The Lebanese Crisis, Exhibit A: Graphic Design and Entitlement

Whilst dealing with my own fairly entitled but not yet totally corrupted students, I have had little time to write. Too bad, since there’s TONS to write about!

Anybody who has visited Lebanon or gotten to know any Lebanese well will at some point have to face the topic of Lebanese society’s pervasive dysfunction. Let me be clear: I have no anti-Lebanon agenda. I love living here, I am nothing but thankful for the opportunities I have enjoyed here, and I am well aware that every society has its dysfunctional aspects. I do not wish to smear Lebanon or its people or discourage anyone from coming here (well, unless you’re a prospective Syrian refugee or an aspiring guest worker!) But only the most truth-evading person could deny that Lebanon’s dysfunction, well, makes an impression. Here I will offer some tidbits of my own experience & analysis, with the hope that they will at least entertain. I hope that offering them in good faith will prevent offense and encourage constructive responses.

My fiance works at a kiosk inside a small shopping center near the American University of Beirut (AUB) campus. He spends a few hours each day completing work projects inside a neighboring print and copy shop, which AUB students naturally frequent. He has realized that many of these students are not simply utilizing the shop’s services to facilitate their studies; rather, they pay the shop to complete their assignments.

Recently, as I visited him at work (where he toils 7 days a week to barely pay his rent, but that’s another story) we overheard a dispute between two pouting university-age people and a flustered employee of the print shop. The employee had completed what appeared to be a spiffy interior design model for the pair, and charged them $30 minus a 20% student discount for an hour of graphic design work. The customers did not wish to pay such a ‘high’ price for what was most likely a class assignment. My fiancĂ© and I laughed at them. Each one was wearing probably $200-300 dollars worth of fashionable clothes and accessories, but they couldn’t afford to pay a professional $24 to spend an hour doing their homework?

As an educator, this vexes but sadly does not surprise me. My 10-12th graders routinely copy each other’s homework, knowingly plagiarize, and occasionally cheat – though I have encouraged significant changes in their behavior through severe grade penalties and emphasizing the value of their own hard work. In my view, this problem stems from a society that avoids personal responsibility at all costs. Indeed, the costs of taking responsibility can be high here. Countless promising intellectuals and leaders have been assassinated since the mid-20th century. Those who thrive tend to do so behind a protective screen of money, street gangs, foreign sponsorship, and/or corruption. Accordingly, the educational system allows the wealthy and connected to accumulate a series of rubber stamps to guarantee future employment, whether they take an interest in becoming educated or not.**

AUB enjoys a long history of prestige and selectivity, but even it cannot avoid these forces completely. Its students are privileged and often entitled. Some of them simply ride out their four years of “education” paying others to provide evidence of their “expertise”. They graduate to become the uninspired managers of tomorrow. I hope that enough young Lebanese will tire of this charade to eliminate it in the future.

As a teacher, I strive to empower and inspire my students to bulldoze and rebuild broken structures. It’s difficult, as these same dysfunctional systems generate the palpable clouds of apathy I must work so hard to banish from my classroom. But if enough elders can support and make way for these bright young people, it is possible.

**Lest you accuse me of providing no evidence for my claims, a student who attended approximately 25% of his class with me and failed with less than 10% overall mark has reportedly entered a bachelor’s program at a local university. Not an especially prestigious one, mind you, but he will undoubtedly be granted the fake degree his family pays for.

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