religion

The Chronicle of Higher Education has opened a forum "Can Blogging Derail Your Career" (via Brian Lamb via Stephen Downes) on why Juan Cole, Professor of Modern Middle East and South Asian History at the University of Michigan, wasn't granted a position at Yale University, the main suspicion being that it was related to his blogging. So far, there are eight, all interesting, posts, including a response by Juan Cole:

The question is whether Web-log commentary helps or damages an academic's career. It is a shameful question. Intellectuals should not be worrying about "careers," the tenured among us least of all. Despite the First Amendment, which only really protects one from the government, most Americans who speak out can face sanctions from other institutions in society. Journalists are fired all the time for taking the wrong political stance. That is why most bloggers employed in the private sector are anonymous or started out trying to be so.

Academics cannot easily be handed a pink slip, but they can be punished in other ways. The issues facing academics who dissent in public and in clear prose are the same today as they have always been. Maintaining a Web log now is no different in principle from writing a newsletter or publishing sharp opinion in popular magazines in the 1950s. ...

I am a Middle East expert. I lived in the area for nearly 10 years, speak several of its languages, and have given my life to understanding its history and culture. Since September 11, 2001, my country has been profoundly involved with the region, both negatively and positively. Powerful economic and political forces in American society would like to monopolize the discourse on these matters for the sake of their own interests, which may not be the same as the interests of those of us in the general public. Obviously, such forces will attempt to smear and marginalize those with whom they disagree. Before the Internet, they might have had an easier time of it. Being in the middle of all this, trying to help mutual understanding, is what I trained for. Should I have been silent, published only years later in stolid academic prose in journals locked up in a handful of research libraries? And this for the sake of a "career"? The role of the public intellectual is my career. And it is a hell of a career. I recommend it.

If all could learn to have this attitude, the world would be a much better place.

Andrea Elliott (New York Times, "A Muslim leader in Brooklyn, reconciling 2 worlds") reports at length on an immigrant imam who attempts to reconcile Islamic tradition with the American lifestyle, to answer questions never asked in Egypt, quesions such as:

A teenage girl wants to know: Is it halal, or lawful, to eat a Big Mac? Can alcohol be served, a waiter wonders, if it is prohibited by the Koran? Is it wrong to take out a mortgage, young Muslim professionals ask, when Islam frowns upon monetary interest?

In attempting to answer the never-ending flow of questions, he suffered a physical breakdown, but he also has become a flexible thinker:

"America transformed me from a person of rigidity to flexibility," said Mr. Shata, speaking through an Arabic translator. "I went from a country where a sheik would speak and the people listened to one where the sheik talks and the people talk back."

He has also become creative in resolving his congregant's problems. As he says,

"Here you don't know what will solve a problem," he said. "It's about looking for a key."

I think we can learn from him. In education, we often believe we know what will solve a problem, that we must stick to our "principles," as in the case of adherents of bilingual education and English immersion. But as noticed in earlier postings, such "sticking" can blind us to potential keys that fit local conditions.

Part of his ability to begin to see was moving to a foreign land in which the new land clearly contradicted the old ways, a land in which the old ways obviously did not apply. I wonder how we can create our classrooms and schools so that they become strange to us, contradicting our previous understandings, facilitating our seeing anew.

Another part was his compassion for his congregants. When he fainted during the service, he had to stay in the hospital for a week. Ali Gheith, the counselor who treated him, "called it 'compassion fatigue,' an ailment that commonly affects disaster-relief workers." Although it was recommended that he distance himself emotionally from his congregants, the imam replied,

"I did not permit these problems to enter my heart," said Mr. Shata, "nor can I permit them to leave."

Compassion for students can help us see past our traditional theories of learning to the living complexities of human beings in our classrooms.