Silent Voices: A reader response by Ginan Meerwali for Dr. Linda Radford in EDU 5260 Introduction to Curriculum

Silent Voices: A reader response by Ginan Meerwali for Dr. Linda Radford in EDU 5260 Introduction to Curriculum


My mother grew up in Baghdad, Iraq during one of the worst regimes in the history of the Middle East.  During the Saddam Hussein regime, anyone who opposed his ways of government was subject to the ultimate types of torture. So much so that people found themselves living multiple lives just so that their families would stay under the radar and out of sight. People either gave up or faked their beliefs, values, and lifestyles as a means to survival. In order to control the people and avoid resistance, the secret service of the tyrant government would take no risks in kidnapping, expelling, or murdering Iraqi citizens in cold blood (Ferial Meerwali, personal communication, September 24, 2013). The Kurdish population of Iraq was one of the main ethnic groups targeted during Saddam’s twenty-five years of ruling. Kurdish people lost their culture, values, ways of life, and most tragically, their families. Ask anyone who has been affected by the Saddam regime, and they will tell you of the cultural hegemony that they endured through direct threats, wrongful military force, and oppression.

These vivid memories haunted my family for decades. I grew up hearing stories of how my parents were silenced and how a beautiful country turned into a destitute, communistic country where merely being Kurdish and not Iraqi was something one had to conceal from teachers, friends, and the community. My parents often spoke of the greatness that Iraq was before Saddam’s regime. It was a liberal country, under democratic rule. People were free to be who they wanted to be, without fear of persecution. These colourful and blissful memories soon faded into distant dreams when Saddam took over rule in 1979 as President of Iraq.

One could say that his entire ruling was founded in hegemonic principles. His idea of a successful country was one where culturally diverse voices were silenced by controlling the dominant ideology by means of cultural genocide. As grave and tragic as these truths may be, I can’t help but think of these memories when I read Egéa-Kuehne’s (2012) article on the damages of imposing dominant norms in education.

Denise  Egéa-Kuehne (2012) sheds light on this theme through exploring contemporary forms of silencing in education. Within the context of education, she explores hegemonic planning and the “hegemonic principles behind the promotion of a particular language.” Her position on this theme profoundly resonated with my personal experiences as a person of Kurdish-Iraqi-Canadian identity. Her opinion of language as an “ideological control” (p. 140) is not only a major issue to me, but also an issue that needs to be discussed in framing the ways we think about Canadian curriculum. In a recent lecture by Nicholas Ng-A-Fook on the responsibility of teachers to be active witnesses to Aboriginal narratives, striking points about Canadian curriculum that mirror those of Denise Egéa-Kuehne were presented. “We live in a curriculum of dominance… [and] are enslaved to an epistemological knowledge” (Ng-A-Fook, 2013). Hearing that from Ng-A-Fook brought a well of emotion over me as I felt the pain of the oppressed victims of our lands, and the slavery that still lingers in many countries today. Looking more closely at the classroom, it’s sadly quite a certain argument that we are all in some way slaves to a dominating homogenization by higher institutions and government systems. Just as some governments, like that of Saddam’s, facilitate cultural genocides, silence whole nations of peoples, and commit to cultural hegemony, schools and teachers [facilitate] assimilation and [promotion of] dominant culture in classrooms, while systematically obliterating minorities (Egéa-Kuehne, 2012).

April 9, 2003 - Iraqi Present Saddam Hussein’s statue in Baghdad’s al-Fardous square is pulled down with the help of US Marines. Copyright by Mirrorpix

While reflecting on these ideas, I realized that there is nowhere I can escape to where my identity and ideas aren’t trying to be fashioned into some other form of homogenous identity. The question of an industrialized world, with a hegemonic agenda is so prevalent in many aspects of our lives. It’s actually quite a glaring theme, but I had never realized it until writing this reader response. So, I ask you, is there hope for us as educators to push past the establishments who silence us so that our voices, and our students’ voices may be heard? I believe that the school and its teachers, to a great extent, have the power to shape the classroom learning environment. It can be a welcoming, and inclusive space that celebrates students from all walks of life and promotes diverse ways of thinking, or it can damage the soul and silence our human differences by enforcing language and culture to manipulate and shape students’ thinking and values. Speaking to the responsibilities we carry as educators, and those we are accountable to, I would like you to reread the question posed by Egéa-Kuehne (2012) at the beginning of her article, and ask yourself what you are doing or what you can do to counter the hegemonic principles that bind our educational system; “What part [do you have as an educator] in responding to the promise made by UNICEF of the right to “a quality education” for all?” (Egéa-Kuehne, 2012).

References

Egéa-Kuehne, D. (2012). Provoking Curriculum Studies in Multicultural Societies. In Nicholas Ng-A-  Fook & Jennifer Rottmann (Eds.), Reconsidering Canadian Curriculum Studies: Provoking Historical, Present, and Future Perspectives, pp. 137-146.

Ng-A-Fook, N. (September 19, 2013). Who is afraid of Teacher Activists? A step in front of our  children. Excellence in Education Series. Lecture conducted from University of Ottawa.