Dear Friends and Colleagues of DOIT,
Today was an amazing day which I will treasure for many years. The ceremonyfor my honorary doctorate that I received from Sokhumi State University was really special. We will be uploading pictures (cap and gown included! :) ) within the next few days. Meanwhile, I want to share with all of you my acceptance speech which acknowledges how this honor is a collective one.
I want to thank you ALL for being part of this: Warmest regards from a "cold" Tbilisi... Rhonda
Acceptance Speech for Honorary Doctorate of Sokhumi State University: Rhonda Sofer, Coordinator of DOIT. April 24, 2015
I am extremely moved by this honorary doctorate which acknowledges a contribution that I have made as a leader of a program that promotes multicultural education and children’s rights in here at Sokhumi State University. I do not view this honor as a personal award, but rather one that belongs to a group and a community of professionals and individuals who share a vision.
This vision is very simple, namely that social change can be promoted through education. I have had the privilege of not only sharing this vision with great people, including members of your faculty but also I have had the honor of witnessing how different members of our professional consortium have acted on this vision.
Our Consortium is part of The European Commission’s TEMPUS IV Fifth Call Program, Development of an International Model for Curriculum Reform in Multicultural Education and Diversity in Teacher Training whose acronym is DOIT. The TEMPUS programs are based on the vision of the important role that higher educational institutions have for our societies. TEMPUS does this through providing the faculty of these institutions with the opportunity to work together on programs and projects aimed to address important social, economic, educational and political priorities of the different regions of partner countries.
TEMPUS realizes the importance of motivating academics to leave what has been termed “the ivory tower” and become involved and committed to act in order to bring about sustainable long-term change that can improve the quality and development of our societies. The program is based on the principle of collaboration, working together and sharing of knowledge.
I must acknowledge the support of TEMPUS for enabling DOIT’s consortium to get together, learn and share knowledge with each other, and to build our dynamic program that is being implemented and sustained in our academic universities and colleges and beyond.
For me, DOIT represents over 35 years of my work as an anthropologist and my belief in the importance of promoting multiculturalism, diversity and human rights in academic teaching. I have had the privilege of having this vision of promoting diversity and children’s rights shared by others actively through DOIT.
Through DOIT and working in collaboration, WE developed dynamic educational programs aimed to put this vision into action and become a reality. We did this so that you, the students will have the values, principles, tools and skills that will make our society a better society built on social justice and equity.
Our TEMPUS program DOIT, I believe is more than a project with a starting date and an end for the members and institutions of our consortium. Its goals and objectives are aimed to go beyond these physical boundaries and the limitation of time. Promoting multicultural education and children’s rights is not just something we learn and then add it to our pool of knowledge; Rather, it is something that we should internalize, identify with and most importantly DO.
DOIT does not belong to me or your faculty—it belongs to you—the students, many of you who are studying to be teachers. The courses which were developed by DOIT’s international or inter-institutional teams were not only to provide you with knowledge, but also to promote values and behaviors that we hope will become a part of your being and influence your actions as active citizens who are committed to promote social justice.
This honorary doctorate belongs to many, including your own the leaders at your university who have the wisdom of understanding what their society needs and the courage to take action and implement changes in their curriculum which they believe will provide you with the tools to be active citizens and leaders in your society. Without the active, responsible participation and leadership of the key stake holders and members of your faculty here at Sokhumi State University, I would not be standing here in front of you.
I see you here, as the future leaders of your society. As such, I want to talk to you briefly about leadership and the importance of active citizenship and social responsibility of individuals. Great leaders are not content with maintaining their position and the status quo. Great leaders have a vision of seeing how their society should be and moreover, they have the courage to act on this vision so how things “Should be” actually BECOME a reality.
Great leaders constantly reflect on their society, try to understand what is not right, and ACT to make things better for all. Leaders are leaders however, because they have a group of active citizens who are willing to invest their own time and energy in promoting their ideas and programs. Great things can be achieved with moral leadership and active participation of individual citizens.
This honorary doctorate represents the combination of leadership of many people as well as the active hard work and dedication of individuals who feel that they are accountable and responsible for promoting diversity, multiculturalism and children’s rights at their universities and in their community.
There are many kinds of leaderships and leaders can lead in different ways. I do not think I need to lecture you on those who lead through fear and physical and emotional coercion. Unfortunately, I think the countries in your region have experienced many leaders of this nature. These leaders need to utilize force and fear to get people to do what they want to do because the principles of what they are promoting are removed from the people and have no moral basis. Thus, in order to control the “masses”, they need to develop sophisticated and complex structure of control, for without that, they could not be leaders.
I want to talk to you about another type of leadership, a leadership that leads from behind. This concept, coined by Prof. Linda Hall was influenced by reading the autobiography of one of our great leaders of the 20ieth and 21st century, Nelson Mandela of South Africa. Mandela refers to leaders as shepherds. Although the flock moves forward after the lead sheep or goat, it is the shepherd who is actually coaching and guiding the flock.
The shepherd however enables different sheep or goats to take the lead. Professor Hill talks about business and how the 21st century requires leaders who empower others to emerge, innovate and lead. They do not fear greatness in others, but rather nurture and encourage it. This concept of “leading from behind” contributes towards what Hill’s calls “collective genius”. Collective “genius” enables every member of the group to contribute and present their ideas and programs of action.
What Hills calls leading from behind, can also be viewed as combining visionary leadership with active citizenship. Active citizenship means that we all are accountable and responsible for our community and society. We see something that we believe is wrong, we do not only say, “this is wrong” , rather we can analyze the situation, develop action plans and implement these plans. It is important to realize that each and every one of us, needs to be responsible and accountable for the injustices that we see around us, EVEN if we are not the cause of the injustices.
We all must be active citizens, people who are willing to get involved and not turn their head in the other direction when they see a situation that requires social attention and involvement. These do not have to be big things…active citizenship relates to our day to day lives. We all must be models and just do the right thing because it is the right thing to do.
Let’s take a simple situation: how many times have we walked into a classroom and have seen a piece of paper on the floor, or a paper cup left on the desk? There can be several approaches to this. One can ignore the paper on the floor or cup on the table—be indifferent.
Or, one could complain about the paper on the floor or the cup on the table. This reaction shows that the individual has “knowledge” about things that are not in place and unjust but does view that he or she needs to do anything about it. This reflects that the person does feel that he is accountable or responsible for things out of place.
Or, one can see the piece of paper or cup, realize it is out of place and throw it out. This is active citizenship and what DOIT’s programs are aiming for.
DOIT aims to promote multicultural education. Multicultural Education is necessary for the 21st Century is because we live in a global world. The values and behaviors that are intertwined with multicultural education provide us with the tools to live in this globalized world by promoting mutual understanding and respect between different groups, strengthening pluralistic values and democratic attitudes and behaviors. Most important, multicultural education provides us with the tools for critical thinking that can able us to analyze and act against prejudice, racism and discrimination.
James Banks in 1996 published one of his many important articles on multicultural education. He views multicultural education as an idea, reform movement and a process. As such, multicultural education is, what Prof. Sue. Jackson has referred to as “transformative” in its character. Multicultural education has no boundaries and is forever developing. Its aims for transforming education so that education promotes social justice and educational equity. As Paul Gorski has emphasized, multicultural education recognizes the importance of education in making our society more just and equal.
Multicultural educational principles constantly challenges us to analyze our work environment, our classrooms and schools. Its principles require us to be able to assess whether our school environment:
• recognizes the value of diversity
• enables and encourages all children to reach their potential,
• whether it is inclusive; and
• does our education empowers our children with values and behaviors that promote civil action locally, nationally and globally.
This work is never done. It is always in motion. It is a process, it aims to transform society.
DOIT’s programs also promote children’s rights. Children’s Rights is an issue that MUST unify our Global world. For those of you who are students of education or already in-service teachers you must LEAD in this mission. You need to have the knowledge, tools and skills to understand the innate rights of ALL children. Moreover, you as educators and teachers of children much be accountable and responsible for the children at risk in you classrooms, schools, communities, country and the world.
The promotion of Children’s Rights needs to be an issue that has no boundaries and is the responsibility of everyone. I feel if there is any hope in the world for peace, the issue of children needs to be the forefront of unifying all of us.
According to the United Nations Convention of Children’s Rights, ALL CHILDREN HAVE THE : Right to Survive; Right to be Safe; Right to Develop; and Right to Belong. These issues should be central issues in how we view and live in our world in this 21st century. We are however a far cry from realizing these rights. As I speak to you today, children are being exploited as slaves, sexually abused, kidnapped and separated from their families, are hungry, homeless, physically and emotionally abused, discriminated against and excluded from opportunities to develop fully.
We all have this potential power to make a difference. It can begin small with little actions and decisions that we make in our daily lives. I will give you an example of the power of an individual:
In 1955, Rosa Parks, an 55 year old black woman in Montgomery Alabama went onto a bus after a long day at work. In Alabama, there were segregation laws which did not allow blacks and whites to be together. Rosa Parks entered into the bus and sat in the middle where blacks could sit. When more white people got on the bus and were standing, the bus driver walked to the middle of the bus and moved the “negro section” sign down a few rows telling the blacks to get up and move to the back.
Rosa was tired and felt that she did not want to stand in the bus and refused to move. She was arrested but this acted as the “spark” for the Civil Right’s Movement in the United States of America. This was one little black woman who made the decision that “this is not right and I am not moving” was a catalyst to one of the most powerful movements in the United States since the American Civil War.
I will end my talk with a personal story. It was when I was a newly married young woman, probably the age of many of you here. I was walking on the beach of Haifa with my husband. Many people were walking in both directions up and down the lovely beaches of Haifa. While walking in one direction, a group of adults passed us with a small boy crying behind them. Hundreds of people have passed this group.
Something did not look right to me and I decided to turn around, call to the group of adults and ask then whether this child belongs to them. They said “no”!! I then went up to the little boy and try to ask his name, who he came to the beach with, etc. We began to walk back to where the life-guard station so we could help find his grandmother who had taken him to the beach. You can imagine the situation, not only from the little boy’s view of being lost but from his poor grandmother’s point of view of losing a grandchild! To make a long story short, as we got closer to the life-guard station, we saw a grandmotherly figure looking for her grandchildren and so relieved to be reunited with him.
The whole point of this story is how easy it was for tens if not hundreds of people to ignore a child that is crying and to look the other way. One of the main aims of DOIT’s programs, our courses and student activities, is to provide you, OUR FUTURE LEADERS, will the knowledge, values and behaviors which will never let you look the other way or turn your heads from a child that needs your help.
I want to thank your rector and the great members of my DOIT SSU team. I want to thank the members of my DOIT teams that have come to this very special event in order to share this great personal and joint honor that I am being bestowed with. Most importantly I thank you, the students, for this time and the opportunity of sharing my vision with you. I see you as holding the key to our future. I hope that you all will be empowered to turn this key and help us enter into a world that is a better one that it is today.