The Lebanese History Curriculum Controversy: Towards a National History Textbook

In an attempt to further promote active learning, Dr. Ahmad Samarji, a faculty member in the department of Education, encouraged students in his Advanced Topics in Education (EDU 610) class to approach the contentious issue of the Lebanese history curriculum. Students were required to work in a highly sensitive, critical, and creative manner to ensure that the “ghosts from the civil war” are transformed into lessons for the future of ‘all’. They presented their findings on March 16, 2015.

Dr. Samarji was impressed with the degree of responsibility exhibited by the students who were sensitive, respectful, and critical as they embarked upon this highly controversial task.  Students were at liberty to design their educational approach as they attempted to work on this topic. Some students focused on teaching methods, others emphasized the curriculum itself, and a few focused on both the curriculum and pedagogy. 

Although the vast majority of the participating students hadn’t been born during the Civil War, it was clear that all students were capable, in their own ways, of approaching this issue, suggesting ideas, models, and approaches which create connection and unity as a means of moving forward. 

A number of the participating students also reflected on this activity, sharing their experience as they worked in groups to approach the controversy.  Nadia El Bizri believes that “the event fostered [her] knowledge in many ways.” She also claims that events like these are quite beneficial for all  those “who strive to become active educators who need to go the extra mile and initiate positive change in [the] community”.  Dina Takkoush, another education major, stressed on  “the importance of developing students’ critical thinking skills through exposing them to controversial and contentious issues and the importance of developing a sense of citizenship as students reflect upon historical events”. Joelle Khoury, another participant, summed the task up and concluded that “the curriculum should be based on a multifaceted approach which raises awareness of the diverse - and in some instances clashing - interpretations of the same historical events while mainly supporting a critical inquiry of such events”.

Following the event, Dr Rima Bahous, Chair of the Education Department, asserted that “it’s about time our students at schools learn to research, analyze, critique, and openly discuss controversial topics.  It’s about time they respect others’ opinions and approach history as an inquiry rather than a task that is mainly concerned with recalling dates and memorization”.

Dr. Iman Osta, the SAS Assistant Dean, expressed her admiration of the “Lebanese History Curriculum” project. Dr. Osta stated that the students “showed maturity and proved to be skillful presenters, with a great use of language and clarity of ideas. They were able to show the depth of reflection that went into a critical and problematic subject such as the history curriculum in Lebanon.” Dr. Osta was impressed by the “various lenses through which the group members conducted the discussion”.

Dr Samarji concluded that his students exceeded his expectations: “The students clearly represented a sample of the younger generation that wants the ghosts associated with the older generation’s stories, experiences, and views to be confronted in order for lessons to be learnt by all and to move forward. They also stressed that history teaching and learning should no longer be a didactic process but an engaging one which contributes to the Lebanese national identity whilst catering to students’ diverse lenses and experiences”.