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  • Education in the Middle East:Introduction
  • Monica Ringer (bio)

Education is a unique tool of inquiry for the social scientist for the very simple reason that the kernel of meaning and values in society are embedded in education. Indeed, it would be difficult to overestimate the centrality of education in society.

Education-- the body of texts, ideas, and concepts transmitted in the educational system--forms people's intellectual and cultural perspective, their value system, their worldview or Weltanschauung. Education is not only a body of knowledge, but also the manner of arriving at knowledge. It encompasses not only technology and science, but also more fundamentally, knowledge of the more general and all-encompassing sense of culture and tradition, morality and religion, history and politics, philosophy and cosmology.

These "realities" of "knowledge," however, are neither random, inevitable, nor all-inclusive. Rather, education is subject to "created" parameters--of which traditions are excluded, of which theories are invalid, of which ideas are unacceptable; of which gender roles are immoral, of which versions of the past are inaccurate, of which religious understandings are unorthodox.

The educational system transmits, confirms, validates, and perpetuates the knowledge, ideas, and concepts that have emerged as dominant, central, and "true." However, the educational system masks the competition that this entails—intellectual competition, but also competition for hegemony amongst the political, social, historical, cultural, and religious actors who have a stake in the outcome. While portraying certitude, the educational system and larger field of intellectual actors are the creators, or at least shapers, of all of this seemingly "true knowledge" or "reality." One cannot, and must not, therefore divorce the educational system as the purveyor of these created sets of knowledge, from the larger socioeconomic, political, and cultural contexts in which it operates. As such, education is a fertile hunting ground for historians and other scholars eager to track down the fields, relationships, and competing powers in society. The study of education uncovers the footprints of the social values and interactions in society.

The educational system, as the site of contested "realities," is the central stage on which the discourses of power play themselves out. Education may perpetuate the status quo, providing the training or at the very least, the educational credentials and/or certification, to confirm status, yet it is also the handmaiden of revolutions—providing access to those who had been kept outside the halls of power and validating a change in power. The educational system is as frequently called on to create and legitimize historical traditions, as it is to debunk them in favor of others. It has often worked hand-in-glove with the Church and/or the religious establishment to purvey notions of religious orthodoxy and a religious-based morality; yet education, once wrested from the monopoly of the religious establishment, may challenge these functions and promote secular-based morality (or, more often than not, some combination of both). It is essential, therefore, to examine not only which knowledge and worldview the educational system is promoting, but also in which ways they are connected to their social, economic, political, cultural, intellectual, gender, and religious actors, and how this struggle, in turn, is one of establishing dominance of some intellectual constructs over other, excluded ones.

There are many fruitful avenues of inquiry into the realm of education. Much attention has been paid to elite educational projects, investigating how elite statesmen and political leaders have attempted to construct educational systems to serve their various needs. Such studies focus on how various theories of education come to be manifested in an educational system and how the educational system serves to promote the goals engineered by the political elite. The inquiry into the gradual crystallization of educational theory into practice and the politics of education at the highest echelons of power are important and necessary subjects of study.

It is also crucial to investigate the ways in which these dominant educational theories and institutions impact and are themselves impacted by other actors—the religious establishment, reformers, women, and provincial elites, to name a few possibilities. For example, the construction of gender, a growing topic of inquiry, turns out to be integral to society and "tradition" in ways that...


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