Rabu, 14 Januari 2009

Enlisting educators to uphold multiculturalism

By Choirul Mahfud, Surabaya | Sat, 01/10/2009 10:19 AM | Opinion

The rampant ethnic and religious tension in Indonesia has frustrated the efforts of many social scientists, educators, scholars, Civil Society Organization (CSO) activists and community leaders for the past few years. There were indications of gains in the country's struggle for democracy. But the continuing ethnic and religious violence and unrest in some parts of the country show how prevailing and intransigent the problem of prejudice and discrimination has been. At a time when demographic changes and economic pressures are forcing people to come into contact with those from different backgrounds, feelings of distrust and alienation are rising.

While schools and educators cannot change economic growth and the constraints affecting factors of many of those human problems, they can make a difference in helping shape the students' views of the world, respect for diversity and strengthening democracy.
During the last few decades, multicultural studies have enabled scholars and practitioners to see in all areas "the invisible paradigms" of the academic system and the larger cultural context that marginalize or trivialize the lives of women, ethnic minorities and those outside the dominant class or culture.
In Indonesia, the heavy pressure toward integration and national unity since its independence provided a different setting for the role of multiculturalism. The nation's collective memory had been traumatized by the tension and violence resulting from various attempts at secession based on ideological, regional, cultural, as well as territorial differences and the efforts to terminate those attempts.

Yet, by the national motto of Bhineka Tunggal Ika (Unity in Diversity) in Pancasila, the emphasis on unity should not neglect diversity. Education that stressed only unity above all would produce narrow-mindedness and uproot individuals out of their indigenous heritage.
For the same periods, education in Indonesia had discussed a little about how we appreciate and respect the religious or belief diversity and variety of cultural wealth. There was a tendency of homogenization introduced systematically through the education under the national cultural protection, the hegemony of Javanese culture as a center and others as the edge and pauperization of culture by shortening the variety of cultural identity into a number of Indonesian provinces.

In 1999, Anita Lie said the process of homogenization and the cultural hegemony and pauperization was taught in civic education, such as education of Pancasila and citizenship, national history and struggle, training of P4 (guidance for internalization and externalization of Pancasila) -- and even religious education.
The recent tension and violence in different parts of the country showed that the excessive drive for unity that had been enforced especially for the past 30 years was not an effective response to the risk and fear of disintegration. Now that the nation is at a crossroad as a reform movement has started, ethnic, religious, racial and class differences should be regarded as the nation's rich heritage.
Within this perspective, multicultural education is needed to foster peace, understanding and respect among all members of society. As we know, the perspectives in multicultural education encompass many dimensions of human difference: race, ethnicity, occupation, socioeconomic status, age, gender, sexual orientation, various physical traits and needs, religion, and culture.

One of the multicultural education premises states that teaching learning is a cultural process in a social context. In order for teaching and learning to be accessible and fair for various background and origins of students, cultures need to be clearly understood. Such understanding can be achieved by analyzing education from various cultural perspectives by which it can avoid the hegemony of dominant cultural experience.
School is an epitome of society. In the norms of procedure, attitudinal code, structural order, power distribution, special feature and responsibility, school reflects society's cultural values. Classroom teachers, school administrators and policy makers bring their own experience and cultural perspective and influence the policy and education actions.

In addition, the students who come from various ethnic and cultural backgrounds are unavoidable to bring them, too. The various different cultural systems meet in school and classroom and can cause a cultural conflict, which can only be mediated and reconciled by the effectiveness of the instructional process that enlightens and opens the awkward, diluted cultural boundaries.
In 1987, Ramsey said multicultural education was not a set curriculum but a perspective that was reflected in all decisions about every phase and aspect of teaching. It is a lens through which teachers can scrutinize their choices in order to clarify what social information they are conveying overtly and covertly to their students.

In other words, educators should be aware of and responsible for the underlying goals and values of the curriculum designs, materials and activities they deliver to the students. Education occurs in a sociocultural context and all curriculum materials and practices reflect certain social values.
Shortly, in light of the need to foster peace and development, educators should recognize the underlying goals and values of the curriculum designs, materials and activities they deliver to the students. All curriculum materials and practices reflect certain social values.

As the curriculum processes still depend mainly on textbooks, educators should therefore ensure that the books they use in their classrooms be culturally sensitive and respect students' varied sociocultural backgrounds, which affect their learning.
In this context, teachers should be aware of the growing diversity in schools and the implication of using a certain set of curricular materials in their classrooms. Social scientists and commentators often point out the rich blend of cultural differences found in Indonesian society. While these observers have a point, it is equally true that diversity is difficult ... especially in schools.
However, as Aristotle saw it, the challenge of ethnicity (or multiculturalism), is one of augmenting familial love, expanding the natural links to one's own "kind," so that these links also include others who are more distantly related, rather than doing away with the initial links and bonds as such.

The writer is the author of book of Multicultural Education (Pustaka Pelajar Jogja, 2008), and a lecturer at Muhammadiyah University in Surabaya.

Rising radicalism, fundamentalism: To which zeitgeist do we belong?

By Setiono Sugiharto , Jakarta | Tue, 01/13/2009 10:58 AM | Opinion

For an analysis to show scientific rigor and hence credibility in its exposition, it must at least satisfy the following requirements: Statement of the problem, data, methodology and interpretation.

Nurrohman’s article (“NU, Muhammadiyah have failed to promote pluralism at grassroots”) published by The Jakarta Post last month meets these requirements and his analysis is worth reading.

With an implicit problem formulation, the article presented primary data collected by means
of a survey and stated its methodology in terms of the respondents’ demographic information. In addition, a brief interpretation was given.

As a rule of science, it is sufficient to draw and arrive at a relatively valid conclusion: Both radicalism and religious intolerance indeed exist and are no longer a myth.

However, for the sake of comprehensiveness, the interpretation drawn from the survey needs more elaboration.

Consistent with the previous surveys which revealed the Islamic teachers’ stance against
pluralism, Nurrohman’ survey -- with the pesantren leaders as its respondents -- confirmed the same stance, all of which serve as a caveat for the rise of radicalism in the country.

In a country which claims to value differences and to respect pluralism, hearing the news
that extremism is rising is really mind-boggling.

However, if this is the reality we are now facing, we are left with a reflective question: To which cultural zeitgeist do we belong? Do we adhere to modernism, which views truth as absolute and knowledge as certain, and values the notions of rationality, universality and optimism?

Or, are we in favor of modernism’s alter ego -- postmodernism -- which sees truth and knowledge as something relative and stable and epitomizes pessimism, indifference, irrationality and fragmentation?

Or, do we belong to an amalgam of the notions of these two opposing zeitgeists?

It seems we place ourselves somewhere between these two extremes, taking some of their notions as our credos.

The growing concern of radicalism -- which often uses one’s religious faith as the sole justification against those who do not share the same faith -- reflects both modernism and postmodernism dogmas.

Those who rejected pluralism and tolerant attitudes toward different religions see faith as an irrational belief formation.

The imposition of one’s religious beliefs on others and the banning of certain sects to disseminate religious doctrines via violent acts are just a few examples of how faith blinds rationality.

It is common to hear religious people admit that their faith is irrational; they hold that their beliefs constituting their faith contain absolute truth.

This is reminiscent of the philosophy of Tertullian (ca. 160-ca.220 AD), an early Church Father, whose doctrinal teaching Credo quia absurdum (I believe because it is absurd) is well-known in the philosophy of religion.

This doctrine further claims that if faith provides eternal salvation for everyone, we should not worry much about rationality.

In other words, holding firmly to one’s faith by means of showing intolerance and violently banning other contesting doctrines deemed “heretical” is necessarily justified even without rational accounts.

This probably explains why radical groups such as the Islamic Defender Front (FPI) are able to justify their brutal acts against what they consider irreverent and blasphemous.

This doctrine also helps explain why the Bali-bomber trio (Imam Samudra, Amrozi Nurhaqim and Ali Ghufron) showed no remorse after taking Australian lives -- whom they considered kafir (infidel) -- and then were willing to die as “martyrs” when they begged the state to behead them instead of facing the firing squad.

The recent brouhaha over the imminent issuance of fatwa (edict) by the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI) barring the practice of yoga is another case in point.

To those issuing this fatwa, rational justification is not mandatory. Support of evidence is not required to lay a claim. They deem it sufficient to accuse that yoga practice can erode the faith of many Muslims -- nothing else.

With faith seen as an irrational belief formation, it is then understandable why most of Nurrohman’s respondents oppose pluralism -- and hence progress -- and consent to intolerant attitudes against different faiths.

Despite the fact that many religious people see faith as an irrational belief formation, there are those who don’t react the same way to such a tenet.

For these people, rationality and faith are seen as mutually- reinforcing, cooperative and complementary, rather than antagonistic.

They regard rationality as something enlightening that can lead to faith. No wonder that they always seek a rational basis for every controversial religious edict issued by the authorities.

This is done not to disparage faith over rationality, but rather to find enlightenment.

To some extent, rational justification is believed to provide ways to know the truth of faith.

These two differing camps are comprised of people who emulate a cultural movement of both modernism and postmodernism.

This shows that the spirit of the times in our political, intellectual and cultural climate is not predominantly influenced by the sole postmodernism dogma, which many believe is the rescuer of the complexity of problems we are facing in this era.

Indeed, modernism’s tenets still prevail, shaping our ways of thinking, our ways of seeing things and our ways of creating policy.

The writer is chief-editor of Indonesian Journal of English Language Teaching and teaches English composition at Atma Jaya Catholic University, Jakarta.