Tag Archives: change

IRAN: Flirting with Change

October 17th, 2013

Tehran_Students
Students at Tehran University source: en.irangreevoice.com

Though the world is viewing the overtures made by Iran’s new President, Hassan Rouhani, with cautious optimism, on Monday, October 14, 2014, he challenged the country’s hardline factions and called for the lifting of restrictions on academic freedoms and for granting Iranian scholars more opportunity to take part in international conferences. Speaking to students and professors at Tehran University, Mr. Rouhani said that his “administration will not tolerate factional pressures on universities,” and called on the importance of scholars from taking part in international conferences as “scientific diplomacy.”

“I urge all security apparatuses, including the intelligence ministry, to open the way for this diplomacy. Trust the universities,” said Rouhani.

In an earlier blog I wrote about how the government of Iran, under the former presidency of Ahmadinejad, had justified its decision to bar women from studying in 70 plus programs. Mr. Ahmadinejad and the hardliners in his government were concerned about the disparity between the increasing numbers of women versus men enrolling at universities. Mr. Rouhani’s predecessor’s government wasn’t only concerned about limiting women’s access to over 70 fields of study, but also barring scholars and professors from attending international conferences and engaging in research, and making it difficult for Iranian students to seek higher education outside the country.

Mr. Rouhani’s Monday call was broadcast on state television. The Supreme Leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran’s top policymaker, has endorsed Rouhani’s outreach to the U.S. However, this does not mean the hardliners are taking Mr. Rouhani’s calls for education freedom and his attempts to reach out to the U.S. lightly. In fact, they have vowed to organize a major anti-U.S. rally on November 4th to mark the anniversary of the takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran by militant students in 1980.

When Rouhani took office in August, he had called for lifting the restrictions on social media access and even urged police to be less vigilant toward women and the perceived violations of strict dress codes. I believe Iranian women had already taken matters into their own hands, even before Mr. Rouhani’s declaration. Street fashion in Iran, as seen in this series of photos, is alive and well and young women and some men are pushing the envelope expressing their individualism and unique sense of style even with dress code restrictions.

Perhaps change is underway in Iran and as far as academic freedom is concerned, the only way to gauge it is to see how students, professors and scholars are treated under Mr. Rouhani’s watch.

Jasmin S. Kuehnert
President & CEO ACEI
www.acei1.com

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Filed under Education, History, Human Interest, Politics

Down the Rabbit Hole

December 15, 2011

Down the rabbit hole

“Alice came to a fork in the road. ‘Which road do I take?’ she asked. 

‘Where do you want to go?’ responded the Cheshire Cat.

’I don’t know,’ Alice answered. 

‘Then,’ said the Cat, ‘it doesn’t matter.”

–Lewis Carroll

Education has taken a nasty fall. In fact, if we do not commit to a serious dialogue with the intention of finding immediate solutions, we will never find our way back up. At the bottom of this hole are entire generations without focus or incentive. At the top of the pile are the latest young college graduates, without the necessary tools of creative and analytical thinking, nor the processes to come up with solutions and answers to the multitude of problems awaiting them. And we are working on the newest generation, insuring a continuation of more of the same. Why would we do this? How is this happening and is there anyone building a ladder to the surface? One system that is attempting to work through this conundrum is the German school system, although, even in this forward thinking system the cracks are beginning to appear.

In the U.S. people don’t like to pay taxes, even if that means their children receive an inferior education and grow up to be welfare recipients condemned to minimum wage jobs, if they can find them. Henceforth, our state-funded schools do not have adequate funds to support healthy education. Not to mention that higher education is no longer a choice, but a matter of privilege, and if you don’t have it, you borrow it. If we take a closer look at the Bank/Corporate-to-Students zero-sum game, we will find that it is a form of indentured servitude. Easy credit, and low and stagnant wages. The Banks/Corporations win by ensuring themselves a profitable return and a constant supply of worker-bees–– under educated and ill prepared to come up with alternatives to the situation. Our young people are forced into unproductive, creatively un-challenging, low-income jobs, barely able to make ends meet in order to pay back or risk failing into default.

Here in Germany, where I’m currently residing, education is public and placed strictly in the hands of each of its 16 “states.” Each state is responsible for and administers to primary, secondary, career training schools and much of higher education, and is free to create its own curricula. That means that most schools, colleges and universities are paid for with taxpayer money, with a few institutions of higher learning charging a nominal fee. Teachers are Federally-tenured and there is coordination between state and federal administrators, teaching and testing standards ensuring that education is relatively equal throughout the country. However, globalization has pretty much corporatized education, even in Germany. Corporations want school children in the work force as soon as possible in order to fill positions in a rapidly growing industrial-export economy. As a result, the system is implementing a reduction in the number of years attended below college, from 13 to 12 years. School begins at 7:30 a.m., ensuring that children can ride the bus or that parents can drop their children off at school, relieving traffic congestion for people on their way to work. Sounds somewhat sound, however many studies have recently turned up indicating that both students and teachers ability to cope with this early biorhythm has affected attention and learning. Hmmm.

Empowering teachers helps to ensure a productive and fulfilling classroom experience. The Corporatizing of education has eroded the primary teacher-to-student experience. Every child has different affinities, abilities and interests that affect the way they absorb and learn from the materials presented in any given curriculum. Adding to this are classrooms full of multi-cultural, multi-ethnic children, creating a situation, which makes it next to impossible for teachers to do their jobs and connect with students on a deeper level. In the U.S. a broad-spectrum curriculum has been imposed without acknowledging these factors, effectively devaluing the creative and critical thinking that might one day turn the tables on the corporate imperative of a “dumbed-down” work force, perfectly designed to turn a corporate profit.

Taking into consideration that not everyone will learn the same way, at the same rate, or has the desire to go to the same place with their accumulated knowledge, the biggest difference between schools in the U.S. and Germany is that of freedom of choice. The German constitution guarantees all citizens the right to fully develop their human potential, which includes the right to choose one’s occupation and to have access to the appropriate career training. It recognizes that if you are going to become a productive member of a multi-dimensional society, overlaying one educational model simply does not work. Therefore parents and students are given a choice early on. The system gives parents the possibility, based on aptitude, grades and interests by the end of the 4th grade, to select what type of secondary school the child should attend and has made this flexible as well, by allowing students to change their minds later on. This ability to choose continues by offering students based upon their interests, a dual-track job skills training program: a three year classroom instruction together with a paid internship (Berufsfachschule), as well as other options. To read more about the German education system see: The Educational System in Germany

The less money that goes towards education, the less time and resources teachers have to give students the attention and individual respect they deserve. We do not have to agree to the Bank/Corporate agenda dictating to our educational systems. If we are to climb out of the rabbit hole, and begin to take back our rights to choose our future and create our lives, we have to change teaching paradigms and instruct our children how to think creatively and problem solve with patience to persevere in the face of obstacles. A distracted and fractured mind is an all to easily malleable mind, and we’ll fast find ourselves in a complicit wonderland, wondering how we got there:

Mad Hatter: Would you like a little more tea?
Alice: Well, I haven’t had any yet, so I can’t very well take more.
March Hare: Ah, you mean you can’t very well take less. 
Mad Hatter: Yes. You can always take more than nothing.


Jeannie Winston Nogai
Owner / Winston Nogai Design
www.jeanniewinston.com / E: jwndesign@me.com

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Filed under Education

We Make the Road By Walking: Conversations on Education and Social Change

A Pith Book Review
July 21, 2011

I was already a dedicated fan of Paulo Freire when my professor assigned the book. I had already fallen in love with the paradoxically romantic and pragmatic tale of Freire’s endeavor to effect social change in his homeland Brazil by teaching the most marginalized people to read so they could vote. What I didn’t know going into this book was that Freire had a theoretic doppelgänger in the Appalachian Mountains of America, named Myles Horton. “We Make the Road by Walking” is a collection of candid, provocative and intimate conversations between Myles and Paulo, two lovers of freedom through education.

At its’ heart, the book is about pedagogy. Both Freire and Horton were as concerned with the “how” as the “what” of education, so to speak. They talk extensively about how the teachers approach will determine the success or failure to build positive relationships in the learning environment; relationships that inform the selection of content. Students, and their experiences, are to be respected as critical aspects of the learning process. In fact, in the author’s view, the content of curricula cannot be determined in absence of the students.

Throughout his work, Freire refers to the “banking” style of education wherein the technician (teacher) deposits predetermined information into the account (student) and expectantly awaits a formulaic outcome. According to Freire, this style of education contributes to oppression, rather than freedom. In conversation with Horton, Freire says:

For me there is a certain sensualism in writing and reading—
And in teaching, in knowing…Knowing for me is not a neutral
Act, not only from the political point of view, from the point of view
Of my body, my sensual body. It is full of feelings, of emotions, of
Tastes.

The conversations take place at the home of Myles Horton. He talks about the importance of finding a process for learning, rather than relying only on books, or teachers, to get answers. Horton views teachers as guides rather than gatekeepers of information. A teacher doesn’t need to know every answer. A teacher needs to be skilled in helping students find their own answers.

What shines through in reading this book is the depth of value these two revolutionary thinkers hold for the process of education. Its hard not to be affected by the kindred spirit infused with love these two share.

For anyone seeking to renew and inspire a love of education, I recommend this endearing book. I go back to it and visit the ideas like old friends each time I need to remember the essence of my role as an educator. It is a truly grounded, yet somehow magical, account of how learning can unite people to work for a common good while empowering each and every one.


by Abby Wills, MA
http://www.shantigeneration.com

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