Discussion on Dewey, Abdullah & Berkley in the 60s – Journal #6

The week before this class we had a very interesting assignment. We were to reflect and answer a few questions that combined three of our major readings and documentaries in the course;

  • Dewey’s School and Society
  • Abdullah’s The Student Movement and National Politics in Egypt- Also a great reference for anyone interested in educational policy and reform in Egypt.
  • Berkley in the 60’s

The questions themselves made me reflect at a deeper level on the common themes present in all three. The assignment was that we answer 4 questions and to respond to 3 of our classmates’ posts. I will include my answers to each question here, but for my classmates’ confidentiality and privacy I will neither discuss their posts nor my responses to them. I will say however how I learned from each and every one of them, and again the concept of people paying attention to things that relate to them and their backgrounds was prevalent in this assignments as much as it was in the previous one. So with each class meeting or assignment that entails an element of group reflection and discussion, I learn so much from seeing things through each of my classmates’ eyes. This to me is of profound meaning to me in this course.

I will include the questions along with their answers below:

Question 1

How does the film inform your reading and how does the reading inform your perspective about/of the film?

As much as US culture is different than that of Egypt, students in these two countries have very similar methods of showing their disapproval and discontent with the system. Berkley in the 60s and Abdullah’s book inform one another in terms of student movements and the act of calling for reform. The movie, for example, shows how this culture of protesting started in regards to a certain ideology, which was racial discrimination and then snowballed into a series of protests about other ideas such as women equality. The same thing happened in Abdulla where the students first started by protesting about lack of employment opportunities after higher education and then rolled into the unsatisfactory salaries given to university graduates. So this notion of having a series or a wave of demonstrations was very similar and in both the movie and Abdullah, the students did not start protesting because they were content before; this snowball effect happened because the students saw that demonstrating and getting their voices heard sometimes resulted in attention from the authorities and even attempts of reform. Both sources shed light on how often the system or government (whether of the country as a whole or of the university) often responds in either dismissal or violence towards such protests. Also, the nature of the students’ protests was of pure or noble intentions and was in a form of peaceful call for reform but the system’s lack of understanding and sympathizing encouraged the students to develop attitudes of dissatisfaction and continuous demonstrations. Lastly, both the movie and Abdullah clearly portray how the youth are a distinctive force in university as well as country politics. This, I believe is a widely accepted idea because there is a general emphasis on the youth in any type of reform or change, whether social, cultural or political and there are great expectations from them as they are the leaders of the future generations.

Question 2

How do these materials shape your understanding or perspective of/about the revolution and the future of education in Egypt? Draw some concrete/specific (that is, with textual or scene references) instances that influence your perspective of the 2011 Egyptian revolution.

In terms of the future of education in Egypt, these materials drew a picture for me on the history of education in Egypt and how previous scholars greatly attempted to reform it for the better (in their perspectives). I agree with many of the schools of thought mentioned in Abdullah, but I am skeptical of major reform in the future because these very positive and good ideas have been circulated since the 1950s and positive reform is yet to take place in the Egyptian educational system. I agree with Taha Hussein’s notion on p.32 that there needs to be social system and cultural change before there could be educational reform because these are the culprits that created education system gaps and therefore would directly be the driving factors of educational reform in Egypt. Through both of these materials I was able to repeatedly realize the importance of the youth’s distinctive role in politics through their spirit of speaking up and activism, which informs my understanding of the Egyptian revolution because there’s a popular notion that the unity of the people was born in social media, which is predominantly used by younger generations. With regards to instances that influence my perspective of the revolution, the overarching theme of unity and social or community empowerment greatly came into play. In the movie there were was a strong emotional scene where the people were divided into two groups of pro and against war in Vietnam; the young men in busses going to war in Vietnam and the groups of people that tried to stop them. This was a very strong visual representation of two opposing sides (in thought and ideology) in the same nation and generation. This is very similar to Egypt in the Islamist and Liberal ideology dichotomy that started during and after the 2011 Egyptian revolution and further strengthened in the June 30 Revolution, which continues to the present day.

Question 3

How does Dewey’s naturalistic pragmatism on the nature of (a good experiential) education relate with the experiences in Berkeley and Abdallah’s Egypt?

Dewey places emphasis on naturalistic pragmatism in the idea that education would be more beneficial when it’s applicable, in practical terms, to an individual’s daily life. In his book he makes reference to learning such skills as cooking and sewing in an experiential and directed manner that is student-centered in school. He emphasizes the importance of contextualizing learning concepts and theories to one’s real life and the world in general in practical methods so that both school and real life would not be unrelated realms of the student’s life. The example he gave about making cotton and wool and how the children get to learn the concepts and main ideas behind these fabrics was intended to explain the overarching theme of realization and understanding of concepts through experience, which in other pedagogical terms refers to experiential learning. This idea is heavily linked to references in Abdulla about the importance of having a secondary education that practically prepares students for living in the real world. He makes these references by mentioning other scholars’ views, such as Qabbani’s, on secondary education’s need to prepare students for living in the Egyptian society before preparing them to be doctors, engineers, theologies or teachers (p.30). He also states that the education system at the time was (and I think it still is) more focused on academic abstract thought and therefore does not engage or incorporate students’ experiences beyond the school walls in practical and life-relevant ways (p.31). I believe this relates to the movie Berkley in the 60s in the many instances that the students would protest on campus about problems in their society that practically happen beyond campus walls such as nation and society-wide racial discrimination for example.

Question 4

We often say that ‘history repeats itself’. In light of Abdallah and Berkeley, how would you react to the/my following statement? “History does not repeat itself, but we allow ourselves to be manipulated to relegate history to the obsolete and the irrelevant spheres of our lives; thus, we make it possible for historically used instruments to be re-used in our present context.

I actually sometimes use this phrase ‘history repeats itself’ but I always use it in relevance to the context. However, I believe that this phrase is widely used in general terms because there are many instances in history where a certain action or reaction gets repeated, for example the act of demonstrating against a system or the reaction of police violence towards protestors. However, if we critically think about each event or situation separately we would realize that it’s almost never the same series of events or even the same purposes of protesting. For example, in the movie Berkley in the 60s the demonstrations were related to racial discrimination, women’s equality rights and calling for the pull out of US forces from Vietnam. In Abdullah the demonstrations were about unemployment and low wages so it would be unfair, and to be frank quite ignorant, to use a carpet-like phrase such as ‘history repeats itself’ only due to the fact that demonstrations in both these instances were lead by students because they were not in the same social context, country or even for the same purposes. Every generation is different and marks its own challenges, problems, social constructs and cultural differences, therefore it would be practically impossible for history to repeat itself, in the mere sense and meaning of the phrase.

More later 🙂

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