Reflecting Allowed

Good, Bad, Very Bad, and REALLY Really Bad

Yes, I’m kind of hacking Alan Levine’s blogpost title and there is a reason for that. The idea I am hacking from Alan’s post is what I consider a truism (it seems like something that’s obvious but that most people tend to not see for some reason) – that most “vocal” commentary on important things is either REALLY positive or REALLY negative, but most people are in between and are quiet about it. He was (partly?) talking about #edtech I think, commenting on Audrey Watters’ post for #digiwrimo (both are wonderful posts and you should read them – I especially like how Alan makes connections between the different ways we ignore the bell curve thing; and I especially like the way Audrey Watters incorporates Bob Dylan – this is a bit strange as I have never gotten around to really listening to Bob Dylan – my bad – but I still appreciated what she’d done with the song and it’s absolutely brilliant). And then there was Simon Ensor’s post that I read this morning with really gloomy photo of rubble after a natural disaster, combined with a novel I am reading that contains a natural disaster in the tropics, and then it CLICKED (Simon, in DM explained his post was a response to Audrey’s post).

OK. So Alan is talking about, you know, how discourse often focuses on extremes. So obvious for MOOCs (they will either save humanity or destroy education) and connected educators (it will either make you the best educator ever, or you are putting yourself at huge risk e.g. #gamergate).

But ummm the questions about safety and all that? They’re important, I am not belittling them. I think a lot of it, though, the issues, are issues that exist in real life, but look different online. Maybe because a woman like Anita Sarkeesian might not have had as much exposure if not for the affordances of online, and that exposure made her vulnerable to all kinds of attacks and threats, because online allows it. Is it just a matter of scale or is it exponential? I don’t know.

But listen. That’s not what I am hear to say.

I am here to say that even though I agree with Alan’s point about #edtech and good, bad, and elephant (bell curve) in the middle, I suddenly realized the situation here in Egypt is unfortunately, very little good, lots of bad, some very bad, and some REALLY REALLY bad.

I’ve said before that when most Westerners talk about safety online, what they’re talking about is different from what we face here. They’re talking about things that (in my perception) happen very rarely in their extreme form (e.g. death threats, they happen to few people, I assume?) or very widely in tiny not-too-serious form (e.g. not-too-threatening trolls?). So I assume, as Alan Levine goes, that the majority of people don’t get the horrible end of the stick, nor do they get the wonderful end of the stick. Most are somewhere in the middle.

BUT when someone over here in Egypt talks about safety online, it’s along the lines of possibly getting arrested, jailed and possibly tortured for your political beliefs. No kidding. Again, does not happen to a lot of people, but increasingly happening to “someone you know” (so I actually know quite a few people personally who have gotten arrested or beaten up or otherwise abused for peaceful protesting, blogging, etc.).

But ok, let me get to the point, shall I? Something crossed my Twitter stream the other day, with a question “Are our schools worth dying for?” and a reference to Malallah. Umm. Not sure what the link is for, but I’m guessing, assuming here, that I’m sure Malallah’s school, the quality of it, was probably not worth dying for. It’s possible most schools even in the developed world are not worth dying for. The situation Malallah found herself in, that’s the REALLY REALLY bad. That’s not my country. Yet.

But in my country, there’s some bad, and some really bad and very little good in education (ok, there is some good but it’s so rare it’s almost not worth mentioning; and I’m not being that bleak, OK, maybe I need to re-cap the good at some point… later).

So the bad… the bad that affects me directly are two very important things that have happened at the time I am applying for my child to go to school.

The first horrific one was a bus accident in which school kids died. The problem with this kind of incident is that it is almost as common as shootings in US schools. So emmm about 1-2 major incidents each year with quite a lot of deaths and ummm no one’s doing anything to fix it (although I can see the gun issue as much easier to fix, but I might be oversimplifying things here). I don’t want to get into the whole thing. It’s depressing, frustrating, anger-inducing, painful… no need to express this. And anyone who has a child dies inside when they think of other people needlessly losing their own children over something like this. Jonathan Worth wrote earlier something about our need to have some minimum level of trust so we can go to work and let someone else take care of our kids while we do. MY husband is paranoid. Already. Incidents like this one? They’d drive him nuts. They’d drive anyone nuts, I guess. I try to pretend this could not happen to me or my child, but the reality is that it can and it does. It might not be as bad as this (incidence might be similar to plane crashes, but I do know traffic accidents in Egypt are higher than the world average – need to checks stats but they MUST be given the way people drive here! and the number of truck/bus drivers who drive while high on drugs or whatever).

So that was the REALLY REALLY bad that is hopefully not going to be as common but is possible and is threatening.

[the saddest part for me is that the few good schools I can think of that are within what I consider reasonable distance from my home are relatively far away, and my husband is worried about our daughter riding the bus, and this incident of course scares everyone who has a child riding a bus to anywhere. There are other options but the bleakness of not being able to trust anyone to drive your child around is just…]


The other incident does not seem as horrible but is probably more wide-reaching and I’ve been asked (After posting about it on facebook) to blog about it. I was filling out a school application for my daughter, when I read this at the bottom (here’s what I wrote on facebook):

You know you are in Egypt when a school application form asks parents to agree to the following (I am in so much pain reading this):
“That my child does not suffer from any mental illnesses or psychological disorders. In case of discovering any of the aforementioned, the school has the right to expel the student without any liability”
Like, wouldn’t it be BAD enough for parents to discover their child has mental or psychological illnesses, without having to worry about getting “expelled” from school???

Need I say more?
[wondering if other schools don’t say this but have that attitude deep within; but worse, how could a relatively good elite school not have the sense NOT to write something like that explicitly???? My friends on fb were outraged, rightfully so. Strangely, an American friend married to an Egyptian thinks they might have just misworded what they meant to say; I tried to imagine what they might have meant that would not have enraged or offended me…. ummm… nope, can’t think of anything]

I’m done for now.

11 thoughts on “Good, Bad, Very Bad, and REALLY Really Bad

  1. Wow, don’t even know how to comment on your posts, Maha. You have a knack for bouncing around in a seemingly light manner while covering so many serious things, and in this case, terrible things. I did not know. At a time when our conversations (in Australia) are focusing on the fact that, as parents, we have restricted our children’s independence because we have (apparently) overreacted to ‘stranger danger’ – in real life (as well as online), you are living the opposite with the fear of unsafe school-bus travel. And is the school ban of students with mental or psychological illnesses something new and unexpected? I have to admit not knowing very much about life in Egypt. Maha, you’ve very clearly demonstrated that there is a huge difference between bad and very very bad in different contexts. It’s like the Zoom book where you think you know where you are and suddenly you are transported deeper in or out, and you’re like Woah! let me get my bearings.

  2. The image is after a rock festival – Woodstock/Glastonbury. It could have been an image of someone’s home. My conclusion is that we need music, theatre, poetry, dreams to keep us sane.

  3. Agree, I would like to think that this kind of stress did exist through history but somehow music, poetry, art, theater and dreams ( I love that..dreams) have taken the stage front of what matter in life.

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