“As the twig is bent, so grows the tree” … Pope, 1734
This phrase was coined by the 18th century poet Alexander Pope. The accepted meaning is centered on the idea that early influences have a permanent effect. Childhood and subsequent adult perceptions are based on a mix of education, nurture, example and peer influences. Child psychologists tell us education and literacy can have a defining effect on one’s perceptions about life and can determine whether one is open and accepting or closed and suspicious about other people and different ideas.
According to UNESCO, there are about 1 billion non-literate adults, or 26 percent of the world’s adult population. Women make up two-thirds of all non-literates, and 98 percent of all non-literates live in developing countries. The three countries with the lowest literacy rates in the world are South Sudan (27%), Afghanistan (28.1% and Burkina Faso (28.7%). It is not a coincidence that these same countries have among the highest poverty levels and almost continuous war and conflict. A possible solution is the promotion of public literacy which is known to enhance and facilitate peaceful resolution of public disagreements. Education has also led women to advocate for peaceful solutions which protect their families.
In a statistical study of poll results in Pakistan, Madiha Afzal (2012) found that:
“…as women become more educated, they are less likely to support militancy and terrorism relative to similarly educated men, whereas uneducated women are more likely to support militancy and terrorism relative to uneducated men.”
“Given that the support of the family (and mothers) is important for new recruits as well as terrorists embarking on suicide missions, the gender dimension identified in this paper is especially important: educated women can prevent their sons and family members from joining terrorist groups and participating in attacks.”
On the other hand, Afzhal also found that education does not automatically guarantee sympathy with American interests. Indeed, higher education of women actually increased negative views about the political motives of the United States.
One must, of course, differentiate between “literacy”, which facilitates the ability to learn and discern, and “indoctrination”, which stifles original thought and can radicalize youth. Sadly, there is historic evidence of how intense political brain washing in Nazi Germany, Soviet Russia, Communist North Korea, and ISIS controlled middle-eastern regions can mold youth into accepting uncritically a set of directed beliefs. Ammar Omar and Saphora Smith reported how ISIS produced school literature and textbooks to promote student radicalization.
“Children who have been brought up on ISIS’ curriculum have been desensitized to violence and exposed to a destructive ideology,”
One must conclude that promoting literacy and education is critical to the future existence of World Peace, but that specific teaching materials, books, and a peace-oriented curriculum should be promoted.
 Alexander Pope also wrote: “To err is human; to forgive, divine”, and “Fools rush in where angels fear to tread.”
 Worldatlas: 25 Most Illiterate Countries https://www.worldatlas.com/articles/the-lowest-literacy-rates-in-the-world.html
 When literacy clears a path to peace https://gemreportunesco.wordpress.com/2011/09/07/when-literacy-clears-a-path-to-peace/
 Madiha Afzal (2012), Are the Better Educated Less Likely to Support Militancy and Terrorism? Women Are.” https://www.cgdev.org/doc/Events/Women%20Education%20and%20Support%20for%20Terrorism%20in%20Pakistan.pdf
 Amar Chikh Omar and Saphora Smith, 2017, Generation ISIS: When Children Are Taught to Be Terroists, NBC News https://www.nbcnews.com/storyline/isis-uncovered/generation-isis-when-children-are-taught-be-terrorists-n812201
Bob Meroney is an Emeritus Professor of Fluid Mechanics and Wind Engineering with a long career at Colorado State University. He has been an active member of the Fort Collins Rotary Club and regularly researches a range of topics on modern life, issues and politics that serve to spark deeper conversations among friends and colleagues. If you have questions or ideas, you can contact Bob: Robert.Meroney@ColoState.EDU.