As 2012 approaches, many of us wonder how the past twelve months—a year of remarkable courage and revolution, but also growing anger and fear—will affect global economies, politics, and cultures. The murders of Gadaffi and bin Laden leave millions with hope for a better future, but raise discomforting questions about international government action; the Occupy Wall Street movement has swept our own country into the spirit of uprising, but with what consequence; and the youth movement that has swept parts of the Middle East like wildfire has inspired and mobilized citizens all over the world, but reminds us of the limited freedoms that exist within many populations.
Touching each of these introspections and shifts is education: how do different societies produce knowledge? how is human agency both affected by and effective of social and political change within educational institutions? is the logic of revolution necessarily a paradoxical one?
We're completely honored that Professor Khosrow Bagheri Noaparast, Chairman of the Iranian Association of Philosophy of Education, addresses these questions and more in his interview with Zoheir Noaparast.
Zoheir Noaparast: What has the educational system been like in Middle Eastern countries, and has it contributed to the uprisings?
Professor Bagheri Noaparast: The formal educational system is exactly one of the important factors in providing deception in these countries. Insofar as it relates to social norms and values, the curriculum is usually a potent instrument at the hands of dictator regimes to impose their intentions either explicitly or implicitly by means of what is referred to as "hidden curriculum". The official readings of social values are exposed to the children by means of educational systems of these countries. In fact, the educational systems have played the role of negative leverages for negating themselves along with the larger social system which includes them.
ZN: What are the educational opportunities and threats in Middle Eastern countries after the victory of the revolution?
BN: Revolutions provide people with a feeling of capability to change the situation and destiny. This feeling can lead to educational opportunities. Thus, after revolutions a very strong drive appears to change the educational system altogether. The new released power of revolutionary people can lead to important educational changes as it was seen, for instance, in Cuba after revolution that illiteracy was decreased toward zero by means of young revolutionary people who were ready to devote themselves for teaching the illiterate people. However, there are also threats for the educational systems of these countries. One of the common threats for revolutions is that they turn the revolutionary ideas to rigid doctrines that need to be transformed to children by means of indoctrination. This rigidity is exactly what causes revolutions to appear. Anyway, the paradoxical nature of revolutions can turn them against themselves.
ZN: Will ideological education occur in these countries? If yes, what would the consequences be? What is the role of human agency in such social changes?
BN: Well, it is quite possible to observe that ideological education systems appear in the Middle Eastern countries. If by ideology we mean a rigid system that does not care about reason and rationality, then the consequences of an ideological education system will be identifiable. These systems lead to outputs of irrational people and this kind of output can be challenged on the basis of the very nature of education. An educated person being knowledgeable is expected to be rational in dealing with natural and social events. What the revolutionary people of the Middle East need to be aware of is the limits of human agency. The feeling of determining one's own destiny is a good one in developing the process of revolution. However, a revolutionary person should be cautious not to take the position of God in desiring to be omnipotent. People can change their lives but at the limits that surround the human agency. One of the most important limits that is educationally significant is that you cannot do whatever you like with a newborn child, you cannot "shape" him or her as you like. This is a limitation that human agency puts for itself in the same way that freedom puts a limitation for itself. You are free but in so far as you do not negate another free person's freedom. Likewise, educationally speaking, you are an agent in so far as you do not preach your student's agency.
ZN: Do educational institutes play a significant role in initiating revolutions?
BN:Yes. Because they turn movements to institutions and institutions can become rigid and thereby requiring revolutions. Thus, paradoxically, educational institutions are at the same time the effect and the cause of revolutions.
ZN: What strengths can the revolutionary spirit create in the education system?
BN: Revolutions take victory by participation of almost all the people. This overwhelming participation is the most powerful strength of a revolution. Thus, the Middle Eastern countries should be cautious not to become exclusivists in pushing some parts of people to the margins and keep themselves at the core. If the logic of revolutions namely participation can be held after the victory, then we might talk about another paradoxical thing and this time a good one: a constant revolution.
ZN: What kind of feelings exists in people involved in the Middle East uprisings? And what are the reasons for the occurrence of such feelings?
BN: The most apparent feeling is anger which turns to revenge in its development and reaction to the regimes' attacks. However, this is not a personal anger as the shape of current anger is social and perhaps regional. This social anger is due, in its turn, to a deeper feeling which is a kind of social solidarity. What is the reason for the appearance of this solidarity? The reason is a social self-consciousness in which the people understand themselves as being the victims of common causes namely oppression and deception. While the people are under the pressure of poverty and discrimination in, for instance, Yemen and Bahrain, they see the rubrics of social welfare and equality being used by the regimes. Also, while the people observed the empathy and cooperation with Israel in the attempts of, for instance, the Egypt's leaders, they saw the cover of Islam that was used to justify the attempts. This common self-consciousness has led to a very important feeling as to the strength of people and their ability to determine their destiny. While this consciousness in its individual shape was present here and there from the past, it was weak and sterile but when it turned to a social phenomenon provided people with a feeling of agency according to which they see themselves capable of making a change and determining their destiny. This feeling is exactly what puts the people in the strong position and make the leaders passive and doomed to failure.
ZN: What is the mindset of the leaders of Middle Eastern countries which have experienced the uprisings?
BN: These leaders used to think about their people as being ignorant and easily deceivable. They have appealed to their deficient readings of Islam to deceive the people. For instance, women are deprived from their social rights by the cover of the so-called "Islamic" laws as they cannot take a driver license in the Saudi Arabia and hence in the 28/9/2011 a defiant woman who dared to drive a car was sentenced to lashes. However, the prevailing social self-consciousness is going to prove that not only the people are no longer ignorant but also that they look for a modern reading of Islam that can coexist with the modern situation.
ZN: Gadaffi was killed recently with his last moments being captured on video; watching these brutal scenes creates different emotions in people: pro (he deserved it) and con (he should have not been subjected to violence but put on trial). What is the reason behind these two opposite stances?
BN: To put in terms of Erick Fromm, freedom has two features; ‘freedom from’ and ‘freedom for’. In the former, people are merely concerned with negation and removing the barriers; thus, when barriers are difficult to remove, people go crazy and appeal to any instrument available. Being trapped in such a psychological pressure, they release themselves by means of revenge. Exactly at this point revolution is being torn between freedom from and freedom for. The latter requires you not acting out of compulsion; this is in fact an inner freedom compared to the first feature which is an outer freedom. The puzzle is that when you cannot have the both features at the same time and reduce freedom to its first feature, your destiny will be escape from freedom. In Gadaffi’s death, ‘freedom from’ overcame ‘freedom for’ and this is exactly what should make the revolutionaries concerned with the fate of their revolution.
ZN: Can one consider the Occupy movement as the end of Capitalism?
BN: What is going on in the Wall Street is interesting in terms of human agency. While the proponents of collectivism always try to explain individuals' actions in terms of the overwhelming system, what is going on in the Wall Street is a piece of counter-evidence to a collectivist viewpoint. In this movement, a minor group of individuals who have no pre-established loyalty to each other have gathered to show their protest against the capitalist system. This movement exemplifies capitalism's Achilles’ heel. Now, capitalism is at a crucial choice point; she should either try to swallow these agents pretending to be safe or take their protests as the signs of a chronic illness. This movement might be suppressed but it would not mean that the problem is solved but merely that it is dissolved in a gullible manner. It is the time to take the agents seriously; this is the message of the occupation movement.