Four months ago, Nicholas Kristof (New York Times columnist) had what I thought was a pretty good idea: the United States should help create 40,000 schools in Afghanistan:

For roughly the same cost as stationing 40,000 troops in Afghanistan for one year, we could educate the great majority of the 75 million children worldwide who, according to Unicef, are not getting even a primary education. We won’t turn them into graduate students, but we can help them achieve literacy. Such a vast global education campaign would reduce poverty, cut birth rates, improve America’s image in the world, promote stability and chip away at extremism.

Education isn’t a panacea, and no policy in Afghanistan is a sure bet. But all in all, the evidence suggests that education can help foster a virtuous cycle that promotes stability and moderation. So instead of sending 40,000 troops more to Afghanistan, how about opening 40,000 schools?

Today, he’s proposing another education idea — one that I’m far less enthusiastic about: have the United States government create a “Teach For The World” program where young Americans would be sent to Third World countries to teach in a school for a year.

Reading that column immediately reminded me of the philospher Ivan Illich’s well-known 1968 address to American volunteers titled To Hell with Good Intentions.

Now, I don’t agree with much of what Ivan Illich wrote during his life. In fact, I probably have never even understood most of it. And he’s way over the top, I think, in his condemnation in “To Hell With Good Intentions” of First World volunteers wanting to go to the Third World to help.

His basic point, however — that First Worlders should stay home and fix their own countries — has a lot of validity. Instead of having our young people go “slumming” for a year — no matter how well intentioned — perhaps we, and the Third World, would be far better off spending those resources to train citizens of those countries to become teachers to their own people.

What do you think?