Local education into cultural conditions

The five papers in this section illustrate what can be revealed when we postulate that human beings, everywhere, “everywhen,” and ubiquitously, must be active investigators of their conditions. Even when conditions are most oppressive, even when they would seem least likely, at first glance, to allow for determined efforts to transform these conditions, it is possible to document such efforts. Grey Gundaker, Lesley Bartlett and Tracy Johnson take us into the worlds of oppresion to bring out the activity of the enslaved in the United States, the poor in Brazil, and the colonized in Thailand, practically to analyze aspects of their conditions and to figure out what they can do within them. Learning to read when is forbidden to do so, or using literacy programs to network for jobs, may not radically change overall conditions but such activities must lay the groundwork for eventual transformations. Similarly, not much may be appear to change when adolescents wonder how to deal with the identifications they discover a State provides for them. But as Johnson shows, the very multiplicity of the symbols and the attached discourses open possibilities for the transformations of personal lives and further movement within local communities.

This is precisely what Adely and Sabin explore further in situations like Jordanian high schools and American colleges where social controls appear much more benign. Modern democracies have worked hard for more than a century to make high school and colleges more easily accessible. In the process they have opened new spaces for interaction not only about the academic aspects of schooling but also about the most fundamental aspects of personal lives: religion and intimate relationships. We all know that we cannot talk about “Muslims” or “Americans” as if they were an homogeneous group that could be dealt with in terms of “dominant” traits. What Adely and Sabin do is suggest how to incorporate in our own expert discourses the reality of the work that people in Muslim states, or people in America, must perform. Even the most “encultured” or privileged need to find out the practical consequences of manipulating the most powerful symbols in their lives. To have learned in early childhood about Islam, or about love, is not enough to construct everyday lives in Jordan or the United States. One must continually figure out current possibilities as they are unfolding, and the consequences of choices. One must work with others to change their behavior. And one must deal with the changes–in real historical time.

Above all, one must do all this reflexively in conversations about conditions that are both analytical (what is there to know?) and rhetorical (how can I convince others to change?). They are about the production of knowledge, the determined use of knowledge, and the propagation about particular forms of knowledge. They are, in one word, educative.