Enroll in language courses at Ahlan Egypt School in Alexandria, Egypt, while conducting research and interviews at surrounding sites to create a social studies and civics course about the youth-centric political and civic earthquake of the Egyptian Arab Spring.
As a result of this fellowship, I feel in a much stronger position to connect with the Arabic families in my school, making small talk in Arabic about families, weather, etc. I also have heard many, many moving stories of my Egyptian friends' experience during the Arab spring. I couldn't imagine trying to teach a Civics course based on the Arabic spring without it.
After this fellowship, I'm thinking a lot more about how to teach social studies courses that allow students to better appreciate the resources, challenges and opportunities in the US by contrasting with other cultures. It would be one thing to just talk about civic engagement and study historical US protests. But I have friends with bullet wounds from protests 8 years ago. Those stories, I hope, will resonate with students.
I hadn't realized how politically sensitive it would be to have interviews on the record about views or involvement in the Arab Spring. Even having a record of a meeting with me would be enough to get any Egyptian into trouble if the police or military decided to start looking into their background. I thought I'd find the spirit of resistance alive and well, but there was so much more fear under the surface than I'd imagined. And not without reason.
I believe if students become "hooked" on the course, it's because of their teacher. Previously, my own stories and experience with local activism in Colorado are what I introduced my civics courses with. Hearing the stories from my Egyptian, friends, though, is a whole other level. I hope that my students can approach civic engagement with the perspective, "In this place, I'd be arrested for doing X, so what does it mean that I CHOOSE not to do it here?"
For basic context in the beginning of the course, students will work through a mini-unit of history related to the Arab Spring. Also, my students will be writing and revising a piece comparing their experiences during the course dipping a toe in "civic engagement" (volunteering for a campaign, attending a rally, writing a letter to the editor, attending a town hall meeting etc)
Again, the hope is that students see their CHOICE of participation in civic life in a new light after learning about what a high cost it continues to have in Egypt. Students will all be required to participate in at least one form of civic engagement during the course (some options listed above). Once the course is over, students have the option, of course, of continuing to volunteer or serve in whatever capacity they'd like.
In the same way I hope my students will be inspired, I've been incredibly inspired by the bravery and resourcefulness of the young Egyptians I've talked to about the Arab Spring. It's made me reflect on the fragility of our own democratic institutions, and how we cannot take them for granted. As a teacher of government and civics, sometimes even our very young country can seem to have these immutable freedoms. It's useful to be shaken up a bit.
If a student doesn't have a family history of involvement in local civics or politics beyond a religious group, it can be difficult to communicate the importance of -for example- voting. As teachers, sometimes we are only as interesting as the relationships we can have with our students, and our best stories. I have an experience now that I think will make for an incredibly powerful hook.
I used to see the events of the Arab Spring as a pretty classic Hollywood heroes journey. The stories and history and described to me by friends and teachers and strangers in Egypt this summer is so much darker, stranger, interesting, tragic, and inspiring than anything I could have imagined on my own. For a civics teacher, I feel 100% re-inspired to keep pushing students towards civic awareness and engagement in a country that, for now, still permits it.