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Nepal's ban on private schools is unjust

Nobody should be forced into a single type of education.

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In 1983, I joined the Peace Corps and went to Nepal to teach English. I was posted at a school in the Himalayan foothills, in a part of the country that everyone called "Red."

At first I thought the name referred to the color of the mud that clogged the region's roads and rivers during the monsoon. But then I discovered the real meaning: My district was a Communist hotbed. And nobody was more "Red" than its teachers.

Communist affiliation was illegal at the time in Nepal, so my colleagues were reticent to discuss the matter with their American visitor. By the end of my two-year term, however, most of them had opened up to me.

Their message was simple: Only a revolution could save Nepal. And it would start in the schools, which would teach so-called scientific Marxism to a new generation.

So what happens, I asked, if the people don't want their schools to do that? "It's simple," one colleague told me. "We shall make them want it."

I thought of these conversations last week when I read that the new Maoist government in Nepal planned to close all private schools. The announcement triggered loud protests from opposition parties and especially from parents, who vowed to resist the measure. If the goal was to make them want a Red education, it's not working.

The crisis dates back to 1996, when the Maoists – still barred from elections – vowed to take over the schools. In the countryside, especially, they kidnapped teachers and students for political indoctrination and forced labor. They also designed new curricula, hoping to hasten the day that my teacher colleagues envisioned back in the 1980s.

A fourth-grade Maoist syllabus introduced children to dialectical materialism alongside homemade guns. Fifth graders would study grenades and booby traps as well as Spartacus, the Roman slave rebellion leader.

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