Veterans teach Lake Zurich High School students about Afghan culture
Lake Zurich High School senior English teacher Julie Osterhaus asks a question during a presentation for classes reading "The Kite Runner," and "A Thousand Splendid Suns." | Michelle LaVigne ~ Sun-Times Media
Updated: December 23, 2012 6:15AM
LAKE ZURICH — Lake Zurich High School’s World Literature class recently received realistic, first-hand accounts of the culture that permeates contemporary Afghanistan.
“When you put your glasses on, you can see the world in a certain way; when you take your glasses off, you see the world differently — you see the world through an American lens,” said First Lt. Paul Knudtson, one of the three speakers from the Northwestern University Veterans Association to address LZHS students Nov. 7.
Knudtson, along with Northwestern University Ph.D. candidate Romain Malejacq and an Iraq and Afghanistan war veteran, helped the students see through that different lens.
The ultimate goal was to provide a better understanding of two books students have been reading: The Kite Runner and A Thousand Splendid Suns.
Teacher Julie Osterhaus said that she and Amy Faith rewrote their course’s curriculum over the summer to incorporate new material that would help get the students out of their “suburban bubble.”
Both books were written after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks by Kabul-born author Khaled Hosseini, who attended college in the United States and practiced medicine in California for roughly a decade before becoming a goodwill envoy to the United Nations Refugee Agency.
“The purpose of our course is really to help kids make connections to the common experiences we share with people around the world, regardless of time or place,” said Osterhaus, who teaches the senior-level class with Faith.
The speakers used their experience in Afghanistan to teach the class about culture in the region.
Prior to his current role as a speaker and member of the Army Reserve based at Fort Sheridan, Knudtson was a non-commissioned office medic and military intelligence and civil affairs officer for more than 17 years. He also was a member of a civil affairs team that worked directly with Afghan people in several provinces for a year.
Malejacq spent a year in Afghanistan conducting field research to gain a better understanding of its “warlords” and commanders.
The speakers also took time explaining the historical background of the country’s internal power struggles, as well as the importance of understanding their culture.
For instance, Maleiacq said that he had to grow a sufficient amount of facial hair before speaking to the region’s warlords, because they would not respect or listen to a man with anything less.
Knudtson also told students that Osama bin Laden’s command of the Taliban culture worked in his favor. Knudtson explained that the al-Qaida leader was able to find refuge in the Taliban’s territory because of the Pashtunwali code, which says that villagers or tribal leaders must offer protection to a criminal that’s sought refuge with them.