Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

Pragmatism and Idealism in Real Life

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Can idealism and pragmatism ever meet? I like to hope so, but that the idealist talking. The pragmatist is skeptical.


flickr photo shared by jenny downing under a Creative Commons ( BY ) license

My boss once asked me how my ideals of social justice can be applied on a policy level. My colleague once asked me how my insistence on contextualization and against standards can be applied at a policy level. I actually have answers for all of these questions. Theoretically speaking. Idealistically speaking. Speaking. Speaking. Because while I do have a good amount of leeway over how I can apply this kind of thing in my own class, in reality, that’s pretty much my circle of control to act. Beyond that, I can only influence circles at my institution or beyond it via my writing. Writing. Writing, not doing. I will not know if my ideas for how to implement my ideals would ever work in real life.

Nowhere do my idealism and pragmatism clash more than in parenting. I try really hard in my personal relationship with my daughter to walk the talk. But my daughter and I do not live alone. There is an entire family. An entire society, consisting of other people and stuff. A lot of overt and hidden influences on her that I cannot control. And yet control should not be what we are after, should it?

So anyway in a #moocmooc Twitter chat today that was absolutely overwhelming because of all the different directions things were going and how much more space and time one needed to expand on like, each TWEET, I said that it’s easy to be subversive in theory, practice was harder. I can be subversive in my teaching but less so in things related to my daughter. I wish I did not have to give my students grades and stuff, so I assess their work in subversive ways – well, as subversive as I can get within the limits I have to work with. Of course it’s a compromise. Grrr

Back to parenting. I loathe the school system in Egypt – all 5 or 6 options of them, including the better-than-public-school options that call themselves “international” and the really “international” private schools that most people of my socioeconomic background send their kids to. So we “sent” her to one of those. It’s a funny word coz it’s not boarding school, but we “send” them to school. Anyway.

There are some alternatives to regular schooling popping up but dare I try them, not knowing for sure whether my kid will be able to get into college if she tries those? Who is to say (how could we say) that people doing alternative schooling with no background in pedagogy can teach my kid better than teachers who at least have some understanding of pedagogy (I hope) or at least some experience or curriculum or whatever. Sure, I don’t let my daughter do homework, because… she’s like… four!!! But would I take the risk of taking her out of a recognized school altogether and putting her in something really radical? No. Not ready for that. Just ready to keep resisting inside a regular school. I’m sadistic that way. I hate the hidden curriculum of schools.

I was talking to someone about how my girl hates wearing school uniform. Conformity. Uniformity. She wants her own personality to show. The school isn’t too strict, so, yeah, we manage to wear PE uniform every day, except the PE uniform is really navy blue pants that look like the school PE track pants (they don’t carry her size anyway) from Mothercare or H&M, and a My Little Pony white shirt she likes (I had to get several because she wants to wear it every day) that I hide under her school jacket. No, really.

So the someone said their kid was like that the first year but the second year they were all pro uniform and wearing it exactly right. And I was like, “are you kidding me? the school broke her spirit!” and they were like, “no, she learned”, and I’m like, “yeah, she learned to OBEY, that it was OK to be like others, that it was better to be like that”. Or maybe not. Maybe I’m overdoing it. Maybe it’s just a developmental thing and kids reach age 5 more understanding of the concept of a school uniform. I don’t know.

Anyway so I was saying on Twitter that I don’t have the heart to take my kid into an alternative form of education. And then I was not sure if I didn’t have heart, courage or recklessness or what. I couldn’t take the risk. Simon Ensor tweeted this:

But of course by leaving her in a school system I know for sure isn’t going to be great for her, isn’t that also a risk? Better the devil you (think) you know? At least I can counter stuff at home. Like teach her literacy rather than skills. They want her to practice writing at home. She writes when she feels like it. For making cards for people. For fun. For drawing rainbow colored letters. Not in homework books where she repeats the same letter 20 times. Ugh. And she reads (well I read TO her) something like 10 books each night (I know I know it’s too long of a bedtime routine and these aren’t even tiny books for infants, they’re toddler books with actual stories, but I speed read them sometimes when I know she needs to sleep quickly).

Sigh. I don’t even know what I want to say anymore… good night

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