Censorship in U.S. Schools?

nomorewar3310920bigDuring the past weeks ISR has featured articles focused on schools that don’t stand up for teachers who are confronted by wealthy/powerful parents and/or over–privileged children. Of the many teachers who commented on this topic via our ISR Blogs, most were in agreement that living and teaching in the Middle East could leave one open to unforeseen problems due to cultural differences. See: Schools That Throw Teachers Under the Bus and Guilty Until Proven Innocent.

To our surprise, it looks like the United States school system, at least in Washington state, has engaged in censorship that resonates loudly of the modus operandi so many international educators find objectionable about the Middle East.  Mary McNeil, a music teacher in the Seattle school system, asked students to create lyrics for a song. The last few lines of the song go: We are children of love…We are the children of the world… We don’t want war anymore. It was this last line of the song that the school principal wanted removed from the song.

Interestingly, the line in question was actually contributed by one of her students. To Mary’s credit, rather than compromise her principles for the principal, she resigned her position to the dismay of parents and students alike.

One could argue that teachers should leave their political views at home. As educators, however, are we not charged with teaching children to use their intellect rather than brawn? What could be more in line with the philosophy of education than singing We don’t want war anymore? We invite you to comment on this topic. We should add that this event took place some ten years ago, but the fact that it did take place is reason to give pause.

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Guilty Until Proven Innocent – by Dorje Gurung

dorje-medium“On May 2 they paraded me, in handcuffs, in front of five different prosecutors  in different rooms at the Public Prosecution office. I don’t know what the first four prosecutors and the guy taking me around exchanged between them – everything  was in Arabic. But, with the fifth one, they provided an English interpreter on my insistence. Otherwise it would have been Hindi or Urdu.

“The second trip to the Public Prosecution office on Sunday, May 5, I faced a prosecutor who spoke English. Again we had the same exchanges I had had the previous visit but with one important difference. I would have to produce witnesses in court to prove my innocence, he informed me. In other words, I was guilty unless I proved myself innocent.” Read more

Women, Rape & the Law in the UAE

dubai44705074The UAE hosts ultra-modern architecture, advanced technology and the image of a progressive Arab state. But beneath that facade, similarities with the West come to an abrupt dead end. Underlying its up-scale Western appearance, the UAE is a conservative Muslim State that adheres to an array of laws and rules the Western world finds unequivocally deplorable, particularly in the area of human rights, and most notably, the rights of women.  Read more

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Peccadilloes & Other Innocent Transgressions

peccadillo_1_45637465A peccadillo is a “petty, little offense or sin.” And as you can imagine, a peccadillo in one culture may carry no overtones or negative connotations in another. For example, sitting in such a way that you expose the bottom of your feet to someone is considered an insult in Thailand and certainly something that fits the definition of a peccadillo. Unfortunately, the reality is that an innocent peccadillo could land you in jail as we just saw in the case of Dorje Gurung who went to prison in Qatar for using the word “terrorist” while talking to taunting 12-year-old students at Qatar Academy.

International Educators aren’t the only ones who accidentally commit peccadilloes. President George H. Bush, caused himself a hugh problem in 1992. While driving past a group of farmers demonstrating against US farm subsidies in Canberra, Australia, he thought he was giving them the peace sign when he was actually telling these farmers to ‘f#@k off.’ After being told about his peccadillo, the President apologized. Even a simple ‘thumbs up’ can get you trouble in some cultures. Most everyone recognizes the ‘thumbs up’ gesture as a sign for good or A-OK. But in the Middle East, a ‘thumbs up’ has the same meaning as the American middle finger thrust upwards gesture.

As International Educators, we obviously don’t enjoy the same support and security as American politicians who travel accompanied by the full protection of the US government. No, as international educators we are dependent on our schools to stand up for us should we inadvertently cause a few bruised feelings. The ISR web site is dotted with Reviews, Blog and Forum posts in which teachers describe how they unknowingly offended a rich parent, or disciplined a student and found themselves detained and/or jailed. Sadly, in most cases their schools abandoned them.

A recent post to the ISR Forum tells of a teacher’s experience in the Philippines in which his school called immigration and had him arrested for reporting the inappropriate relationship between a teacher and a 15-year-old female student to authorities. The school called it “libel” because the report brought unfavorable attention to the school. “In hindsight, it was a pretty cool adventure. At the time, I thought I was dead. We had a 6′ x 8′ cell for six of us. They gave me the bed (a raised bamboo platform) because they felt sorry for me. The other prisoners were incredibly kind. After I got out, I visited all of their families with messages and big bags of rice because I owed them so much for being so good to me.”

ISR can help you know if a school stands up for its teachers or simply throws them under the bus during a peccadillo crisis. Additionally, you’ll want to learn all you can about a school’s location and its culture before you arrive. Imagine landing in Kuwait and upon being cleared at immigration you give the agent a big ‘thumbs’ up…Now that’s a peccadillo!!

To read & share first-hand information on living in Asia, Africa. the Americas, Europe and the Middle East, ISR invites you to visit our What’s It Really Like to Live Here Blog/series. Remember: a peccadillo shared means a colleague may be spared.

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Qatar Academy Teacher Jailed Over Alleged Insults to Islam

Doha News  reports on May 9, 2013:

“Dorje Gurung, a chemistry teacher at Qatar Academy, was seen this morning leaving the court in handcuffs. If convicted, Article 256 of the Penal Code dictates that he could face up to seven years in jail.

“On Monday, April 22, Gurung said he had a sit-down chat with three 12-year-old boys who were making fun of him. Among other things, the seventh graders poked fun at his appearance, calling him ‘Jackie Chan.’ On Tuesday, April 23, the mocking again began in earnest while Gurung was in line for lunch. At first, he said the teasing was light-hearted, but then one student put his hand on Gurung’s shoulder and a finger up his nose. At this point, Gurung grew agitated and said remarks to the effect of ‘How would you like to be stereotyped i.e. called a terrorist?'”

The Qatar Academy confirms that after formal complaints were made ‘appropriate’ action was taken. Doha News reports: “On Wednesday, April 24, Gurung had a meeting with school management. On Thursday, April 25, he submitted his account of what happened and was told to go home. On Sunday, April 28, he was fired.”

A Qatar Academy colleague, who asked to remain anonymous, told Doha News that the ordeal has had a ‘chilling effect’ on faculty members:

“A lot of teachers are very nervous about their own jobs. If they reprimand or discipline students, what’s going to happen to them?

“It’s all very unfortunate. These 12-year-olds have really spun it out. Almost every year, a teacher has been let go for obscure reasons. Everyone is really upset and anxious.”


See ISR’s Letter to Eric Sands (Director of Qatar Academy)

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Sign the Petition to Release Dorje Gurung

136 Countries Where U.S. Teachers Have Their Human Rights Violated

gary_sanford by Gary Sanford

More than 7,000 U.S. citizens teach in 195 schools in 136 countries. Many, if not most, of these schools are accredited by U.S. accrediting agencies, private organizations that are legitimized by the U.S. Department of Education and receive financial assistance from the Department of State’s Office of Overseas Schools.

I taught abroad for 13 years in four different countries and I can testify that teachers are treated in ways that would not be tolerated in stateside schools: Administrators routinely bully and lie to teachers, fire teachers without due process, violate contracts, withhold salaries, and engage in many forms of discrimination. Obviously, my experiences alone cannot adequately support my claims; however, I have crossed paths with many teachers in the milieu of international education and I can say…..read more

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Turmoil in The Islamic World

..Massive protests cause turmoil for expat teachers
..throughout Islamic world:

“Fury over an anti-Islam film spread across the Muslim world last week. At least four people — all protesters — were killed and dozens were wounded in the demonstrations in more than 20 countries from the Middle East to Southeast Asia. Most were peaceful but they turned violent in several nations, presenting challenges for the leaders who came to power in the Arab Spring.

Protesters set fire to the American School adjacent to the embassy compound and prevented firefighters from approaching it. U.S. State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said the school in Tunis was badly damaged and is now ‘unusable.”

How are you, your family and school administration faring in these troubling times? Is your school sending teachers home or out of the country? How are local people, such as your home neighbors, reacting to you as a foreigner? What changes have become necessary for additional security? Is there some way we, your colleagues, can help? Please add your comments below.

Great News for International Teachers in Indonesia!

In response to our posting titled “Teaching in Indonesia May Be OUT Next Year, we have received reassuring information showing the new legislation may not apply to what most of us classify as an International School. Bruce Ferres, Principal at Australian International School – Indonesia, has supplied ISR with information that points to some gray areas in the bill, to which we were not privy. Apparently, true international schools such as British International School (BIS), Jakarta International School (JIS) and the Australian International School (AIS), to name a few, may not be subject to the new regulations.


Following is important information about the new Indonesian legislation as supplied to ISR  by Bruce Ferres , Principal Australian International School  – Indonesia

..The Indonesian Government has, in recent years, attempted to regulate the proliferation of independent private schools, International schools and National Plus schools all of which offer alternative programs to regular local government schools.

..The first attempt to lay down a regulatory framework in respect of all non-standard government schools in recent times was Regulation 18, 2009. This was followed with Regulation 17, 2010 and together they set out categories of schools and for each category the manner in which they ought to be organized and other licensing criteria.

..National Plus schools are government schools that teach an international curriculum (e.g. IB, Cambridge) alongside the local standard Education Department curriculum. These schools can charge fees and although mostly attended by the children of wealthier Indonesians they also enroll the children of expatriates. Most of their teachers are local Indonesians but they employ a significant number of expatriate teachers and often have an expatriate Head of School or Principal. Nowhere in either regulation is there any suggestion that these schools be now called International Schools.

..A large number of small independent private schools have been established in the last decade and by using the word “international” in their title attempted to disguise the fact that they were poorly resourced, often employed unqualified teachers and charged gullible parents exorbitant fees. These are the schools that will, correctly in my view, be most adversely affected by the new regulations because they will not be able to meet the new accreditation and quality assurance requirements.

..This brings us to the genuine International Schools such as the British International School (BIS), Jakarta International School (JIS) and the Australian International School (AIS) to name just a few. These schools were established as foundations under the Ministry of Justice and have for many years now been providing a quality international education. The vast majority (80%) of their teachers and students are expatriates but they also educate a number of Indonesian nationals and employ a number of Indonesian teachers.

..One of the difficulties posed by Regulation 18, 2009 and Regulation 17, 2010 is that these genuine International schools do not readily fit into any of the categories of school described by the regulations. These schools have been working together with the authorities to address this dilemma and high level talks are currently in progress aimed at amending the wording or agreeing to interpretations that would minimize the impact. Even without an immediate resolution it is simply not true that all International Schools will be called Foreign Schools. In fact, in the unlikely event that current talks do not resolve the current dilemma, most genuine International Schools would more easily fit into a category known as a “Joint Education Unit” but this would not have any impact on the name of the school.

..The new regulations do not prevent Indonesian nationals from attending these schools as long as Civics, Religion and Bahasa Indonesia is taught as a part of the curriculum, they continue to sit the National Examinations and other requirements are met. Some schools will find creative ways of blending this into their program others might choose not to enroll Indonesian nationals.

..The genuine International Schools will continue to employ expatriate teachers to deliver programs and subjects accredited by the IBO, Cambridge, BSSS and other internationally recognized curricula. The claim that expatriate teachers will be confined to teaching English or ESL is nonsense.


You may contact Bruce directly at bruce.ferres@ais-indonesia.com with  questions and concerns or, better yet, post them here so we can all stay up-to-date. We have asked Bruce will monitor this blog and answer questions.

Teaching in Indonesia May Be Out Next Year!

In 2013 an alarming education policy will take effect in Indonesia. The new legislation, Peraturan Pemerintah Republik Indonesia Nomor 17 tahun 2010, has far-reaching implications for international educators wishing to teach in Indonesia. Here are the basics of the legislation as explained to ISR:

1. “National Plus Schools” [nat’l curriculum + internat’l curriculum, eg: Cambridge] will now be called “International Schools.” This means that for every foreign teacher there must be 3 local Indonesian teachers. Foreign teachers will only be allowed to teach English and NOthing more, as all other subjects will be taught by locals.

2. Schools currently called “International Schools” will become “Foreign Schools.” NO Indonesian citizens will be allowed to attend these schools.

It appears international teachers in Indonesia will be relegated to teaching ESL. If this bill affects your plans, please join us here on the Indonesia Education Legislation Blog to share information and ideas on this topic with other international educators.

Held Hostage in Qatar!

The year is 2009, and after a few great years teaching  we had a change of management at my school and this is when my adventure in Qatar really got underway.

Although the school is a new state of the art building with fantastic facilities, it is the competence of management that is key to any overseas posting. I had a disagreement with one very junior member of the management team and as a result found myself being held as a hostage in Qatar as my employer (the school) was refusing to grant me an Exit Permit to leave the Country for a short holiday. Like most Gulf States, Qatar requires foreigners who wish to work in the country to have a local sponsor. However, unlike other Gulf countries, Qatar gives sponsors the authority over whether their employee is allowed to leave the country or not. A law which some Western organizations say is akin to modern-day slavery.

During the Easter break I was going to visit Dubai. All was well. However, it was at the airport on this trip that I was taken at gunpoint by the Qatar authorities and told I am not allowed to leave! I could not believe what I was experiencing and thought there must be a mix up. However I immediately spoke to the British Embassy and they suggested that I go and see them next morning.

At the embassy I was told that under Qatar law the employer does not have to give their employees permission to leave the country, they agreed that this was a severe breach of rights. I protested and I was told to go back to work and not to worry as the embassy was aware of the situation. The embassy took my contact details and told me to wait for further instructions on what to do! I was told explicitly not to talk about the situation with anyone at the school. Now I was really worried.

A while later I was given a call out of the blue and told to visit the British Embassy. I went along and I was told that I was to buy a return ticket to the Bahrain Grand Prix with Qatar Airways and to buy a ticket for the Grand Prix on-line and when I had done this I was to request a temporary pass to go and see the Grand Prix in Bahrain. I followed the Instructions. That weekend I flew into Bahrain were I was able to fly on back home to the UK with British Airways. Once safe in the UK when I got my head back together I found out that what had happened to me was not the first time someone has been held as a “Hostage in Qatar” All because of the managers at this International school! Go to Qatar at your own RISK BEWARE!!!


Us and Them – A Redneck Muslim Teacher’s Perspective on Racism in International Schools

This article is part of an earlier Blog. We feature it here for your comment.

Let me begin by stating that I am a full-blooded Texan with redneck roots (not to say that I’m proud of that latter part of the description).  Despite that, I am a convert to Islam and fairly observant in my faith.  Outwardly, this is apparent in my groomed beard and head-covering in addition to the combination of my first name, which is Arabic, with my last name, which is from England.

I entered into teaching to make a contribution to my community. My first administrator in Texas public schools was African-American and, ironically, about the most bigoted person you can imagine. He had once made a comment that a district initiative, one that  people were grumbling about, was “Like Islam, out to get you.” He also had numerous grievances leveled against him with the union from other minorities and women.

I entered into teaching in international schools in the Middle East in hopes that I might work in a quality institution where I assumed employees and students would be more open to diversity. To some extent this has proven true. But generally I have found that, perhaps more than the host culture, expatriot parents at schools in the Middle East are racist, n0uveau-riche elitists whose extreme distaste for the places in which they live lead them to live lives in a bubble where they move compound, to work/school, to mega-mall, to compound. When they have to engage with locals or non-Western expats outside of these contexts, one never hears an end to the complaints. I actually heard a colleague in Qatar describe her shady Indian repair man as “having a very foreign look.” When I replied, “Aren’t 75% of us here foreigners?” she said with a look and tone that could freeze mercury, “You know what I mean.”

The fact of the matter is, despite mission statements that hope to “draw upon our diverse community” and “honor our status as guests in the host culture,” many expat parents want more from an American or British school than a quality education; they want to preserve the bubble, exemplified in many schools’ celebration of traditional Western holidays to the neglect or total avoidance of local ones important to their significant national student populations. My experience as a White American Muslim is that I represent an intrusion into that bubble. I read a post which commented about having every comment and action scrutinized. That is what has happened to me.

I have been accused of denying the holocaust, despite being proud of my grandfather that was at Normandy and a great-great grandfather who was an Orthodox Jew. I have been accused of promoting my faith in the classroom, despite  another group of teachers taking a field trip to a visiting sea-faring missionary organization aboard the Duolos. Parents with a McCarthy-style paranoia complained about a comment in my International Relations class that China is no longer a purely communist country. And finally, I was fired with 6 weeks left in the school year for discussing both Western and Muslim radicalism in my Middle Eastern studies class, a discussion which offended the daughter of a senior military officer in the Iraq war, and was given the rest of my package through August on condition that I did not attempt to contact parents or students for support (because there were many who did express their support).

I have often heard and read on this site a great many complaints about Middle Eastern schools and host cultures. I too am disgusted by the racism one sees from Arabs, all the more so because I am a coreligionist with most of them. Nevertheless, I think those of us living in this situation should use it as an opportunity to reflect upon our own cultural biases. Racism is intolerable anywhere from anyone. But how often have I heard my American and Canadian colleagues refer to a male domestic servant as a house-boy, a term which is reminiscent of derogatory names for house slaves? How often have I seen expats criticize legitimate but different cultural practices in East Asia, Africa, and the Middle East? Why are they living in these places if they find these differences so intolerable?

Bigotry is rampant in international schools, even in monocultural ones, like the one where I currently teach in Egypt. I think it comes with the views predominant in affluent, particularly newly affluent, families. I remember when I saw my second African-American teacher in an international school setting (the first was introduced to a school in Saudi Arabia) my me, at a conference in China. That this sticks out is noteworthy. My experience indicates that it is likely due to discrimination in hiring practices, but my African-American colleague in Saudi suggested that many African-Americans (and probably Latinos) desire to work within their communities to help these groups cope with the problems that prevent them from accessing the American dream.

What I do know, is that bigotry is an issue. I have seen it; my colleagues have seen it. Still, it exists everywhere, as evident from my experience in the States. Ethnic, religious, and other minorities must often make tough choices. We should not see ourselves victims but as ambassadors. If people don’t wish to give you the chance to make a difference, find people who will; there always are.