Battling Indoctrination in the Classroom

Teachers who want to broaden the minds of their students face an uphill struggle.

Battling Indoctrination in the Classroom

Teachers who want to broaden the minds of their students face an uphill struggle.

Tuesday, 3 March, 2009
Teaching at a public school in Syria is a daily battle for me.

Although I consider my mission as a teacher is to disseminate knowledge and help youngsters gain a better grasp of the world, the administrators at my school regard education in a totally different way.

While I work on stimulating the minds of my students, these administrators try to numb them, so that they will adopt a herd mentality.

For them, a school is a factory to mould young minds into future loyal members of the ruling Ba'ath party.

The administrative staff seek to turn out generations of citizens who'll remain at the service of the regime. They act as security agents to keep school programmes revolving around the cult of the ruling party.

At all the stages of education, students are pressured to join youth groups affiliated to the Ba'ath party.

In elementary schools, pupils become part of the Vanguards of the Ba'ath Organisation; in preparatory schools, they are coerced into membership of the Revolution Youth Union; and by the time they reach secondary school, they are pressured to join the Arab Ba'ath Socialist Party.

Eight-year-olds are taken on school trips where they learn songs praising the president. Students are taught about the “great achievements” of the revolution (the revolution refers to the coming to power of former president Hafez al-Assad following a coup in 1970).

Furthermore, the system encourages participation in these groups by awarding extra credits.

Administrators, who enjoy the trust of the Ba'ath Party and the security apparatus, are tasked to oversee this process.

One of their most alarming roles is to cherry-pick the most intelligent students to help them run the brain-washing activities of Ba'ath youth groups.

These students are appointed members of special committees that manage youth organisations - and participate in an endless series of meetings that are usually closed to other students and even to the teachers.

And so a conflict of interest between administrative staff and teachers begins.

The secretive meetings are given priority over regular classes. Administrators can interrupt a class any time they want to ask the “special” students to attend one of the meetings.

Sometimes, they don’t even ask for the teacher’s permission. The reactions of teachers vary. Some are totally submissive while others ask that the students finish their class first.

In this environment, I live a daily dilemma. Should I follow the stream of official media outlets, school curricula and Ba'ath youth groups that all sing the praises of the regime? Or should I encourage my students to have an inquisitive mind and question the official rhetoric?

I often find myself communicating with my students using vague notions and abstract ideas. It is both exhausting and humiliating.

What can I really tell a student who asks me whether “our country is socialist or capitalist?”

Unfortunately, I have noticed that my students slowly lose their common sense as a result of constant exposure to the bombastic ideas of the regime. Some become totally unconvinced by any thought that challenges what they were instructed to believe.

I cannot even trust my own students since they are encouraged to denounce any teacher who crosses the red lines set by the regime.

Parents are told that the tightly-controlled education programmes are the only way to guarantee the safety of their children at school. Any teacher who does not comply with the norms is reprimanded.

Sometimes, I am shocked that some of the things I say have been leaked out of the classroom. From time to time, an administrator implies that I should be careful about what I say in class.

I fear that one day, other teachers might rat on an “undisciplined” colleague like me.

The other day during recess, one teacher looked at me and expressed out loud in front of the rest of the staff his readiness “to sacrifice his own children for the sake of the regime”.

A few days before that incident, I had told a class attended by this teacher’s son that all of our country’s institutions were tightly controlled by the regime.

Every day when I go back home, I am consumed by the thought that my career as a teacher might be soon over.

I feel confused and insecure, dreading the possibility that one day I will be summoned by security officials who will confront me with an “unconventional” opinion I have expressed in class.

The author of this piece asked not to be named.
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