General Anthropology Division
Group Flash Presentation Session
What kinds of obligations do teachers have to their students? Forced to flee authoritarian Syria into exile in Lebanon and barred from formal Lebanese education, most Syrian children have a complicated relationship with the classroom. “Why should we go to school,” they ask, “when the teachers just beat us?” As a result, several hundred thousand Syrian children remain out of school, preferring to work or get married instead. For Syrian teachers, the classroom is similarly painful. “How can we teach our children,” they ask, “when they can’t register for grade 1, they can’t pass the 9th-grade exams, and have no future [in Lebanon] anyway?”
Drawing on my experience teaching in more than 50 different classrooms in Lebanon, this presentation explores how life in exile transforms what counts as teaching. Combining still shots of students learning with brief stories about what learning became, this presentation explicitly questions the US administration’s efforts to promote a model of education designed to “prepare Americans for success in a globally competitive world” (Brown 2018). For Syrian educators, teaching is neither about success nor competition, it is about life. “We teach children,” a Syrian mother and school administrator explained, “because we, adults, no longer know how to live. We help our children live so that we can all live.” Taking inspiration from her, this presentation asks what teaching could be for us in today’s political climate. What kinds of obligations ought we to have to our students?