The U.S. has rejoined the United Nations Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization, or UNESCO. First Lady Laura Bush went to UNESCO headquarters in Paris to say that Americans are eager to work again with UNESCO. As Mrs. Bush said, “We have much to offer, and we have much to learn. And. . .given the many challenges in our world today, our work is more urgent. . .than at any time in UNESCO’s history.”
With the U.S. as one of its founding members, UNESCO was established in 1946 to promote peace and security through educational, scientific, and cultural initiatives. But the U.S. withdrew in 1984 because of UNESCO’s serious management problems and the politicization of its programs, especially in regard to freedom of the press. After the withdrawal, the U.S. maintained an observer mission to UNESCO and continued to participate in several programs. Eventually, UNESCO made a concerted effort to institute financial and management reforms and return to its founding principles, including an emphasis on international press freedom.
One of UNESCO’s most important challenges today is to help bring reading skills to people around the world. “Illiteracy especially stifles the aspirations of women,” said Mrs. Bush. “Two-thirds of the nearly nine-hundred million illiterate adults in the world are women.”
UNESCO also has a crucial role to play in promoting education based in truth and tolerance. “The more children learn about other countries, faiths, and cultures,” said Mrs. Bush, “the more likely they are to respect other people. Education can help children see beyond a world of hate and hopelessness. UNESCO is doing wonderful work in this area.”
First Lady Laura Bush also urged UNESCO to emphasize education programs on the deadly AIDS disease. Such education, she said, “can literally make a life-or-death difference.”
The same holds true for programs that teach the world’s children to respect human life. “Every parent, every teacher, every leader,” said Mrs. Bush, “has a responsibility to condemn the terrible tragedy of men, women, and children killing themselves to kill others. . . . As the civilized world stands against terror, UNESCO’s work can make an enormous difference. Together, we can construct, as UNESCO’s constitution states, the defenses of peace in the minds of men.”