By khadija Safi Eddine
By khadija Safi Eddine
Morocco World News
Casablanca, April 26, 2012
For me teaching is a calling. Teaching is often seen to be the noblest of all professions, the profession through which we mold individuals to become valuable community members and citizens. I agree. I see teaching as a call of duty that one performs to try to make things better in this world. My vision of education is that it should help the students develop a rational commitment to freedom of expression as a value of life, autonomy of mind, autonomy of action, and care, respect for, and tolerance towards others. As educators, we need to be models of individual and social excellence.
The specific focus of this article is on educating students for civic engagement, or preparation for active citizenship, that is, giving students the opportunity to become civically engaged citizens and leaders. To be a full citizen requires more than knowledge; it involves the exercise of personal responsibility, active participation, and personal commitment to a set of values. Civic engagement means working together to make a difference in the civic life of our society and developing knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference. I would like to see my students morally and civically responsible in their own communities. Learning entails intellectual and personal changes that students undergo as they develop new knowledge and new abilities.
I strongly believe that teaching civic engagement with literary texts can help reach these objectives. As individuals, we learn our most lasting moral lessons through stories. Storytelling, in the form of confessional narratives and traditional fiction, gives us a fuller understanding not only of others’ experiences, but of ours as well. The whole point of reading novels is not to find resolutions or solutions, but to broaden and heighten our understanding of shared struggles and problems. They remind us of what is important in life, admonish us, point new directions for us, engage us in self-reflection, and sometimes inspire us to lead lives of moral integrity. Many writers try to connect moral ideas to the practice of everyday life, to link stories and experiences in meaningful ways.
In my view there is a distinct connection between stories and engagement: narratives are a means of comprehending the world, while engagement is a means of putting to use what has been learned. As a teacher of American literature, I wish to use these narratives to help my students to know themselves and the world at large. I see to combine literary text and civic engagement to empower students to be agents of positive change.
To do this, I believe we need to understand learning as a development process, rather than as the acquisition of knowledge. Education and learning are more than simply enabling the students to regurgitate facts and figures; they are fundamentally about the intellectual and personal changes students undergo as they develop new knowledge and new abilities. Moreover, students are more than mere receptacles of learning; they are responders who are highly involved in creating meaning, in finding common ground, and in discovering shared assumptions. These beliefs shape my approach to the teaching of literature. In teaching literature, I do not test students’ accuracy and measure whether the student gets the “right” meaning because there is no single meaning. In fact, as a teacher I believe that doing so destroys students’ interest in and enjoyment of literature. Instead, I see to create opportunities for the students to learn and discover the wonder of the text on their own, which in turn increases the appeal of literature and students’ motivation to interact with texts.
Important literary themes are found in all the eminent writers’ novels. Their texts and ideas teach us about the fundamental questions we face in our individual and collective lives, about sources of wisdom and responsibility, and about the nature of freedom and community. In my opinion, all literary courses need to address these questions by deeply exploring texts and considering the social and intellectual context in which they circulate. Thus, my aim in teaching is to help students understand how literature connects with real world and how it can serve as a bridge to engage people and raise awareness. I seek to help students develop the skills and knowledge necessary to be engaged and responsible citizens. By focusing on civic values and engagement, I strive to foster student development and personal growth and develop higher-order thinking skills. In short, I attempt to help students see how they can make a positive difference in the university and in their communities through civic engagement.
Undergraduate literature courses should have a strong emphasis on reflective practice. I argue that the opportunity to structure the curriculum to include civic engagement may be among the most important roles for literature programs. Our aim in literature teaching should be to expand the students’ awareness of themselves as persons, to relate the values and ideas expressed in works of literature to their lives, and to prepare students for roles as effective citizens. It is imperative that Moroccan universities include civic engagement in the literature courses to make a difference in the civic life of our communities and to develop the necessary knowledge, skills, and values to guarantee that difference. Moreover, to help young Moroccan students become engaged, empowered, thinking citizens, educators need to foster and expand instructional practices of civic engagement not only to literature departments, but also to all university departments.
I have come to realize that civic education is an area of vital importance in countries passing through major societal transformation, especially in the aftermath of the Arab Spring. Education should adapt to the needs of a changing world, and innovative approaches should be found in every university. The world is complex, interconnected, and more reliant on knowledge than before; therefore, we need an education of real and lasting value. This is why I argue that combining civic engagement with the teaching of literature is necessary. Civic education is a condition both for the personal development of the individual and for the development of society as a whole. The role of civic education is to communicate values such as human rights, democracy, liberty, equity, and peace among others. But also, it aims to encourage individual social responsibility.
It is only through the inculcation of these ideas among our citizens that the dynamic process of democracy will continue to develop. It is the true and proper responsibility of education to foster this development. The concept of civic engagement in higher education encompasses a wide range of approaches to developing the civic skills, interests and participation of students, staff and institutional management. It is the responsibility of educational programs (and other government-oriented initiatives) to enhance our students’ skills and their level of engagement. But these programs are scarce, and lack of civic learning opportunities will not only inhibit Moroccan students’ civic participation, but also have harmful consequences for their academic and economic progress. Particular approaches to teaching and learning need to become an increasingly important element of a civic engagement strategy for higher education institutions in Morocco. While all programs and departments need to contemplate methods for teaching civic engagement, literature has a special role to play.
khadija Safi-Eddine is professor of English Literature, Literary Criticism, World literature and women writers at Ain Chok faculty of Letters and Humanities. She is greatly interested in implementing civic engagement that is working together to make a difference in the civic life of society and developing knowledge, skills, values, and motivation to make that difference. She strongly believes that the role of civic education is to communicate values such as human rights, democracy, liberty, equity, and peace.
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