So this week is also filled with questions, and also some critique! I was asked to present on a book chapter, titled Teaching for Democracy in Post-Arab Spring: Challenges and Opportunities by Abdullah F. Alrebh and Radhi Al-Mabuk. After reading the chapter, I had mixed opinions to be honest; on the one hand it was well-written and offered some good information about how the education system in the Arab world is like; but on the other hand I came out of this reading experience thinking “What now? What’s the solution??!” I don’t want this to seem like a book chapter review though, so it will just be a reflection on the discussions we had in class and my learning in between classes.
We talked about democracy for a democracy-unprepared nation. Some of us in class differed on whether or not democracy is really what this nation needs; whether Egypt as a nation is ready for democracy; and the success factors of democracy in general. We touched on the history of how democracy as a concept emerged in the US constitution, touching upon the fact that it is for the “educated citizen.” This was a pretty interesting point, here’s the quote I brought up for discussion (from the chapter); “An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people” by Thomas Jefferson ” (as cited in Alrebh & Al-Mabuk, 2016, p. 8).
There was another quote that stirred the discussion; “Totalitarianism demands obedience and conformity, hierarchy, command and control. Royalty requires allegiance. Democracy, by contrast, requires free people coming together voluntarily who are capable of both self-realization and, at the same time, full participation in a shared political and economic life. Democracy is a form of associative living in which people must assume and fight to achieve political and social equality; acknowledge a common spark of humanity in each soul; and embrace a level of uncertainty, incompleteness, and the inevitability of change” (as cited in Alrebh & Al-Mabuk, 2016, p. 8).
One of my classmates had a problem with this definition of associative living and thought that individualism and freedom should be important and a nation’s success lies in each one doing what he/she wants. I personally didn’t see a contradiction between this viewpoint and the definition of associative living because they tackle two different angles. Everyone working for a common goal is not necessarily a bad thing, unless there are different perceptions as to what that common goal is. In the case of Egypt, that “common goal” was not so common it turned out. One of the main reasons the Egyptian revolution did not reap the results the nation was striving for is that the nation ended up being divided very different sectors, supporting different goals or missions. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters created a dichotomy in the population; the nation was split between Muslim Brotherhood supporters and old regime supporters, some of which were revolutionaries. This then means that the collective drive towards a unified goal was not there, which according to this chapter is the main catalyst for democracy. Also, in no way, shape or form was the nation comfortable with uncertainty, incompleteness or the inevitability of change. All of this translates into massive instability in government and the nation’s goals, which directly affects the stability of higher education institutions (public or private).
A critique I have about this piece is that it is too utopian. Yes, it is somewhat of a good depiction of what the education system is like in the nation, but the opportunities and solutions presented are not realistic and make it seem like it’s a very simple recipe for reform, when the reality is different. The authors say that the main challenge is lack of teacher training and the opportunities are the aspirations/willingness of youth, the drive to be autonomous and efforts on the long run can raise civic-minded citizens. I can’t even begin to explain how simplistic and utopian this is. There are many factors that are not examined in this piece. When I looked closer at the authors’ backgrounds; it turned out that they were entirely based in the Arab world; one received his MA and PhD from Michigan (before that he was in Saudi Arabia); and the other received all his degrees from the US and is currently teaching there. This in and of itself makes it difficult for them to assess the situation of the public education system in the Arab World. I have lived in Egypt all my life, received all my education degrees here in a private schooling system and private university yet I am still not a good candidate to make any claims about the public education system because I was neither a student nor a teacher nor even an administrator in it. So I am not in a place to survey the challenges or the opportunities in the public sector, especially that there is the problem of lack of adequate documentation in the region about education systems.
I have other reflection points from reading this chapter but I’ll stop here for now and talk about some TED talks.
The talk I watched was pretty interesting. It was about The Brain and Exercise by Wendy Suzuki and was all about the neurological benefits of exercise on brain functions, improving cognition, memory, learning, creativity and imagination. I learned so many new things from this talk, including the fact that most research done about the positive effects of exercise on the brain is on older patients. The research Dr. Suzuki conducted however was on her own neuroscience students, which also reaped very positive results. You know what would be really interesting? Research about the effects of different types of exercise on different cognitive functions. I’d like to read about that. So for example, does running in particular enhance a certain cognitive ability such as memorization or language learning? Does strength training or repetitive type exercises enhance imagination? or eases the habit of associating information…etc.? I’ll actually go look into that some more now.
The other Ted talk my classmate watched and presented about was really good in highlighting a few important facts about learning, diversity and making choices. It was called The Art of Choosing by Sheena Lyengar and there are some of the questions it raised; are we really the decision makers for our choices, or are we set up to make certain choices based on how the information and choices are presented? She also talked about how different nations approach concepts, which further highlighted the notion of choice being an interpretation-based concept.
Ok, gotta go, more later. Let me know if you disagree/agree with any of this. I know there are pretty strong statements in here, but sometimes I get really worked up when I’m writing.