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Grawemeyer Winner Dana Burde Talks Education During Conflict

Dr. Dana Burde
Jehanzaib Khan
Dr. Dana Burde

Dana Burde is the recipient of the University of Louisville’s 2017 Grawemeyer Award for Ideas for Improving World Order. She’s a professor and the director of the International Education program at New York University.

In her 2014 book “Schools for Conflict or for Peace in Afghanistan,” Burde talks about how during the 1980s and early 90s, $51 million in U.S. education aid to Afghanistan supported a curriculum of violence. This was a USAID-funded project, but it was also part of a larger effort by the State Department and the military to support the resistance to the Soviet Union in Afghanistan.

I spoke with her about her work. Listen to our conversation in the player above.

On how she came across the U.S.-backed curriculum:

"What I realized on my first trip to Pakistan when I was doing research on Afghan refugee education in Balochistan is that they had been given this textbook in the 80s and early 90s. It was called "The Alphabet of Jihad Literacy." And that book actually was intended to inculcate an idea of Jihad and violent Jihad. The most excessive and the most extreme examples of these links between violence and Jihad and religious obligation were designed for grades one through five, primarily one through six. and we, the U.S. government actually funded the development of these textbooks."

On how U.S. involvement with the textbooks is seen today:

"Of course everybody today is horrified by the idea, obviously right? This is sort of a footnote in US aid at the time. It was $50 million of a total of billions that went to support the resistance to Soviets in Afghanistan. It was sort of an afterthought and probably not something that rose to many people’s consciousness even at the time."

On examples of U.S. backed education that has supported peace:

"There’s been some disastrous examples of the way our government aid has worked. There are also shining success stories. And one of them, again, occurs in Afghanistan. The U.S. government, U.S. taxpayer dollars have funded support for community-based schools across Afghanistan. And these schools have reached out to the most remote rural areas. They have provided access to education; good quality neutral curriculum. Access to education for boys and girls who wouldn’t otherwise have it."

Roxanne Scott covers education for WFPL News.