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Three Cups of Tea: Educators mull halting support for Pennies for Peace

Amid allegations that 'Three Cups of Tea' co-author Greg Mortenson mismanaged money collected by thousands of schoolchildren for his Pennies for Peace program, educators are considering cutting off support.

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Ms. Beyersdorfer included a statement that is part of the institute’s standard response to inquiries about how it handled donations: “The CAI board of directors and senior management team have determined that a very thorough, transparent, and objective assessment of CAI’s programs and operations is needed, and we are taking steps to define that process and begin.”

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Montana’s attorney general, Steve Bullock, has launched an inquiry into the operations of the Central Asia Institute. “While looking into this issue, my office will not jump to any conclusions—but we have a responsibility to make sure charitable assets are used for their intended purposes,” he said in a statement.

Mr. Mortenson didn’t grant interviews to “60 Minutes” or to Mr. Krakauer, but he said in a Q&A published April 18 by Outside magazine that inaccuracies in his books are a result partly of the condensing of the time when some events took place.

‘Hold On to the Money’

The Washington-based National Education Association Foundation is among groups that have promoted Pennies for Peace. Along with the Pearson Foundation, the NEA Foundation supported the creation of a curriculum and “toolkit” that teachers have used to accompany students’ reading of books by Mr. Mortenson and fundraising for Pennies for Peace. Harriet Sanford, the president and chief executive officer of the foundation, said the philanthropy gave Pennies for Peace a $10,000 planning grant in 2007 to make the toolkit but hasn’t given any money to the program since then.

John I. Wilson, the executive director of the NEA, said in an April 22 interview that he will discuss with Ms. Sanford the possible suspension of the teachers’ union’s promotion of Pennies for Peace “until we get all the facts.” He added, “I think there is enough out there [raising questions] to justify a suspension, but we’re not willing to throw them under the bus yet. We don’t know the motives of folks who are making these allegations.”

As a first step, he said, the NEA might remove links on its website to Pennies for Peace and later decide whether to permanently withdraw its stamp of approval.

Mr. Wilson’s advice to teachers who are backing students in fundraising for Pennies for Peace is to “finish the project but hold on to the money.”

Checking the Facts

Among the materials in the toolkit is a curriculum resource guide that takes for granted the truth of Mr. Mortenson’s story about how he got involved in building schools in Pakistan. Three Cups of Tea says he stumbled into the village of Korphe while weak and lost after trying to climb the Himalayan mountain of K2, was nursed back to health by the villagers, left and then returned as soon as he could arrange a ride, and promised to build the villagers a school. That story gets a lot of play in Three Cups of Tea and the gist of it is repeated in a version of the book for young readers widely read in schools.

But Mr. Krakauer says Mr. Mortenson didn’t visit the village of Korphe until a year after his climbing expedition and, in fact, he initially promised to build a school in the village of Khane in Pakistan but never delivered on that promise. Instead, Mr. Mortenson built a school in Korphe.

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