VERN’S VIEWS: Educating the Third World

Editor’s note: This is the third and final installment of Turner’s series about his recent trip to Uganda.

Our tour group consisted of nine Americans and two guides who drove for several tour companies. As it happened, the group quickly divided into a “conservative” vehicle and a “liberal” vehicle. As with our nation, we were deeply divided into a 5-4 split with the progressives holding the edge. Two of the four conservatives were typical of the Fox News constituency with union-bashing, Obama-hating, Muslim-fearing rhetoric. It should be noted here their driver/guide was a Muslim, but had the good sense not to say anything. It was quite entertaining to watch the conservative faces contort as our village host said the people of Uganda love U.S. President Barack Obama because he showed the world that a black man with an African father could lead a great nation.  We liberals were polite enough not to stand up and cheer. Uganda, after all, had been a colony of first Germany, then Great Britain after World War II. They didn’t gain independence until 1962.

As it turned out, yours truly ended up being the moderator between the two groups. Hard to believe, I know. Two of the women in my group were much more to the left than I am and simply wouldn’t talk to the conservatives. I admit I gave no ground when it came to bashing teachers and teachers’ unions, but I managed to keep a civil tongue so that the atmosphere of the tour wouldn’t become toxic. I’m glad it worked out that way. When it does, we find out that we usually have more in common than we have differences.

Oil has been discovered recently in Uganda and the cynicism of the people tells me that they know all too well their government is corrupt enough that, like Mexico, the general population will see little in the way of infrastructure improvement. It truly amazes me how little we learned from our lust after gold and precious gems centuries ago. Today it is oil that is the commodity of avarice, greed and power. I keep wondering if we’ll ever get it right as nations and actually invest in our people and the infrastructure they need for better lives.

But wait! Ugandans are all about educating their children to do just that. Our driver/guide, Habib, wants to build a school in his home village. He told me of his plans during one of our long transits between lodges. Naturally, I volunteered to assist. He was very enthusiastic about that and welcomed any help I could provide. Additionally, the best friend of my cousin, a former Peace Corps volunteer in Uganda, is president of a school in a different village and has asked me to contribute to their science curriculum.

This sense of appreciation for help in educating children brought a wry smile to my face as I reflected on the opposite political environment in my country. Where the Ugandans are eager to grow their public education system, our governments are just as eager to shrink them. I have to ask:  “Which country is doing its best to grow toward the future?”

Turner is a retired teacher and industrial engineer who lives near Marble Falls. He is an independent columnist, not a staff member, and his views do not necessarily reflect those of The Tribune or its parent company. "The Voter’s Guide to National Salvation" is a newly published e-book from Turner. You can find it at www.barnesandnoble.com/ebooks. He can be reached by email at vtgolf@zeecon.com.

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