On the way to a conference last week, I was faced with a more or less challenging situation: an intense dialogue among a few colleagues about the significance of different cultures in world history and development. This is a complex topic and it’s hard to make simple conclusions on the matter. I want to write about this experience though, not because I am after advertising or defending a particular nation or want to offend others. This is simply my way of alleviating pain after hearing highly ignorant and uneducated remarks by supposedly educated individuals in the United States.
I was faced with the question of “who contributed the most to our history” or “whose work we should look for when studying the history of art, philosophy, poetry, architecture, literature, and so on.”
I have often noticed that Europe stands out in the American version of history in many different fields. For example, I happened to take introductory courses to political philosophy and architecture history at Cornell University as an undergraduate student. I can confidently say that the majority of topics covered were related to Rome and Greece and some times Great Britain. I, like many other students, left our class thinking that these concepts were first introduced by these nations only and others were mostly followers. Plato’s Republic was introduced to us as a book that marked the beginning of philosophy and political dialogue and such ideas seemed to begin in a society where thinking and logic were encouraged for the first time. Democracy was shown to be the most mesmerizing concept in a world of chaos. We were introduced to every famous architectural piece in Europe and briefly reviewed a few others (i.e. Ancient Egypt, Japan, and India) in the last couple weeks of the class. Even specialized courses tend to be biased and negative towards eastern nations, following the language used in ancient Greek historical records.
I was faced with the same dilemma in the car last week.
Cyrus’ Cylinder: Considered as History’s First Declaration of Human Rights
in Ancient Times is today displayed at the British Museum.
©British Museum, London
Filed under Africa, America, art, culture, development, India, Iran, lessons, literature, poetry, popular culture, sociology, traditions, War
This picture shows children cooperating during the reconstruction of schools in Bam (after the 2004 Earthquake which is an ongoing project), by the International Institute of Earthquake Engineering and Seismology (IIEES) in Iran – truly inspirational.
There is a serious need for proper reconstruction of Bam as well as improving children’s safety in many regions in Central/South-west Asia. According to a recent report by the IIEES regarding children’s safety in the case of earthquakes in Iran alone: 131,935 Classrooms need to be reconstructed, 126,010 classrooms need to be strengthened, and 39% of schools need to become safe. Involving children and youth in rebuilding and strengthening their own schools is a great initiative and a powerful idea.
One project that is hoping to bring education to the developing world is the One Laptop per Child program. It aims to give a $100 laptop (a technological feat in and of itself) that use innovative power sources (solar, hand crank, and pedal-power)to children in developing countries. The idea is that community-access centers are not enough; each child should have their own laptop. The organization’s rational is that once the child has ownership of the laptop, it will be something cherished more greatly and cared for, similar to how a child cares for their own pencils or doll. I recently heard that Intel withdrew its financial and techincal help due to “philosophical differences.” I’m sure those differences were related to Intel’s profit margin. The laptops are designed specifically for children and have progams the children can use to learn on what the organization claims, a deeper level. Continue reading
I’ve recently learned the usefulness of thoroughly “chewing” the words that we use and understanding their embedded meanings. For instance, if we just think about the word “development” as a term, it is often used within two contexts. The first is as a progressive process or force. The second is in regards to development psychology (i.e. child development). Taking these two meanings together, we can think of “development” as a process that implies movement from a childish state to one of maturity. It implies an inevitable pattern by which things move. By looking at “development” in this light, we can understand the way in which it has traditionally been viewed and implemented and the ways in which we can come up with new models of development and therefore, new ways of thinking.
I found the website of the nonprofit organization, the Development Gateway Foundation, an extremely useful resource for learning about international best practices in poverty reduction and development. Especially striking is the Youth for Development initiative being led by UN-HABITAT posted on the website. In the previous post, I questioned how young people’s voices can be incorporated into the development process. UN-HABITAT addresses similar concerns and recognizes youth as active participants by initiating and fostering partnerships with youth organizations worldwide.
Read about the Youth for Development initiative here: http://topics.developmentgateway.org/youth
Picture courtesy of IRIN