A Note will not Stop a Bullet

By Amr Selim

Since moving to Beirut in Fall 2016, I have been searching for ways to reach out to the young and provide high-quality art education for them. The Lebanese American University, where I teach, believes in building a strong community based on knowledge and critical thinking.

Public schools cut music and art budgets, art institutions train technicians, and some religions ban art education altogether. Art education in the Arab world faces all of these, but there’s hope to turn this around.

Imagine is the name of the first Performing Arts Summer Camp in the Arab region, targeting students age 10-16 at LAU, teaching them music, acting, and dance, and we finished our first edition with great success. As an Arab musician, I struggled being “the weird kid” at school due to my artistic interest. It is hard to find friends who share such interests, and it is even harder to find programs to foster talent. What our camp accomplished was exactly what I needed 20 years ago.

Our two main inspirations were adding imagination to the art curriculum and changing the approach of teaching and learning. Most school programs require students to be inside a box; the teacher is required to cover a certain amount of material over a certain time, and the standardized test system kills creativity and requires students to stay inside the box. Our learning centered program is based on three elements.

Attitude: Teachers approach teaching from a sharing viewpoint, not teaching at the students. Attitude directly influences: Knowledge: Expanding students’ knowledge through a supportive and inclusive environment. This leads to the most important element: Imagination: Every idea and innovation starts with imagination, and in this part of the world it has become tough for young people to imagine. The violence, instability, the education system, and parents’ expectations prevent students from imagining and create fear of being different. We needed to break that taboo.

The goal is to create a small community that believes in the power of attitude, knowledge, imagination, empathy, and acceptance so that they can improve their communities, which will have a direct influence on the culture of their homes and environments. We know that a note, a dance, or a play will not stop a bullet, but we believe that a good art education will equip the young generation with critical thinking, teamwork, and social skills that will have them think twice before spreading violence through a word or a bullet.

This article was first published in Cornucopia Magazine, November 2017 issue.

Dr. Amr Selim is from Egypt. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Cairo Conservatory and master’s and doctorate from SUNY Stony Brook.