teachers – that is to say, good teachers – deserve the utmost respect. Whatever political or social goals one may have, aiding those who have taken it among themselves to teach children should be among them. Whereas standing in the way of a child’s education should be considered one of (if not the) worst form of child abuse.

Because a child cannot stop growing up into the ‘grown ups’ settle their political differences. The child can not be put on pause until other work is done. A day of lost education in the life of a child is a day of lost opportunity. It is a day that will make that child’s future a little less bright – a day that pushes the door on the child’s best opportunities a little more closed. It is, in fact, a permanent scar on those children’s lives.

It will, unfortunately, have a good chance of helping the Taliban – an organization made up of men who, like the children they attack, had their own opportunities stripped from them by adults who saw no good in education, and now are fit for little more than carrying a weapon into combat for the sake of those who did them harm.

Another example of a chain of abuse.

In this environment, teachers in Afghanistan deserve our utmost support and protection. In an earlier blog, I offered the suggestion of allowing Afghan parents to send their children to schools in the United States, where they can learn in safety. They can then be graduated into the Afghan military and return home – free of the corrupting influences that they would have had in Afghanistan.

Of course, the Taliban would deliver all sorts of propaganda about those children being abused and brainwashed. That is to be expected and it must be planned for. Still, America would benefit by giving Afghan children a chance for a future that is better than that of being an agent of the Taliban, and good Americans will benefit from the fulfillment of their general interest in protecting and promoting the welfare of children.


Anonymous said...

"Desire utilitarianism also says that they need good desires – desires that tend to fulfill the desires of others."

Here's where you lose me. Why should I, who for purposes of this question hate everyone, wish to fulfill the desires of others? I've been surveying your blog for a while, but I haven't come across a clear explanation of that issue, although I have seen many interesting posts in my searching.

(I see that you have a new book, which promises an explanation/defense of "desire utilitarianism". Did you, perhaps, seed a copy at the Lafayette, CO library, where I am, coincidentally, a member? I bet if I request it, they'll buy it.)

Alonzo Fyfe said...

Craig Ewert

Welcome, neighbor. Well, your question is the $64,000 question (as they say in cliche land).

So, I want to give you my 64 cent answer - in detail. I have already written (most of) today's posting. So, I will write the answer to your question tomorrow, and post it tomorrow evening.

As for the library - as I understand it libraries have a limited budget and typically refer to book reviews and recommendations specifically written for libraries in making their decision.

beepbeepitsme said...

The more fundamental the belief system. The more that knowledge is seen as a threat. (I am sure everyone finds that surprising.. )

Joe Otten said...

This post reminds me of the Contra insurgency in Nicaragua. Before I say anything, I wasn't there, so anything I heard may just have been propaganda from one side or the other.

Anyway, I heard at the time that the US-backed Contras were targetting and killing teachers. I also heard that these people weren't really teachers as such, but communist agitators, spreading communism.

Most likely, I guess, they were communist teachers, spreading literacy and communism. They do seem to have succeeded in increasing literacy.

I find it interesting that I feel different degrees of revulsion depending on whether these people were "really" teachers. Perhaps it is because I associate teachers with a secure, supportive, and - for my children if not for me - happy environment.

Nonetheless, I also have an aversion to killing communist agitators peacefully spreading dangerous ideas. Did this sort of aversion fail to outweigh a good desire to win the cold war, and how can we be confident that it should have outweighed it?