Spring 1999
Vol 7 Issue 2


Multiplied or Divided by Technology

Information Access at MCC

Access to Technology

Diversity and Technology

Unity Within Diversity

LEE: A Valuable Addition to Language Learning

Bag of URLs

Changing Face of Distance Learning Students

The Forum



Maricopa Center for Learning and Instruction

The Labyrinth... Sharing Information on Learning Technologies

Unity Within Diversity
Jon Lea Fimbres-Hetzel
Cairo, Egypt

Jon Lea former PVCC faculty member, is currently Regional Educational Advising Coordinator of the Middle East and North Africa and a humble learner. [jonfbobh@internetegypt.com]

Strangers at home cannot be at home in the world. Least of all should we see a contrast between our liberal individualistic tradition and the desire for the unity of mankind.

Everyone who works on himself opens the door to humanity, and whoever cares for humanity enters deeper into self, and thus helps to balance the ambivalence that has been part of man through the centuries.

-- Robert Ulich, Education and the Idea of Mankind, 1964, The Council for the Study of Mankind.

"Maintaining unity while honoring diversity' used to be on every one of my final exams," said my friend who grew up in India. "The most gentle of all Arabs are the Egyptians," clarified a Middle Eastern colleague who was explaining why she likes living in Egypt. As Robert Ulich's quote indicates, the struggle to balance identity with unity has been around a long time. This is not a new issue. It is only more evident because of the global economy, access to media internationally, and the increasing mobility of many people.

My move from the United States has changed my perspective on diversity. I have come to see diversity as a much more complex issue than racial or cultural balance. I quickly learned that all Muslims were not alike; that all Christians do not share identical beliefs; and that Egyptians who lived through the Nasser years may have different values than Egyptians living in the Mubarak era.

The greatest challenge in addressing the increase in diversity throughout the world is acknowledging and appreciating our differences while finding respectful ways to maintain our human communities through compassion and integrity.

"Unity within diversity" is easier said than done.

Living in the Middle East and working through a global network of international educators reminds me daily of the complexities of maintaining the balance of diversity and unity. On a regional level it has been interesting to learn about the diversity among Arabs. Many in the United States would like to regard all Arabs as one people. There are many values that peoples from the various Arab countries share, i.e. a strong identity with family and a common language. However, each Arab country has its own national culture and very unique outlook on life. A Kuwaiti student might have very different values and lifestyle than an Egyptian student.

Sometimes what may seem a very unified group may have surprising diversity. Teaching and training in Egypt has been a very eye-opening experience when one considers the diversity among Egyptians. As an American I was gently reminded that my life experience and view of the world is only one possibility. As I faced what might seem like a homogeneous group of male, Egyptian ESL students, I learned about the subtleties of diversity. I had Bedouins, Europeans, Nubians, Coptic Christians, Muslims, literate, illiterate, rural and city dwellers in my class. Some of the biggest differences had to do with socio-economics. Accommodating all of these life experiences was challenging. For example, as we learned about the family, I was reminded that some men in this group, are not permitted to use their wife's name in public. Since they were from a relatively conservative and traditional background, there were certain discussions that were not appropriate. Although the men might leave the class holding hands, as their female teacher I had to be very careful about my dress and avoid any physical contact.

By working with what each student has in common, a very diverse group can achieve unity and understanding. Recently, I organized a regional workshop for higher education advisers. Our diversity allowed us to have many perspectives and expanded our views of our students and education. The advisers were from Egypt, United Arab Emirates, Ukraine, Holland, Singapore, Sudan, Syria, and Arizona. Because of our common experience as overseas educational advisers, we had many interests, values, and goals in common. In an atmosphere of respect, each person was willing to share their culture and provide feedback about what they needed in order to learn effectively. Additionally, all were willing to move out of their comfort zones to accommodate other advisers in the group. Since most of us had experience being a minority, foreigner or novice, each person understood the value of accommodating differences and cultivating patience with the learning process.

Although some would argue that homogeneous groups are more efficient and valuable, one must realize this is no longer the real world. What I have noticed overseas is the more a person has to deal with diversity in equitable situations, the person's outlook is broadened, their communication skills are enhanced, and their mutual respect for one another increases. In a learning situation, although it may sometimes take longer to process information and dialogue, the outcome is better.

Equitable treatment is one of the keys to balancing diversity and unity. In an atmosphere of mutual respect, each person can express their uniqueness while identifying with something larger than their tribe, race or family. They can identify with what they have in common as learners and citizens of the world.

I was seeing in a sacred manner the shapes of all things in the spirit, and the shape of all shapes as they must live together, like one being. And I saw that the sacred hoop of my people was one of many hoops that made one circle, wide as daylight and as starlight, and in the center grew one mightily flowering tree to shelter all the children of one mother and one father.
-- Black Elk. Black Elk Speaks. University of Nebraska Press, Niehardt, 1972.