Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Why education is not a cure all or panacea

On Friday 1 June 2012, I submitted a complete draft of my dissertation to my committee members.  Since then, I got some feedback from my committee chair about removing some items from the 330 page document (or 82,632 words not including footnotes and references).  My next few posts might end up serving a similar purpose to this one--serving as a repository for the rejected prose from my dissertation.

When one sets out to write a book-length project, inspiration comes from everywhere.  That was the case for me, as I read Obama's memoir "Dreams from my father: a story of race and inheritance" while doing fieldwork in Morocco during 2009-2010.
            An alternative view to the near universal assumption that education is a quasi panacea is the viewpoint that formal schooling does not provide adequate education to marginalized or minority populations, including the poor and women.  In other words, formal schooling does not teach marginalized or minority students about the world based on their perspectives or experiences.  In one of his memoirs, Obama profiles educator Asante Moran, a character that may represent a composite of more than one real person.  Obama quotes Moran as saying, “Just think about what a real education for these children would involve.  It would start by giving a child an understanding of himself[/herself], his[/her] world, his[/her] culture, his[/her] community.  That’s the starting point of any educational process.  That’s what makes a child hungry to learn—the promise of being part of something, of mastering his[/her] environment.”[1]  While Obama’s character was referring to inner-city minority youths in 1980s Chicago, his thoughts are true and valid for all people, not just inner-city minority youths.  This point speaks to the importance of involving the targets of education (or the products of education, whether failed or inadequate or successful) into the curriculum and program designing process.  Such inclusion is challenging for Moroccan society, where teaching is a low prestige job, and teachers are largely not respected by the state or society.  There is growing research on the positive results of including different voices in designing curriculum and schooling programs.[2]

            The character in Obama’s memoir, Asante Moran, discusses the educational experience of his pupils through the lens of standpoint theory.  The challenge to formal schooling in Obama’s text cites the disconnection between the experience behind the curriculum that is being taught and the experience of the pupils to whom it is being taught.  Obama quotes Moran further, “From day one, what’s he[/she] learning about?  Someone else’s history.  Someone else’s culture, Not only that, this culture [she/]he’s supposed to learn is the same culture that’s systematically rejected him[/her], denied him[/her] his[/her] humanity.”[3]  This second quote is even more relevant to the women of Morocco, and the relevance increases as the intersectional identities increase.  Rural women, poor women, girls and teens (youth is another intersectional identity), Amazigh (Berber) women, single mothers, mentally or physically handicapped women, homosexual women, children born to Moroccan women and non-Moroccan men (this affects issues of nationality and the privileges associated with it), widows, mothers of daughters, non-Muslim women, and others.

            Indeed, inter-subjectively, the marginalized student is not being taught her history while the enfranchised students gets to benefit from an otherwise more robust educational experience when that experience is shared with students from different backgrounds.  Obama points out through his character Moran that, “The flow of culture [runs] in reverse as well.”[4]  The disenfranchised have “their own forms of validation.”  Their “claims of greater deprivation” afford them “greater authenticity.”  Furthermore, their mere presence in the classroom with privileged students provides those privileged students “with an education”[5] from the points of view of the disenfranchised (the poor, the deprived and other areas outside of affluence and privilege).  Inclusion leads to an improved school experience for everyone.

[1] Barack Obama. Dreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance. 1st pbk. ed.  New York: Three Rivers Press, 2004. 258.

[2] See for example, International Working Group on Education (IWGE). "Critical Issues in Education for All: Gender Parity, Emergencies," (Paris: UNESCO: International Institute for Educational Planning, 2003).

[3] Obama, Dreams from my father: a story of race and inheritance: 258.

[4] Ibid., 286.

[5] Ibid.