S.E. Livingston: Three cups of red plan tea

Dear Family, What would you rather do -- carry a stack of two-by-fours up a 16-mile hill or pay a budget-bending property tax bill? Last month, I attended the Greg Mortenson lecture sponsored by the Duluth Public Library. Greg Mortenson, in more ...

Dear Family,

What would you rather do -- carry a stack of two-by-fours up a 16-mile hill or pay a budget-bending property tax bill?

Last month, I attended the Greg Mortenson lecture sponsored by the Duluth Public Library. Greg Mortenson, in more than a decade of dedicated work, has been enabling Afghan and Pakistani communities to build schools in places where there are none. His drive stems from a love for the people and a passionate belief in empowering people and culture through education. He chronicled it in his best-selling book, "Three Cups of Tea."

Mr. Mortenson is a regular guy whose sacrifice has built up many. He sparked passion in people of 55 separate communities in the Mount Everest region, and in countless cities across America. People were so excited about progress that they were carrying two-by-fours and bags of cement up 16-mile hills. He didn't have children in the school district. He wasn't implementing a certain curriculum. He didn't have a Red, White or Blue plan. In fact, he had much to lose and nothing to gain personally.

I can't help but draw comparisons between Mr. Mortenson's story and the story of education in Duluth. Duluth is similar to the villages with which Mortenson has worked. Of course I'm not speaking of the extreme poverty or oppression that plagues countries like Afghanistan or Pakistan. However, similar to these places, our village has been battling over the needs of our schoolchildren for years. We all recognize that better educational opportunities and a better community aren't going to happen without sacrifices. The question is though: What kind of sacrifices are to be made, and who is going to make them?


Greg Mortenson noticed that the children in one particular village in Afghanistan used a windswept hillside for their classroom. They used sticks and dirt in the place of pencils and paper. Mortenson saw a basic physical need. He used every method he could think of to get wealthy, philanthropic Americans to contribute to the need. He poured all the passion and tenacity he could into the project. Villagers began to focus on this big American guy. Of course, he was right. Their children desperately needed schools, but with no resources, what were they to do?

Like the villages in Afghanistan and Pakistan, we all are being called to become passionate about progress in education here. Did all the villagers support Mortenson's plan? Initially, no. Some couldn't see the value over the cost. Some vehemently felt that educating girls, especially, would compromise their Islamic religion. But when they began to see the community headway born from sacrifice, they dropped their stones, grabbed trowels and started pouring cement for a schoolroom floor.

No doubt, since you received your property tax statement, you've started paying more attention to the local discussions about building our school district. When you look at that astounding number of $257 million you may ask, "Why do we have to pay so much? We have school buildings. We have pencils and paper. We have lots of resources for our children. We went to school on that windswept hillside and it was fine! Our school situation is nothing like Three Cups of Tea."

At first glance, of course not. However, we, like the villagers in Mortenson's story, feel we are being asked to give more than we have.

The real question is: "When do we have to pay so much?"

We have to close some school buildings and renovate/rebuild others NOW. Otherwise we're heating unused space (an absolute sin in the Northland!) and letting the deterioration of others ultimately affect the quality of education.

If we don't pay 237 million now, then the bill will be two or three times that in a couple of years.

Our schools and our children need our resources. Our schools and our children need us to stop fighting over how much we're going to sacrifice. If we could grasp the vision for the future that the village people of Afghanistan did, we would not be arguing over the Red, White and Blue plan. We would be putting a load of two-by-fours on our back and marching up the hill.


An addendum to Mortenson's story: When he appealed to the American rich to help the poor, he got no response. They didn't have any extra to give. When Mortenson appealed to American schoolchildren to help the poor, they kick-started his campaign by giving what they had and collecting more for him!

Love lots,


S.E. Livingston is a wife, mother and teacher who writes for family and education newsletters in northern Minnesota (and lives in Duluth). E-mail her at . Livingston writes once a month for the Budgeteer.

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