Three Arab writers opining on Middle East issues, address:
– the concern of contemporary education in an age where the “pen is a relic,”
– Florida Governor DeSantis’ candidacy for the White House
– whether Hezbullah is integral for Lebanon’s future political stability.
(*Translation from Arabic by Asaf Zilberfarb)
GUIDANCE AND EDUCATION, NOT INDOCTRINATION
Living in a world of smartphones and laptops require our educators to be tech-savvy and open-minded
By Sa’ad Bin Tefla AlAjmi
Independent Arabia, Saudi Arabia, May 25
Every educational system in the advanced world is currently experiencing a state of emergency. This emergency surrounds emerging digital technologies and artificial intelligence (AI). It is necessary to revise curricula, contemplate shortening the amount of time spent in high school, update textbooks, and rethink the settings and delivery of education. As we move into a digital reality, it is essential to ensure that education evolves to keep pace with this rapidly shifting revolution. Questions posed by educators and politicians in the US Congress recently brought Sam Altman, the CEO of the groundbreaking tech company OpenAI, for an open hearing. The technology, which was released mere months ago, can provide written information in multiple languages within seconds. The purpose of the hearing was to understand in greater detail the warnings that Altman and others have issued about pressing legislation regarding the proper uses of AI before it’s too late.
Those in Congress and academic circles are considering the influence this rapid flow of data will have on studies, education, scientific research, and scholarly publications. Educators are advocating for a change in the traditional approach to education, shifting it away from indoctrination and towards guidance and fostering skills of thought and analysis. We cannot accept a generation indoctrinated with memorized knowledge without being able to reflect, discuss, evaluate, or refute it. The integration of artificial intelligence has brought about an evolution of the teaching-student-place triad, and therefore, calls for the preparedness of modern educators to understand the implications of digital transformation and the use and applications of AI in education. Having been part of the education system for over 40 years – as a student, teacher, teaching assistant, and lecturer – I have witnessed the drastic changes between the generations before and after the digital revolution. We now live in a world of smartphones and laptops that require our educators to be tech-savvy and open-minded. I have witnessed fading human and cognitive engagement with my students. In some lectures, this has led to utter disconnection. I have found myself reiterating lectures repeatedly over the decades in an attempt to keep up with the ever-changing tools. The traditional blackboard has become obsolete, having been replaced by computer technology. Pens have become a relic of the past, and paper and books are in short supply. Such a drastic change is unsettling and reflects the disconnect between modern technology and traditional learning. I stood before a generation fixated on their screens, seemingly unconcerned with discussing, debating, or embracing a topic of discussion. My colleagues and I felt the weight of our responsibility, and we are still committed to proposing a renewal that constantly challenges the status quo, to prevent indoctrination and the obstacles posed by traditional education.
High school graduates arrive at the university without the critical thinking needed to challenge and criticize the opinions and beliefs they hear around them. Consequently, critical analysis and questioning are not encouraged in the minds of students who are programmed to accept and submit to their teachers’ teachings without criticism or review. The traditional teaching of history often mixes religion with facts, which grants a sense of impenetrable sanctity to events and figures from the past. This creates a culture of dependence and intellectual stagnation, passed down to successive generations. For example, we may gain a religious generation; however, this does not prevent them from cheating on exams or plagiarizing scientific research. In fact, many believe that cheating in worldly sciences is permissible with the blessing of religious dogma. In this age of digital information and artificial intelligence, we must ask ourselves:
How can we better impart knowledge to future generations?
Rather than adhering to traditional indoctrination, is there a more effective and ethical educational system that we can turn to in order to better equip our youth for the future?
- Sa’ad Bin Tefla AlAjmi
DESANTIS AND THE ROAD TO THE WHITE HOUSE
By Emile Amin
Al Arabiya, Saudi Arabia, May 26
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced his intention to run for the US presidential primary race in 2024. The young governor has become a phenomenon in the Republican Party and is perhaps the only competition to former President Donald Trump, who is advancing, despite all hardships, in his bid to again clinch the Republican nomination. It is undeniable that DeSantis has a charismatic persona, a glowing record, and a family unit that almost looks like that of the late President John F. Kennedy. Indeed, Ron DeSantis has all the attributes that have led politicians to enter the White House.
With a doctorate in law from prestigious Harvard University, DeSantis is considered to be a member of the highly educated American intelligentsia. His service in the US Armed Forces, along with the Bronze Star for his bravery, has enabled him to obtain the so-called “green light” from the military. DeSantis’ foray into politics began when he served in the US House of Representatives from 2013 to 2018, before officially becoming the governor of Florida in 2019. Yet where the young governor stands ideologically is still a conundrum to many, especially given the numerous stances DeSantis has expressed over the past year. The darling of the new Republican Party routinely makes the rounds via traditional as well as social media, becoming a leader in the war of ideas that his party has seen fit to wage against a broad range of ideologically diverse politicians, companies, and intellectuals, particularly from the left. Conservatives have helped shape the upcoming presidential contest into one of cultural, ideological, and dogmatic divisions. Gov. DeSantis has taken a hard-line stance on abortion, introducing restrictive laws at six weeks of pregnancy that were even too much for former President Trump to stomach. This raises the question of how deeply his religious convictions really run, and should his Catholicism be an active part of his decisions, or will it be a dormant force as is the case with President Biden, who is Catholic yet openly supports abortion?
Besides abortion, there are further issues that reveal Gov. DeSantis’ rightward leanings. He has ordered schools in Florida to refrain from teaching theories of racial equality and organizing discussions about sexual identity. As more steps are taken to legalize same-sex relationships, and their advocates become more vocal in different states, DeSantis has expressed his rejection of what he calls “fraudulent tolerance” regarding the LGBT community in the United States. This wins over millions of traditional conservatives but also alienates millions of others who see him as being extreme.
DeSantis appears far removed from circles that favor the casual use of firearms among civilians, yet he did not directly address the matter of the Second Amendment to the US Constitution, which concerns this right. On the other hand, the issue of illegal immigration is one of those issues on which DeSantis takes a firm stance, and has not let up on his claims that the Biden Administration’s lax policies at the border have enabled a massive influx of undocumented immigrants into the country. He continues to emphasize what he views as “the damaging impacts of illegal immigration resulting from the federal government’s careless border policies.” A follower of DeSantis’s ideology might be perplexed, especially since he does not uphold the consensus of the broader Republican Party, as evidenced in his stance on abortion. This begs the question: Who is placing their faith in the Florida governor? Banning abortion is popular among some conservatives in the Republican voting base, yet this has caused many to swing their votes in favor of the Democrats. It is no secret that the Democrats have been a hindrance to many of DeSantis’ initiatives, particularly those spearheaded by the more progressive wing of the party and the Democratic National Committee. Recently, the DNC described DeSantis’ abortion ban as “extreme” and declared that it “disrupts women’s ability to make health care decisions before they even know they are pregnant.” It has been widely speculated that DeSantis could be in the running for the White House in 2024 or 2028, which one can infer from the title of his recent memoir, ‘The Courage to Be Free: Florida’s Blueprint for America’s Revival’. The book offers an understanding of DeSantis’ convictions, although he has shied away from discussing his potential ambitions on the national stage. Nevertheless, it is clear that his administration in Florida is a reflection of his values and views on American politics. The trajectory of DeSantis’ life has demonstrated that he is a paragon of nobility among politicians: one who is able and willing to stand by their conscience, regardless of possible consequences or rewards. This staunchness sets him apart, raising him above engaging in political disputes and entrusting him with the noble aim of improving America and restoring its damaged moral compass.
Could DeSantis be America’s next leader?
- Emile Amin
LEBANON’S PATH FORWARD MIGHT BE DEPENDENT ON HEZBOLLAH
By Bechara Charbel
Nidaa Al Watan, Lebanon, June 2
It was far from easy for President Macron to hear from Patriarch Bechara Boutros al-Rahi, the head of Lebanon’s Maronite Church, that most of the country’s Christian population opposed the appointment of a joint candidate with Hezbollah for the presidency. Macron must have been disappointed when his initiative to nominate Suleiman Frangieh, leader of the Marada Movement, fell short of success, yet he was wise enough to encourage the country to press ahead with seeking a consensus. When French interests are set aside, the goal of avoiding an indefinite political impasse is admirable. Moreover, Macron showed no qualms in defending Frangieh as the only viable option who had “passed Hezbullah’s test”. This kind of political realism may work for a superpower like France, but the recent protests in Lebanon have revealed a growing sentiment of desperation amongst citizens to free themselves from a corrupted elite, as well as to no longer be victim to threats and intimidations. Perhaps Macron was justified in his worry about the potential long-term damage caused by an extended vacancy in the premiership, which would only exacerbate Lebanon’s economic woes. Obstruction resulting from Hezbullah ran deep – considerably beyond the two-and-a-half-year wait for Michel Aoun’s inauguration as president – forming crippling delays in the establishment of government and constitutional institutions. However, Macron’s warning to Patriarch Al-Rahi of the dangers of attempting to convene a “founding conference” – driven by Hezbullah with an aim of threatening the security of Christians’ position in the state – appears to be based on a lack of appreciation for the fragility of Lebanese society and politics. It represents an attempt to absolve France of historical responsibility towards Christians in the hope of absolving its sense of guilt. This calls for two things. First, Hezbullah appears to be prioritizing its own influence over the Lebanese political scene with the complicity of Christian officials. Secondly, many Christians are no longer afraid of a potential Hezbullah-organized constituent conference as the current system has failed to protect them and they want a new political framework that grants them security, prevents their children from leaving Lebanon, and ensures their quality of life.
Moreover, Hezbullah is achieving domination of the government apparatus without the need to overtly declare that it is furthering Shiite interests. The election of a consensual president in Lebanon may be a welcome surprise for Lebanon. This president may be able to make a serious attempt to reestablish the state by implementing the Taif Agreement and breaking free from the vacuum of the old system. In order to ensure civil peace and preserve the rights of Lebanese citizens, a constituent conference should be held to discuss practical ways to break away from the archaic, centralized political structure of the “old” Lebanon.
Such a move could perhaps provide a clearer path for the future of Lebanon.
- Bechara Charbel
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