Wednesday, June 9, 2010

The U in the NY Times

I am not sure if folks saw this article about the university that appeared in the New York Times last month. It is the kind of thing I would have posted on the blog back when it was published if I were keeping current with the blog. (Slacker that I am, I did post it on fb.)

Anyway...I have a lot of personal thoughts. I agree with the argument that the liberal arts are a good thing, and the university is providing a valuable service by introducing this kind of education in a place where it is unfamiliar. And I agree with the characterization of the students as generally open-minded and willing to be challenged in new ways by this style of education.

The description of it makes the university sound like a missionary institution, which is where I start to get uncomfortable. Partly because, as some of you know, I spend a lot of time researching missionaries. Partly, perhaps, because the university was founded, as the article acknowledges, by actual missionaries.

But I think my primary point of dissatisfaction with the article is its implication that Egyptian students are not bringing anything to the table other than bad habits. This, I believe, is patently false. I teach a number of M.A. students who did their undergraduate degrees at national universities, including the one named in the article, and feel that they arrive with a rich range of literacies and, as a group, adapt quite well to work in our department.

Specifically, our Egyptian students at all levels come trained in a tradition of multilingualism, which is foreign in the US. Their multilingualism includes multiple Arabics and English, and oftentimes French and German. As a teacher of literature from the US, I find these skills, which are part of my students’ educational background, to be valuable and unique. This might seem kind of obvious, but I don't think we can take it for granted.

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