Our life looks trivial, and we shun to record it. – Emerson

Tag: Cultural Diversity

Srigley’s World

Comment on YouTube –  Digital Pedgogy Lab, Cairo.

In a recent Google Hangout session with folks at the #DigPed conference in Cairo, 22 March, 2016, Miller Jamison, a virtual participant, asked an important question:

I’d love to hear about your experiences there in Cairo of … assumptions about pretty Western ideas being brought over by the Digital Pedagogy Lab. Thinking about the diversity of the contexts that all the attendees are working in there [in Cairo], how is this going? How is this being received?

Miller’s question is important because it moves us all past what is local to what is universal in values based education. The following is the response I posted on YouTube, and I’ll post it here too. For more context, watch the video from minute 28:15.

How is this going?

Hoda’s comments reflect my experience teaching in public and private universities in the Middle East. Instructional traditions here are very didactic. These traditions are rooted in the transmission of religious knowledge, and this thread runs through both Western and Arab cultural history. Higher Ed in Egypt has a history that arguably reaches back over 2000 years so we expect some cultural baggage. That is the East. But, didactic traditions are alive and well in the West as well. For example, see Ron Srigley’s piece in The Walrus, Pass, Fail.

In her response to Srigley, Aimée Morrison invokes a cultural and a political struggle. According to Morrrison, Srigley claims that “the unrelenting vapidity of today’s university students, the soul-crushing inanity of teaching, the hollow commercialism of pedagogy, riven with “fads” like student-centred learning and the flipped classroom” is the result of a movement away from old didactic traditions. A political dimension is central to Morrison’s response.

Pedagogies of empowerment challenge established power structures in the academy, but more importantly, in society. In North America, we are still struggling – after 100 years – to observe John Dewey’s vision that education is foundational to democracy and not deployed merely in service of personal economic success. Novel pedagogies like those described at #DigPed Cairo are part of a comprehensive movement toward the social engagement and empowerment that animate Dewey’s thought and that have driven educational reforms in the West for more than a century – against relentless opposition.

To place agency over content is a deeply political act. This serves education, but it also serves society by expanding expectations of democratic governance and this is deliberate, not incidental. We need to see these pedagogies in the wider sense of basic human needs for inclusion, participation, social responsibility and rejection of tyranny.

These are not cultural objectives. They are universal political values. Our practice of education is always value laden. There is no neutral space here. Didacticism is part of a authoritarian view of society and power. Education is served when it reflects the shared values of students and teachers. So, the pedagogical changes advocated at #DigPed are not just about adopting new methods in the classroom. Classrooms must connect to something outside of institutions. This is where Karim’s narrative begins. Without this connection, it all becomes an exercise in irrelevance – and we can all live happily Srigley’s world.


Updated 26 March. I had incorrectly attributed Aimée Morrison’s response to Srigley to Ryan Dunch, who had commented on Morrison’s blog. Apologies to both.