Reports to the Nation: Report #6: Education for Change [Archives:2000/50/Reportage]

December 11 2000

Toward a New Education for a New Century
Dr. Abdulmageed Ghaleb Almikhlafi
Sanaa University
Stasis and Education
No society can live without tradition but no society can survive without change. It depends on what kind of tradition and what kind of change and the way we understand them in time and place. There are three types of stasis in the Arab world: (a) completely passive, negative attitudes which may result in the disappearance or wakening of the resisting and transformative forces; (b) and active resistance to change on the part of ignorant traditionalist groups who hope to impose some, at least, of their ignorant values on the new social setting; and (c) different types of adjustment or adaptability to change which does not lead to the destruction of the status quo.
The western paradigms of orientalism, modernity, and development maintain that stasis in the Arab world is inherent in religion, tradition, and culture and that is the major root of historical and cultural retardation of the Arab nation. These incorrect notions that the masses wanted to hold on to tradition for the sake of tradition is often expressed by these paradigms which attribute the qualities of modernization and development to the dependent bourgeoisie. That is how these paradigms looked at revolutions, too. To these paradigms, the main reason behind the revolutions is the split of the national personality. They ignore the fact that these rebellions, sometimes, were led by men of religion, culture, and tradition against a segment of society who bought development with peoples money and kept it for themselves. The people are not bigots; they are not against change and development, because real development and change are conditions of emancipation, but they are against corruption. Had the governments used what they have to educate and satisfy the basic needs of the people, the people would have preferred development. Had the governments asked for a return to religion and remained affluent, the masses would have turned against religion. The real source of stasis, then, is the exploitation of the masses – whether it comes from home or from abroad. Even when the masses think of religion, they think in terms of a pure form of rule and not a native return to tradition. They think of it as a source of emancipatory values and as a protective structure against alienation.
Tradition is not something sacred, something that is always positive. Tradition has within it negative elements that impede development. The split of society into the educated and the illiterate, the exploiting bureaucracy and the deprived masses, and the emergence of new dependent classes who were concerned only with luxurious enjoyment in a chaotic atmosphere, and with ignorant and immoral imitation of the materialistic way of life, presents a dismal picture in which tradition serves as an ideological source for stasis. In accepting ones tradition, one may or may not accept it in toto, one may select the emancipatory aspects from the retardational aspects; and if one did so, how does one draw the line between what is emancipatory and what is retardational in tradition? The real problem is an educational one. It is that of studying the tradition, on the one hand, and the grasping of a modern heritage on the other. For some Arabs (ignorant and educated), the two may appear contradictory, because both had been seen by them superficially. This superficiality is seen in other aspects of Arab life as well: reading the sciences in universities without following the scientific spirit in society, retaining theories in ivory towers without trying to practice them in society. Those who preach Islam or socialism know the theories very well, but they never got down to the basics and thus they ended up in fighting before they realized what they aimed for. Thus, the conflicts in the level of education, culture, tradition, and ethics are not the conflicts between the left and the right as they appeared to be. They are the conflicts between superficial open-mindedness and blind imitation, between naive universalism and encapsulating relativism. These are the constituting elements of stasis as a condition of retardation. If the role of education in Arab society is understood only as the reproduction of the skills of labor power, the submission to the ruling ideologies, the preservation of the status quo, then it is an education for stasis.

Change and Education
There were many changes that have so rapidly taken place in the twentieth century such as the destruction caused by the two world wars and the miseries engendered by the economic crisis; the unprecedented advance of science and technology, and mans journey beyond the confines of this planet; the emergence of socialist states on three continents, and the triumph of national liberation movements in Asia, Africa, and Latin America. These changes have influenced politics, culture, and education all over the world. In the Arab nation, all these changes revealed a great deal of complexity in the relations between educational thought, political thought, culture, and power. These involved several issues. First, is the question of the effectiveness of educational and political thought as a vehicle of challenge in Arab society. Second, is that of the relation of educational and political thought to the existing culture of Arab society. Third, is that of the implantation into Arab culture of categories and frameworks of educational and political thought produced in other, – i.e. foreign-cultural contexts. Fourth, is that of the specific ways in which frameworks of educational and political thought conceived in the context of the dominant foreign cultures are received and transformed in the subordinate Arab culture. Finally, there is the question of changing relations of power within Arab society under neo-colonial domination.
Thus, to understand the process of social change, it is necessary to look closely at transformative emancipatory projects, in both their contents and directions, and to look at the new and old social forces struggling against all forms of domination and retardation. New projects of emancipational change must necessarily involve the building of a new independent-transformative Arab culture for the masses and the redistribution of educational power and resources. These will contribute to the creation of an effective political democratic process and the remodeling of social relations. The mode of inserting the Arab nation in the world economy needs to be reformulated to avoid hegemonic tendencies. Also needed is the development of a new emancipatory rationality, which would take into consideration the changing and growing complexity of the Arab social network along with that of the Arab state.
The role of education in the shattering of stasis is very important. Education has to play a role in the elimination of ignorant traditionalism. It is so crucial to attack existing retardational dominance and to create an alternative emancipational dominance and to create an alternative emancipational source for it within present Arab society. Education must contribute to the creation of a new emancipatory political thought that would be a vehicle for change. Arab education must enable the generations to develop their capabilities of predicting change and reducing its uncertainties. Education should reassure the Arab youth and adults that they are not helplessly thrown into an objective world which is impervious to conscious intervention by their human minds and rational wills. On the contrary, the objectivity of the world becomes meaningful only because of the presence of them as human beings, and their capacity to transform and change their world for the sake of their becoming fully emancipated humans. Education has to reassure the masses that through individual initiative and collective action, they can learn to change and transform their givenness as products of nature and history, to become aware of their knowledge-gaining capacities, and thus to act with consciousness and will