Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Teaching Science and Sex Ed in Egypt, Part 1

Although I wanted to confine this website to language oriented posts, I think I'll cast the net a bit broader to include education issues - like my beloved guru the Underground Grammarian (Yes, she CAN be taught how to do god-damned links) who is online thanks to Mark Alexander of WitNit, and describe to all the religious people in the US what an education looks like in a country with a national religion. Let me preface this by saying I myself am a practitioner of this particular national religion, so that people don't think I am out to get it as a religion. What I am out to get is the infiltration of education with religion.

Not everyone agrees on why we send our kids to school. I had well-educated middle-class parents who taught me that I was there to learn stuff and become a mature, responsible grown-up capable of thinking, and therefore open to learning more and more on my own once I left school and started to work, have a family, etc. But the people who run the education system seem not to share that view. I (like the UG, god bless him, if that's what he wants) believe that they would like to mold kids to have certain opinions, rather than to think for themselves. Unfortunately, the main debates in the US are not so much what is the point of education, but which cookie cutter we want to use on the poor kids. Thinking is not in the equation. Either we want them to believe X, or Y. But religion is about belief and I think education should not be; it should be about thinking.

Now I hear that people in the US are demanding to bring religious beliefs into science masquerading as theory. They also want to teach kids about avoiding sexual diseases simply by telling them not to have sex. I wonder if they still teach sex ed at all in the US (they did, in embarrassing detail, when I was in public school in the 80s).

Well, I advise those people to come here and look at the textbooks my kids have. They go to a school in Egypt. There's a national religion here, Islam. There are other religions here too. There are hardly any non-believers.

There are several different subjects that use religious material as a source, mostly Quranic verses and "Hadith" (reports on stuff the Prophet of Islam, Mohamed, peace be upon him, supposedly said). I must mention that these are all government issued and approved textbooks. The Egyptian educational system is completely centralized and all kids in the nation have the same textbooks for the basic courses. Among those subjects:

* Arabic (the verses and hadith are used as texts, which must be memorized and deconstructed according to their use of metaphor, simile, other rhetorical forms in Arabic, grammar, and everything else)
* Social studies (particularly the section of Egyptian history having to do with the Islamic period, also it is the use of verses and hadith)
* Religion class (yes, religion is a separate course of its own in spite of already being inside of all the other courses)
* Science (more on this below)
* Math (the ratio sections in 5th and 4th grades use Islamic inheritence laws to teach kids how to use the ratio concepts)

The only subjects where I have not noticed religion being used as an example are the English and French language government issued textbooks. And I have probably just not looked closely enough.

If you are Western and reading this, you may wonder "Science? How?" And well may you ask.

The first time I noticed the religious stuff in the science text was when my older kid was in 5th grade. There was a section in the book about the Earth and the solar system. It mentioned a verse from the Quran "and we brought forth from the water everything". It was highlighted in a little blue box.

Well, I thought that was relatively innocuous. And as the years went by I saw other relatively harmless insertions like that. It seemed to me that Muslims tend to take the reverse approach of Christians to the challenge posed by science. They tend to go back and radically re-interpret their verses to match scientific discoveries, rather than contradict those discoveries. They are quite good at it, actually. To Muslims, it seems quite natural that science should have been foreseen in the Quran, given that it is the Word of God, so you can always find a verse that says something that might have connotations of some recent discovery. There is an entire book on this called "The Quran and Science" for people interested in how they do this.

But yesterday, I was talking to my son about his studying for a science exam, and he mentioned he was taking the reproductive system and what passes for sex ed in Egypt, which made me kind of interested to see how they handle the topic. And boy was I shocked.

Check this space tomorrow for the rest of the story.

No comments: