A Song for Humanistic Education: Pedagogy and Politics in the Middle East
by Linda A. Herrera - 2008
Background/Context: If we take as a given the desirability of an education that promotes principles of respect, pluralism, rational critical inquiry, compassion, innovation, and excellence, then humanistic pedagogies should be paramount to that educational vision. Yet humanistic education in the Middle East has been on the demise in past decades due to the intensification of political and economic injustices, sectarianism, nativism, and religious fundamentalisms, coupled with the prevalence of market-driven neoliberal education reforms.
Purpose/Objective/Research Question/Focus of Study: This study draws on the life history and pedagogy of a music educator, an Egyptian Muslim violin teacher, to broach larger questions about humanistic and aesthetic education in the Middle East. The current context of geopolitical conflict and authoritarianism have reinvigorated a reactionary cultural politics in which music and the arts are often targeted as being corruptive, extraneous, or irrelevant to Arab and Islamic society. This inquiry presses upon the need for research that addresses notions about education and national culture during periods of political and economic conflict, and of the urgency to support and build those cosmopolitan educational spaces that are constricting at an alarming pace.
Research Design: The research is organized around a life history and includes interviews, classroom observations, secondary analysis, and historical analysis. Life history allows for an investigation of the influences and conditions that contribute to an educator’s professional formation and pedagogic practices. It similarly provides a means by which to locate the teacher as a product of an historic period and, concurrently, as an active social actor who influences it.
Conclusions/Recommendations: Rather than serve as a “best practice” model, this study is intended to illustrate those pedagogic strategies that can nurture humanistic principles and lead to the cultivation of a cosmopolitan polity in the Middle East, particularly during periods of political conflict, growing sectarianism, and struggles for democratic change. For an education grounded in principles of openness and humanism may be among the greatest means for confronting the irrationalities, inequities, and injustices of our times.
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