Just Say "No" To Table-Dancing:
Behavioral Definition at A Self-Defined School
Submitted for AP 771
Daniel R. Fruit
Al-Bayan Bilingual School
PO Box 24472
Safat 13105, Kuwait
This paper examines and attempts to solve the discipline problem at Al-Akbar Bilingual school. Al-Akbar, a private school, teaches the children of the most affluent, well-educated parents in the Sultanate of Myrr, an oil-rich Arab state. The school features half-English, half-Arabic instruction with an emphasis on academics and university admission. While this paper looks at a single, distinctive institution, it holds that the problem encountered could face many schools that have the option of self-definition, i.e. private, magnet, and charter schools, and particularly private schools in the Arab world.
This paper poses that the repeated instances of misbehavior and linked low performance by one particular "class," 51 students, indicates a problem. This class committed multiple instances of misbehavior leading, in some cases, to teachers either leaving the school or refusing to teach them. Further, their instances of misbehavior lead to unsatisfactory academic performance. The problem with the 9th grade, however, only demonstrates a problem with behavior in general that afflicts the entire school.
This paper, then, goes on to explore the question of standards. It looks at the standards of both Myrri and American public schools and that of other international schools. It chooses the latter as the better standard since it conforms to general behavioral expectations for comparable schools and seems to align with the standards of the student Handbook.
After posing that a problem exists, this paper goes on to explore reasons behind this problem. It chooses the political frame since the problem results from allocation of scarce resources, but adds that the culture of Myrr and Arab countries, in general, blend political and human resource considerations so that the two become one. Before proceeding with a political model, however, it explores some particular aspects of Arab and Myrri culture, specifically the precedence of informal channels of communication and the importance of kin.
This paper proposes the use of Lindblom's "muddling through" as it best explains the current situation at Al-Akbar. The problem of behavior seems to stem from a correct assumption on the part of students that the administration will do little in terms of changing their behavior if their parents raise strong objections. The parents of these worst students dislike any disciplinary action that would harm their children's' chances of going to college or losing face within the community. Parents whose children face such consequences can rely on the use of informal instances of influence, i.e. "wasta,"
to make sure such events do not happen. As a result, some students can and do act in a disruptive manner. The administration, "muddling through," does not even attempt to confront this problem, leaving teachers frustrated and angry.
The third part of the paper proposes policy changes to try to solve this problem. It advocates several indirect methods of achieving better discipline. All have an aim of either ridding the school of the worst students in a way beyond debate, i.e. academic failure, or of enlisting the community into efforts to change student behavior through community action.
This analysis should provide special cautions for those either starting or working at private, international schools, and particularly schools in the Arab world. Clearly, they should understand the environment and their clientele. It suggests, further, that cultural ambiguity requires careful analysis with particular attention to methods of communication and decision-making. In the end, however, it also warns that relative position of Western international school educators within Arab countries may limit their ability to impose standards of behavior on their students.
Table of Contents
Executive Summary p. 2
Part One: The Problem p. 9
1.1 General description and historical background p. 9
1.11 The Environment at Al-Akbar p. 10
1.12 What Al-Akbar is "all about" p. 14
1.2 Description and Documentation of the Problem p. 18
1.21 Identification of and Rationale for Major Problem Indicators p. 20
1.23 Identification and Description of Standards of Comparison p. 23
1.231 Chosen Standards and Rationale for the Standards p. 29
1.232 Values Underlying the Proposed Standards p. 31
1.233 Why the Proposed Standards are Persuasive p. 32
1.24 Description of the Problem in Terms of Discrepancies Between Documented Indicators and Standards p. 34
1.3 Explanation of the Importance of the Problem p. 36
1.31 Who is Disadvantaged by the Developing Situation p. 38
1.32 How the Problem Affects Other Important Problems p. 39
1.4 Identification and Description of Important Stakeholders in the Problem (Positive and Negative) p. 41
Part Two: An Examination of the Causes of the Problem p. 51
2.1 Theoretical Perspectives in the Causes of the Problem p. 52
2.11 Possible Causes of the Problem p. 53
2.12 Possible Theoretical Frameworks for Analyzing the Causes of the Problem p. 54
2.13 Rationale for Choosing a Particular Framework for Analysis p. 57
2.2 A Theoretical Analysis of the Causes of the Problem p. 58
2.205 Arab Culture and That of Myrr p. 61
2.207 Wasta, Group Dynamics, and Informal Decision-Making p. 66
2.21 A Description of the Particular Theoretical Framework for Analysis p. 71
2.22 An Analysis of the Causes of the Problem in Terms of the Elements of the Theoretical Framework p. 74
Part Three: Policy Recommendations p. 82
3.1 Presentation of Recommendations p. 82
3.11 Problem Solutions Already Tried and Results Obtained p. 84
3.12 Problem Solutions Proposed in the Course of Current Policy Debates and Evaluation Thereof p. 91
3.13 New Problem Solutions Proposed p. 93
3.14 Why These Proposed Problem Solutions Would Help With the Problem
3.2 Recommended Policies Keyed to Individual Stakeholders p. 100
3.3 Explication of a Broad Strategic Plan for Implementing Recommended Policies Through the Actions of Stakeholders p. 101
Bibliography p. 103
Addenda p. 112
Akbar One: Pamphlet Given to Prospective Teachers. p. 112
Akbar Two: Pamphlet Given to Prospective Parents p. 116
Akbar Three: Short, Full-Color Brochure (Exerted) Given to Parent and to
Prospective Parents p. 112
Akbar Four: From the Al-Akbar Website (Exerted) p. 112
Akbar Five. Excerpts from An Email Conversation with the Head of the English Department: Ms. Head. p. 121
Akbar Six . Transcript of a verbal conversation between this author and HAH, a female student. p. 124
Akbar Seven. Summary of a Number of Meetings Between Different Teachers and the School Director Regarding the School Cheating Scandal in 1997. p. 125
Akbar Eight. Notes of Conversations Regarding Student WES, the "Worst Student" in the Ninth Grade In Terms of Behavior p. 126
Akbar Nine. Report of Results of a Survey by a Teacher of Juniors and Seniors
Akbar Ten. Cheating Incident Involving Ninth Grade Students p. 128
Akbar Eleven: Selected Excepts from the Al-Akbar Student and Parent Handbook
Akbar Twelve: Excerpts from the School Accreditation Report p. 132
Akbar Thirteen: Conversations with Other International School Administrators
Akbar Fourteen: Conversation Between a Tutored Student and One Al-Akbar
Teacher p. 134
Akbar Fifteen: The Fate of Mr. C p. 135
List of Charts and Tables
Figure One: Ideal Standards and What's Actually Occurring in the Classrooms p. 19
Figure Two: Proposed Standards for Al-Akbar p. 27
Figure Three: The Gap Between Proposed Standards and Actual Behavior p. 28
Figure Four: Suspendible Offenses at Samurai High School p. 35
Figure Five: Repetition of Figure One p. 53
Figure Six: Hofstede's Uncertainty Avoidance And Individualism p. 58
Figure Seven: Hofstede's Individualism and Power Distance p. 59
Figure Eight: Bureaucratic Hierarchy of a Typical American School p. 60
Figure Nine: Cultural Dimensions of Al-Akbar p. 61
Figure Ten: The Arab World Conception p. 62
Figure Eleven: Wasta Levels of Different Social Groups p. 67
Figure Twelve: Influence By Cultural Group p. 69
Figure Thirteen: Cultural Distance and Wasta at Al-Akbar p. 70
Figure Fourteen: Lindblom's Muddling Through p. 73
Figure Fifteen: Why the Leader of a Cheating Ring Was Not Expelled p. 75
Figure Sixteen: Why the "Worst" Student in Grade Nine Will Not Be Expelled p. 76
Figure Seventeen: Pressure Brought to Bear on a Teacher Who Caught a Student
Cheating p. 78
Figure Eighteen: Why Iranian Students are Typically the Best Behaved p. 78
Part One: The Problem
1.1 General Description and Historical Background
When students get together during lunch, at any school, they like to discuss many things. Last year's 8th grade class at Al-Akbar Bilingual School, however, liked to talk about one subject with particular relish: the three teachers they had "gotten rid of."
This formed something of a myth with the students. It sounded quite powerful to say "we got rid of Mrs. Blat" or "We were so terrible Mrs. Bornsnoggle" quit the school. Groups of students carried the story for years. At Al-Akbar, with only 50 students in each grade, and little mobility in or out of school, the stories seem immortal.
Most English-speaking teachers of the school, in turn, had some things to say about the class, many of them unprintable. The lucky ones, when pressed, conclude with a remark such as this:
"Well, I can be thankful for one thing. I do not have to teach the 9th graders next year."
For many schools, simply having one particular group of students who makes teachers' working days seem very long would not make much difference. After all, not every student has as much motivation as every other, and students do change over time. In the US, moreover, many students will not go to college anyway; some will not even finish high school.
Al-Akbar, however, belongs, to the ECIS (European Council of Independent Schools), an international schools' association, where academic standards range well above those of an average American school. Further, students at Al-Akbar come from the elite of Myrri society. Indeed, as the ensuing sections will show, parents expect that their children will join Al-Akbar's growing list of students attending the most prestigious Arab and American universities (Akbar Four: 1998).
Parents might also reasonably expect more considering the price they pay in having their children attend the school. Admission requires students to take an examination in English as well as Arabic. Annual tuition costs total $6500 for middle school and $7000 (Akbar Three: 1998) for high school. Parents pay in another way as well: Once admitted, students commonly do not transition back to the regular Myrri system; indeed the government provides no provisions for leaving. With the Myrr Ministry of Education's low standards for promotion (50% at the middle school level), this serves to keep a class group together and helps myths such as that of the "terminated teachers" seemingly last forever.
As the following sections will show, however, the single class represents not only a problem, per se, but rather an indicators of a deeper problem of behavior that concerns the entire school.
1.11 The Environment of Al-Akbar
In order to understand the problem at Al-Akbar requires some familiarity with the conditions in which it exists. That requires some necessary detailing about both its country and Al-Akbar's place within that country.
"Al-Akbar" actually represents a pseudonym for a real school within an oil-rich royalist, Muslim Arab state which this paper will call "The Sultanate of Myrr." The population, therefore, consists of "Myrris." The sultanate earns sufficient revenue from its mineral wealth to effectively eliminate poverty. Those who can prove citizenship through Myrri parentage, counted from the father, enjoy the benefits of a rich welfare state and a guaranteed state job. Other Arab and non-Arab groups work in Myrr, not enjoying these generous state benefits, but playing a vital economic role.
Al-Akbar evolved to fill a void, as perceived by some members of the Myrri upper class, in the country's education system. At the time of its founding, in 1977, two options existed for Myrri children: (1) they could enter the regular Myrri public schools (2) they could enroll in a private, international school. Before looking at Al-Akbar, this paper will look at these two alternatives.
The Myrri public system somewhat resembles an American public school system. It divides students into three tiers, k-4, 5-8, and 9-12 (British Council: 1983, Safwat: 1993). Upon completion of 9th grade, students choose between the "science" track, considered the more prestigious, and the "arts" track. While most instruction occurs in Arabic, even public schools students receive 7-8 hours of English instruction per week. The public schools, though, rather than employing native-speakers, opt for the cheaper expedient of hiring English teachers from other Arabic countries (British Council: 1983).
At the end of their senior year, all Myrri students take comprehensive exams. The highest scoring students on these tests, which award a "handicap" to those taking the science track, then can go on to Myrr University, which uses English as a medium of instruction in the most prestigious colleges. Many students, particularly boys, go to school abroad in English-speaking countries. Most education, including that at MU, costs nothing, but students studying abroad must compete for increasingly limited state funds. While other Islamic countries consider Myrr relatively "liberal" for its early insistence on sending girls to public school, even the public schools require religious education, and Myrr recently moved to re-segregate its schools into boys' and girls' classes.
Outside of these public schools, Myrr holds almost a dozen international schools (Safwat: 1993). While these schools cater to a wide variety of different national groups, with the exception of the French and Iranian international schools, all employ English as the language of instruction. Moreover, despite vague statements in missions about "world citizenship," most offer a school climate similar to that of a Western country, not an Arab one.
The founders of Al-Akbar wanted something that neither of these schools offered: a school that would well-ground their children in English, but maintain their children's Arab cultural identity (Akbar Two: 1998) as stated in the school mission:
"Al-Akbar stresses Arab culture, traditions, heritage and identity, while preparing its graduates for university placement throughout the world."
The school structure attempts to achieve this by both entrance requirements and the school's program. First, enrollment requires at least one Arab-speaking parent, specifically excluding the possibility that Al-Akbar could ever become just another international school. Enrollment, further, requires students show a proficiency in both English and Arab. On a more subtle level, the $7000 or $6500 (Akbar Two: 1998) tuition would effectively exclude most Arab speakers other than Myrri. This leaves a school population (Al-Akbar Four: 1998) 90% Myrri.
The school's program consciously balances languages. Half the day, students attend classes taught in Arabic by Arabic-speaking, primarily Palestinian, teachers. The other half of the day, English-speaking, primarily American, teachers instruct using the English language and American instructional materials. Parents can, and all do, opt for their children to take classes in Islamic religion.
Originally, students upon finishing the 6th grade transitioned out of the school. To those parents who put their children into the public schools, then, the school functioned as a kind of intensive English tutoring session. To those who went to the international schools, in contrast, Al-Akbar represented a prep school for a prep school.
In 1991, the school made the decision to expand and include grades 7-8. In 1993, upon acquisition of a second facility, the school expanded to become, effectively, its own parallel school system, including grades K-12. At that time, the school hired additional faculty. In a move to fill its expanded facilities, also, Al-Akbar decided to waive the entrance requirements for siblings of the students already admitted (Akbar Two: 1998). With its new status as a self-enclosed school system, Al-Akbar no longer made provisions for students to leave the school-except through graduation.
This brief description of Al-Akbar's situation holds some important considerations. First, its pattern of growth resembles that of many international and private schools. Note how the same group who would've left the school in 1991 via transition also would've left in 1993, when, once more, the school extended its program. This strongly suggests reluctance on the part of parents to let their children leave the school.
Second, the changing enrollment patterns, also, suggests a changed school population. Given that Myrri families commonly have two or more children (Al-Thakeb: 1982), a reasonable conjecture suggests that whereas almost all of the first graduates passed an entrance examination, as little as half of the current population did so.
Third, this entire situation should sound extremely familiar to Americans. A group of parents want a different kind of education than that currently available, and a new school starts specifically to fill that void. Take away the foreign setting and Al-Akbar sounds much like a magnet or private school.
A magnet or private school, like Al-Akbar comes into existence due to parents wishing to have a school that meets their own requirements. Hence, the two share a fundamental sense of mission and funding. Moreover, as the following sections will show, Al-Akbar students share a common characteristic with many of these same institutions: a population in most respects socially and economically above that of the teachers and administrators charged with educating them.
1.12 What Al-Akbar is "All About"
The title of this paper termed Al-Akbar a self-defined institution. The previous section compared it to a magnet, or American private school. All of them share the common characteristic that they can set up an identity, within certain government guidelines, that allow the school to develop what Charles Glenn of Boston University terms a "distinctive character." (Glenn: 1996)
In this process of self-definition, school policy makers, including teachers, administrators, and parents assemble to write a number of documents that describe the school's mission, goals, objectives, program, etc. Of course, public schools go through the exact same process, but their documents must fit into a public preconception as to their role and purpose. In other words, the public school creates the documents to fit the already-existing school, but the self-defined school creates the school to match the documents. Any understanding of Al-Akbar and its problems, therefore, requires spending some time on a close analysis of these statements. Since this analysis poses a discipline problem, the following paragraphs will pay special attention to sections which set behavioral expectations.
This analysis employs a close reading of four documents: a pamphlet given to new teachers (Akbar One: 1998), a pamphlet given to parents and teachers (Akbar Two: 1998), a full-color brochure given to parents and teachers, i.e. to "sell them" on the school (Akbar Three: 1998), and the information on the school at the ECIS website (Akbar Four: 1998). This analysis mixes these documents freely because they all play much the same tune.
To start, consider the school's mission statement restated in both Akbar One and Two (1998):
"Al-Akbar Bilingual School (ABS), established 1977, is an independent, non-profit, bilingual (Arabic-English) university preparatory educational institution whose aim is to help young Myrri men and women as well as students of other nationalities living in Myrr, to acquire the ethical values, intellectual qualities, and positive attitudes required for effective participation in the overall development of Myrr and the rapidly changing world."
To quote, again, from Akbar Two (1998):
"Al-Akbar stresses Arab culture, traditions, heritage and identity, while preparing its graduates for university placement throughout the world."
Notice how neither of these top-level statements make any reference to acceptable behavior or even "responsible classroom citizens" or the like. However, they explicitly define the academic expectations: university placement. The statements about "Arab culture, traditions, heritage, and identify" raise an interesting possibility: Perhaps everyone in the community simply knows those behavioral expectations. The preoccupation with academics returns in a statement on the school's goals, the next level down from the mission statement (Akbar Two):
"The school curriculum will reflect a rational balance between maintaining high standards and the need to tailor the program to meet the needs of each child. The instructional content will prepare students for university. The instructional process will prepare them for life. The process of instruction will seek to inspire responsible attitudes towards the individual's role in his or her community while respecting other societies. The educational program will develop strategies to aid students in adapting to the demands of an increasingly complex world."
Once more the contrast occurs. Against vague statements about "preparation for life," the document poses the very clear "prepare students for the university." The same dichotomy occurs in the school objectives. At this level, the third layer down, Al-Akbar explains what students should actually learn at the institution; for the purpose of this analysis, only the three statements that seem to have even a slight connection to discipline appear (Akbar Two: 1998):
"1. Acquire the skills needed to pursue knowledge and higher education independently.
6. Appreciate the value of time and learn how to manage it productively.
10. Be responsible and committed citizens in their communities."
Here, finally, the language gets a bit more specific in terms of behavior. Using time wisely, though, actually represents an enabling statement for the first goal: "higher education" while the "committed citizens" shows no obvious tie to the classroom environment. Again, it leaves open the promise that, perhaps, everyone simply knows the community's behavioral expectations.
This strong emphasis on academics appears in descriptions of both the academic programs. The closest thing to a behavioral statement appears in the description of its high school program (Akbar Two: 1998):
"The ABS High School Program is not only academically demanding, but it also requires students to accept full responsibility for their grades."
The "responsibility" statements leads to grades, not behavior. Further on (Akbar Two: 1998) a description of Akbar's tracking system occurs. Other statements in all four pamphlets reinforce the conjecture that Al-Akbar's primary mission involves college preparation. The selling pamphlet (Akbar Four: 1998) given to both parents and teachers shows Al-Akbar's strongest selling points:
"1. It is the premier bilingual school in Myrr!
2. Is it the only school in the Gulf with 3 full accreditations."
These two points bear consideration. At MU, again, the most prestigious colleges offer most instruction and most resources (Safi: 1986) in English, so the first advantage relates to college placement, not knowledge of English per se. The second advantage speaks to Al-Akbar's accreditation by the Myrr Ministry of Education, ECIS (the European Council of Independent Schools), and an American accrediting agency, NEASC. This returns, again, to the theme: Al-Akbar students get an edge on university placement by having accreditations from three different agencies.
The most telling example of Al-Akbar's academic orientation appears in the short-hand, full-color pamphlet (Akbar Four: 1998) that the school gives, again, to both parents and teachers. It devotes the greatest amount of time to a detailed list of every university to which Al Akbar sent its students in the past seven years. This list appears below with some of the more familiar American universities listed by their usual acronyms (Akbar Four: 1998):
"Carnegie Mellon, Tufts, University of Colorado, MIT, Royal College of Surgeons Ireland, BC, BU, Suffolk University, Simmons College, Virginia Poly, Rhode Island School of Design, Babson College, Florida Tech, Cornell, Syracuse, Miami, Vermont, Rhode Island, Myrr U, Northeastern, Emerson College, Drake, American, American University of Beirut, Marquette, Penn, Penn State, Lebanese American University, Cairo University, Toronto, Cal-Berkeley, UCLA, UC-San Diego, Chicago, ASU, Washington State, and McGill."
This list bears some further comment. Besides including some of the more, but not most, prestigious universities in US, it also includes highly regarded universities in the Middle East (i.e. American University of Beirut, Cairo University) as well as the ubiquitous MU. It also represents 100% of all graduating students.
These quotations from the Al-Akbar documentation clearly show several things. First, college placement seems the number one reason for going to Al-Akbar and academics the heart of the school. Second, the school goes to some lengths, as shown above, to make graduating students bilingual but with their Myrri Arab culture and values intact.
Third, however, the goals concerning behavior seem a bit less clear. At best, the documentation seems to suggest students should simply know acceptable behavior either from their community or from the reputation of the school. As the following sections will show, not all seem to know how to behave.
1.2 Description and Documentation of the Problem
The problem at Al-Akbar concerns the gap between acceptable classroom behavior as envisioned by the school community and that occurring in the classroom. While this paper focuses the most attention on the ninth grade class, its behavior illustrates deeper problems that extend to all classes.
To put this schematically, this paper proposes that behavioral expectations and outcomes proceed in roughly the following manner.
FIGURE ONE: IDEAL STANDARDS AND WHAT'S ACTUALLY OCCURRING IN THE CLASSROOMS
Ideal World Standards for Behavior What's Actually Occurring in the Classrooms
In the ideal case, on the left, the standards of students, the Arab community, and the teachers all align. The scheme on the right, however, shows distinct gaps. First the Arab community's expectations do not totally agree with of the teachers. Second, the students' actual behavior doesn't totally align with that of either the teachers or the community. This paper considers potential problem behaviors to consist of all the area marked with the eyeballs. Problem behaviors are those which are inconsistent with teacher standards and may include behaviors that are inconsistent with both teachers' standards and Arab community standards.
Several comments will receive further attention later. "Teachers' standards," in this drawing, refers to the English-speaking teachers. Note that one important group of participants in this problem situation, the Arab teachers and administrators, could position themselves in either the quadrant: with the teachers or with the Arab community. In fact, future sections will show that they often side with the community. Finally, notice that the administration, itself, does not appear in either drawing. As the following sections will show, the administration's behavior varies greatly.
This suggests, as the following analysis will imply, that a certain amount of misbehavior simply stems from differing cultural expectations. A certain amount, however, stems from student behavior per se. As the following analysis will indicate, these two areas have more of a link than might first appear. Therefore the problem statement, however, holds that both of these areas cause a problem.
1.21 Identification of and Rationale for Major Problem Indicators
To talk about problem indicators already, to some extent, presupposes standards of judgment. To wit, calling something "misbehavior" indicates it differs from some concept of proper behavior. For the moment, this paper will simply offer some data that indicates that a problem exists. In this case, the ninth grade class provides this data as the most obvious example of misbehaving students.
Unfortunately, this analysis will have to rely largely on anecdotal data. The disciplinary records of the students remain in a location inaccessible to this author. Beyond that, as later sections will show, the administration has some good reasons not to allow that data to become a matter of public discussion. Moreover, about 25% of the school staff leaves each year, meaning that, often, this analysis must rely on teachers' impression and stories.
While nearly every school contains a "worst class," Al-Akbar's ninth grade stands out as distinctly worse than one might expect at an ECIS school. According to those at the school longest (Akbar Five: 1998) this class's history of misbehavior dates back to at least at least the third grade. As early as kindergarten, Al-Akbar separates students into groups that travel to different subject classes so that students receive some subjects in each language. One new teacher found that teachers at the elementary school remembered the 9th grade group six years later on the basis of their poor behavior and uninspired performance. To cite some instances of misbehavior, students in this group responded to substitutes by rising out of their chairs, standing on their desks, and singing in Arabic (Akbar Five: 1998).
The group proudly maintains that it "got rid of three teachers" (Akbar Five: 1998). The details of these departures remain somewhat open to debate. The administration maintains that one teacher didn't intend to remain anyway, another couldn't teach, and the third simply didn't feel like staying at the school (Akbar Five: 1998). These seem plausible enough explanations, however, one student (Akbar Six: 1998) tells a somewhat different story: One of these teachers apparently became so exasperated with the students' behavior that she ate in front of them during Ramadan, a serious offense and actually against the law, resulting in her termination. This kind of anger towards students suggests either a very low level of professionalism or an individual driven beyond any acceptable teaching norms.
Some further evidence indicates a challenging group. When this class entered seventh grade, an experienced, veteran teacher (Akbar Five: 1998) taught this group, and two years later she still recalled her "disappointment" with her performance, particularly regarding discipline. The teacher described as having the most "success" with this group, the students' eight grade English teacher, publicly expressed her extreme relief at not having to deal with them ever again.
As an indirect form of indicator, the 9th grade class lags significantly in academic achievement. Baker (1985) found that misbehavior harms the school process while Gaddy (1988) found poor behavior linked to poor school performance. Huey (1985) found conduct one of the three strongest indicators of school performance along with academic skill and attendance. Unfortunately, Al-Akbar does not, for reasons not readily apparent, administer standardized tests, such as the CTBS. Teachers who have taught several different sections of 9th graders, however, testify that this year's group lags behind others they have taught.
In this instance, some documentation remains. The English teacher who taught this group in eighth grade kept records of every failure notice she sent home. Out 54 students, 24 received failure notification during the course of the year (44.44%), nearly half of the students. This, again, occurred in the class in which students supposedly enjoyed the most success of their Al-Akbar career.
During the first eight weeks of this year, in which a fourteen-year veteran teacher taught this group, a number of incidents served to reinforce this impression of poor behavior. On one occasion, an entire class of students reacted to a call to sit quietly and read a ditto sheet by eating the ditto sheet. One student alone merited six calls to his parents regarding his behavior. During a recent incident, one student stole a test and then emailed and faxed copies to those interested in obtaining them. Twelve out of fifty-one students (23.5%) requested a copy, and when confronted with the evidence, most students seemed amused, rather than contrite (Akbar Ten: 1998).
These indicators show the best available data regarding these students. Obviously, these indicators mean nothing in the absence of any standards for comparison, explored below. While this evidence must rely on teachers' impressions and the history of a few incidents, few educators, particularly those at international or private schools, would regard the students' behavior described above as "normal" or "average." Fewer still would stay at a school such as Al-Akbar, possibly explaining its high teacher turn-over rate.
Some further evidence suggests, moreover, that the problem stretches to other classes and, indeed, beyond Al-Akbar to other schools in the region. Other teachers (Akbar Sixteen: 1998) report similar problems with Arab-speaking students in other schools in Myrri. At Al-Akbar, a senior cheating ring operated last year (Akbar Seven: 1997), and some teachers also report behavior that, while not as bad as that of the ninth grade, merits attention. It seems quite possible that teachers may regard their own classes as "well-behaved" simply because they don't exhibit the extreme symptoms of the ninth grade class. Even the tenth grade class, often cited as the best in the school, misbehaved enough to force one teacher to leave (Akbar Seventeen: 1998).
1.23 Identification and Description of Possible Standards of Comparison
A vast literature exists for measuring student behavior. Such a discussion could quickly get into such topics as what constitutes learning, how can it really be measured, what is a "good student," etc. Several possible alternative standards seem conceivable for Al-Akbar.
First, one could simply compare students at Al-Akbar to those in the Myrri system as a whole both in terms of behavior and performance. They stem, after all, from a common culture and background.
Unfortunately, not a lot of literature exists on the Myrri schools at least in English. A search of the ERIC database only revealed a single article (Al-Jaber: 1996), and it seemed to identify at least some concern with discipline. Academically, teachers at Al-Akbar have some evidence that students in the public schools adhere to a much lower standard. For example, two very hard-working girls who transferred in as juniors to Al-Akbar (note: their parents taught at Al-Akbar; they did not pass the entrance examination) went from straight 4.0 to 1.0 and 2.0 averages. Recently, the Ministry of Education circulated a copy of 1997's entrance examination for MU. The staff agreed that the English section, all multiple guess, seemed easier than Al-Akbar's fifth grade English course's final examination.
Perhaps as importantly, as the next section will show, the Al-Akbar community holds low perceptions of the standards of Myrri governmental schools. They see these institutions as lax academically and as tolerating poor behavior. As stated previously, at least in English (British Council: 1983), instruction does not match that of Al-Akbar. Students widely circulate the rumor that, at government schools, students can often "buy" the grade they want. This may seem a ludicrous suggestion except that teachers at these schools, non-Myrri, typically have a much lower income than that of their Myrri students and the teachers at Al-Akbar. Whatever the truth of these stories, the standard for the Myrri schools would probably consist of low standards both academically and behaviorally.
Second, one could compare students at Al-Akbar to those in other international schools. Al-Akbar does claim status as an international school. Again, lest the definition of "international schools" become too limiting, recall that some international schools almost exclusively teach the children of the elite of the so-called "host country."
This standard seems evident in the school's Handbook. First, the Handbook (Akbar Eleven: 1998) states that all members of the school community have certain rights:
"- The school is a community where all members through the entire school day, including travel to and from home and during school field experience, have fundamental rights, including, but not limited to the following:
a. the right to an education, which means that teachers are free to teach and students are free to learn without being interrupted by inconsiderate and unruly behavior....."
It further highlights self-discipline as the key to achieving these rights:
"- Self-discipline is essential for the maintenance of these rights by members of the community. Self-discipline develops and promotes responsible citizenship. Continued positive self-control requires the cooperation of students, staff, and parents."
In order to preserve the rights of students and teachers, it outlines a method for improving behavior of students who do not possess this self-discipline:
"a. In the event a student does not demonstrate appropriate self-discipline regarding the school's policies, procedures, and regulations, a variety of sources are available to assist the student in improving his/her behavior.
b. Initially the teacher concerned interacts with the student. The student may then be referred to the Counselor or to the appropriate School Principal. Parents are involved in solving recurring misbehavior before it leads to suspension or expulsion."
The Handbook outlines a list of behaviors specifically sanctioned as unacceptable but preserves the right to take action against any form of behavior that takes away from other students' rights to learn. Among the behaviors specifically mentioned, it requires that students:
"d. speak respectfully to staff and fellow students.
o. follow exam rules
p. follow classroom guidelines"
In a later section, it specifically condemns the practice of cheating. The Handbook assigns responsibility for serious misbehavior to the principals (due to some political factors, the principals at the school are termed "deputy principals;" for simplicity's sake, this analysis will consistently refer to them as "principals"), and lists a hierarchy of increasingly serious consequences that include:
"1. Detention: 30 minutes, or more, during or after school hours.
2. In-school suspension, one or more days
3. Out of school suspension, one or more days
4. Behavior contract
5. Expulsion: Immediately or at the end of the year"
Further the Handbook specifies that even student academic success depends, at least in part, on behavior within the limits of those outlined in the Handbook. Promotion requirements specify that students must have:
"a. met attendance requirements.
b. an acceptable behavior record.
c. no failure in any subject."
Moreover, at the high school level, any student who fails any of the above, including the behavior requirement, may be forced to repeat the entire grade:
"Students who fail to meet all the promotion requirements may be permitted to repeat their grade level. In the High School a student is not allowed to repeat more than once."
The ultimate consequences could include the denial of a high school diploma, the attainment of which requires, among other things:
"a. a record of regular attendance.
b. an acceptable behavior record.
c. A total of twenty-seven credits,....."
The following table summarizes these standards:
FIGURE TWO: PROPOSED STANDARDS FOR EL-AKBAR
Handbook Statement Handbook Standard
Teachers free to teach Yes
Students are free to learn Yes
Students self-controlled Yes
Parents Help with Teaching
Students Speak to Staff
With Respect Yes
Students Follow Classroom
Serious Cheating Met With
Serious Consequences Yes
Consequences Dealt In
Accordance with Handbook Yes
Students Denied Promotion
on the Basis of Behavior Yes
Students Expelled for Frequent
Instances of Misbehavior Yes
Students Denied Diploma Yes
on the Basis of Behavior
The word "yes," in this context, would mean that, with rare exception the standards outlined in the Handbook would occur in the school. The word "statement" refers to the literal statements in the Handbook. All in all, the Handbook takes a relatively tough stance on misbehavior. If the school met the expectations above, classes would proceed with relatively few interruptions for disciplinary reasons. Serious offenders would leave the school soon, either through lack of promotion or expulsion. Such a standard would not seem out of character for an American private school or Catholic school (Topolnicki: 1994, McGhan: 1998).
Third, one could compare students at Al-Akbar to those of the United States' public schools. The quality of discipline, of course, varies widely between American schools. For purposes of simplicity, this school will refer to the standards of Samurai High School, a Department of Defense School in Japan. Though its location overseas makes it somewhat different from other schools in the United States, the income of military parents about equals that of an average American neighborhood (Fruit: 1997). Moreover, the size of the high school population (300) doesn't too markedly differ from that of Al-Akbar (150).
In order to get some idea of the sorts of problems facing an average American high school, consider the following offenses that Samurai's School Handbook considers suspendible:
Figure Three: Suspendible Offenses at Samurai High School
Unexcused absences, truancy
Failure to show for administrative detention
Malicious destruction of property
Insubordination or open defiance
Repetitious misconduct harmful to order
Possession or use of weapons
Leaving the classroom without permission
Gum-chewing, eating, drinking in class
Tardiness to class
These offenses don't just appear in the handbook for the sake of appearances. Except for weapons' possession, most administrators will, within the course of a single year, see students charged with all of the above offenses. As in the case of Myrr public schools, then, the American school standards must deal with a much greater range of behavior and student motivation because they enroll everyone, not just the elite as in the case of a private school. To cite an illustrative statistic, a third of Samurai's students received an office referral in the course of a single school year (Fruit: 1997).
In general, then, one can set off the Handbook expectations from that of both an American public school and a Myrr public school. The public schools seem to set lower standards in terms of behavior. In the case of SHS, the handbook seems aimed to allow administrators to deal with behavior that may range from annoying to downright criminal. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Myrri public school teachers deal with the same level of disorder. The Handbook standards, in contrast, show little tolerance for such behavior as befits an institution that prides itself on academic achievement and, indeed, on surpassing the government schools. So, essentially, the choice comes down to one of either a standard designed for all elements of society, either Myrri or American, or one designed to deal with students expected to behave and perform at a higher level (i.e. The Handbook) .
1.231 Chosen Standards and Rationale for the Standards
In the case of Al-Akbar, the Handbook constitutes the best choice for a set of standards. As the following sections will show, these standards do not fundamentally differ from that of most international or private schools in content or intention.
Some important reasons exist for dismissing the other two standards as inappropriate. First, consider the Myrr public school standards. Unlike students in the public schools, Al-Akbar students receive half their instruction from American teachers, which differs in style and content that of Arab teachers (Nabil and Yair: 1995). Also, as the previous sections indicate, Al-Akbar holds high academic expectations for students, and high behavior standards forms a necessary condition for academic success.
Finally, students at Al-Akbar have relatively little contact with public school students and form a closed group. Though the public schools may in fact, offer a better education than the community believes, the fact that students and parents consider them inferior and lax, argues that the community would support a stronger, not a weaker, standard. After all, parents did enroll their students in Al-Akbar, at least partly, to have their children in a different sort of environment than the one offered in the government schools.
A similar kind of argument precludes using a public school standard. While many American teachers at Al-Akbar have a public school background, they fled those schools, among other reasons, to teach in an environment with higher standards of all kinds. Moreover, the documents examined above show the parents in favor of an education that leaves "Arab values" intact. While one might debate these values, they typically include (Patai: 1973) a high deference to authority and respect for adults.
To put this in perspective, consider the list of suspendible offenses for Samurai High School and apply it to Al-Akbar. In a single year, Al-Akbar experienced only one fight, no reported incidents of theft, and no reported instances of "sexual harassment." To adopt the American public standard for Al-Akbar would focus attention on problems that don't exist in the more select setting of Al-Akbar, such as theft, drugs, etc. at the expenses of those that seem less serious, such as persistent classroom disruption, but currently cause long-term damage to Al-Akbar students' education.
This returns to the chosen standard, that of Al-Akbar's Handbook. This standard stem from Al-Akbar's own documentation. Like many schools, moreover, the writing of these documents at Al-Akbar occurred with the help and assistance of all parts of the school community: the teachers, the administration, and the parents.
At this point, it bears some mention that the adherence of the latter group probably remains the most significant. Al-Akbar experiences about a 25% turn-over in teachers each year, primarily among the English-speaking staff. The school documents, then, exist and guide the incoming staff rather than reflecting the views of the English-teachers.
The parents of the school, in contrast, have a long-term interest in the school. With family size at above two children per Myrri family (Al-Thakeb: 1982), the typical parent enters into a relationship with the school that lasts at least nine years. That provides the parents with ample chance to have documents, such as the school Handbook, altered. It bears mention also, that many parents speak fluent English so that altering these documents, if desired, would not pose a major difficulty. The Handbook, then, contains what the parents, at least in theory, desire in terms of discipline for Al-Akbar.
Notably, parent representatives did attend the sessions that wrote the Handbook. As section two will show, had these parents or the community felt serious reservations about the tough standards, they would have prevented the school from putting them in the Handbook.
1.232 Values Underlying the Proposed Standards
The values expressed here agree with two basic concepts: the concept of student rights and the universal application of rules.
The standards, first of all, imply the concepts of rights. This occurs in many current educational documents in the United States. The idea advocates that every student should have the right to learn without distractions. In a public school, that right comes from birth. At Al-Akbar that right comes from the paying of tuition. Since all pay equal tuition, for one student to prevent another from learning by distracting him or disturbing his teacher represents an injustice to another student.
Secondly, these standards invoke the concept of universalistic application of rules. In America, one can speak of such documents as the Constitution with its promises of equal treatment under the law. Equally, from the point of view of the administration, one can look to bureaucratic practice (Weber: 1949) which requires equal treatment of equal cases. So the culture of American teachers and administrators finds fundamental agreement with the discipline concepts outlined in the Handbook.
Similarly, Islamic societies, such as that of Myrr, do have their own concepts that allow the parents of Al-Akbar to agree with the standards of the student Handbook without reservation. The Q'uran, for example, accords all believers equal status, and the Q'uran calls for the equality of all before God. The Myrri constitution, also, accords equality, even in the matter of religion, to all present in the country.
In fact, however, as subsequent sections will show, the Myrri come from a society that, while it espouses equality, treats people very differently on the basis of social status. This will become clear in a discussion of the problem. Here, however, note that the Myrri have no particular difficulty in espousing the ideals of equality just as the school Handbook does.
1.233 Why the proposed standards are persuasive
These standards are persuasive because they hold with the ideals of the school and fall generally in line with those of other, comparable international schools.
The most fundamental purpose of the school remains that students preserve their culture while going to American universities. As noted above, poor behavior in classes detracts from student learning. If students learn less, that decreases their chances of university admission. Further, misbehavior constitutes "poor citizenship."
Also, other international schools and private schools espouse similar, tough standards regarding misbehavior. The kinds of behaviors that the Handbook standards would preclude generally fall in line with that of other similar institutions.
Admittedly, not much literature explores the behavioral standards of international schools. A search of the ERIC database on international schools and discipline yielded only a single article, and that dealt with elementary school children (Whitehouse: 1995). This suggests that international schools generally suffer fewer discipline problems and certainly not instances of students dancing on the tables.
The literature on small schools and rural schools (Belt: 1983, Barker: 1983, Devlin: 1994, Scmuck: 1990, Evanac: 1993, and Chance and Lindgren: 1988) shows that small schools also deal with fewer discipline problems. Hence, most schools of Al-Akbar's size would meet those standards.
The same holds true for parochial and private schools. DiPrete (1981) found that, in terms of misbehavior, Catholic schools and private schools surpass the public schools in the United States in terms of behavior. Turner's (1981) early work on the Christian schools discovered that parents, if not school founders, chose these schools primarily for reasons of better discipline. Catholic schools accept only 1/3 of all those who apply (Shokraii 1994), and acceptance depends heavily on predictions of good behavior (Topolnicki: 1994). In short, private schools, in general, expect higher standards of behavior, the kind displayed in the Al-Akbar Handbook.
In summary, then, "private," "gifted," "magnet," and even "small" schools all carry higher standards of behavior, similar to those advocated above. So the standards proposed have two fundamental and convincing strengths: (1) they reflect the expressed wishes of the school community (2) they conform, in general, to the standards of similar institutions.
1.24 Description of the problem in terms of discrepancies between documented indicators and standards
This paper proposes that Al-Akbar fails on most of the measures listed in the previous table. Further, in the case of the ninth grade, the school has failed for as long as anyone present who has dealt with this group can remember. To make the problem most evident, the following table considers only the ninth grade class:
FIGURE FOUR: THE GAP BETWEEN PROPOSED STANDARDS AND ACTUAL BEHAVIOR
Handbook Statement Ideal Handbook Standard Current 9th Grade Classes
Teachers free to teach Yes Sometimes
Students are free to learn Yes Sometimes
Students self-controlled Yes Sometimes
Parents Help with Teaching
self-discipline Yes Sometimes
Students Speak to Staff
With Respect Yes Usually
Students Follow Classroom
Guidelines Yes Sometimes
Serious Cheating Met With
Serious Consequences Yes Sometimes
Consequences Dealt In
Accordance with Handbook Yes Sometimes
Students Denied Promotion
on the Basis of Behavior Yes Never
Students Expelled for Frequent
Instances of Misbehavior Yes No
Students Denied Diploma Yes DNA
on the Basis of Behavior
A couple of comments should make the chart above a bit more clear. "DNA" means "does not apply." Students below the 12th grade obviously cannot have their diploma denied. "Sometimes" means "not consistently."
In order to consider this problem "solved," or at least partially solved, the column on the right would have to contain significantly more "Yes" responses that currently. That would mean that, in general, students behave in a way that does not disrupt learning. This could occur either through students in the school improving their behavior or through the ouster of those who fail to meet these standards. Of course, other classes not meeting these standards would also have to improve as well.
1.3 Explanation of the Importance of the Problem
At first glance, this seems a highly-particular problem concerning only a single group of students in a far-away country, a matter of relatively little importance to American educators and readers in general. However, a number of considerations make this subject of more than just specific importance.
The title of this article refers to Al-Akbar as "self-defined," and that description provides one clue as to its importance. As a kind of magnet school, it can inform others who would like to take a similar path of starting a new school to suit their own needs. While the needs of Americans contemplating such a move may differ, the process remains the same: the school must make its vision known and lived.
Second, aspects of the problem statement describe what one might term a "small school problem." The student in this group have "no exit." While many larger school districts often have the opportunity to move individuals within a larger system, many small schools will find resonance in a situation in which educators must deal with persistent misbehavior and have no removal option. This includes, for example, some international schools which sometimes function as the only English-speaking institutions in a given city as well as the Department of Defense (DoDDs) schools. It bears mention, in this context, that evidence shows that small schools do suffer from discipline problems though they generally suffer from fewer (Cotton: 1996). Belt (1983), Chance (1998), and Evanac (1993) all describe disciplinary strategies necessary in coping with the particular problems of teaching in small and rural schools.
Third, one can return to the topic of how this might effect society in Myrr, in general. Myrr's drive in education during the last 20 years attempted to replace the foreigners who then ran Myrr's economic system with Myrri nationals (Al-Ali: 1993), and these efforts failed (Mohammad and Salahaleen: 1993). As a recent commentator (Zanoyan: 1995) wrote for Foreigner Affairs, the Arab royalist states, including Myrr, must "reform or die." The country faces (Bahgat: 1995) serious economic growing pains. Without disclosing the identify of Myrr, this study can state that the US government (Al-Shayeji: 1997) considers Myrr of strategic importance. Al-Akbar's youth, then, may well provide the leadership of an important ally.
Fourth, casual conversation among educators in Myrr suggests that, while the degree of this particular problem stands out as extreme, it explores some general areas of concern throughout the country, at least, and perhaps throughout the region. Myrr international school educators describe Arab students as generally worse in behavior than those of both (a) other students within the school and (b) those they have taught in other parts of the world. Since no literature exists in terms of explaining or exploring the cause of these problems, this paper can serve as a first venture in that direction. It bears mention that Myrr, alone, holds 28 international schools, so this analysis could potentially benefit well over 1,000-2,000 educators and 50,000-100,000 students in Myrr alone.
Fifth, and this bears special consideration, almost no literature exists on either Arab students in any respect other than as ESL or college students. A search in the ERIC database revealed only a single article dealing with disciplinary issues involving Arab students either in their own countries or as immigrants to the United States, and this dealt with the special situation of the Palestinian intifada (Nabil and Yair: 1995). Since the Detroit area, alone, now boasts a 25% Arabic population, this study, then, explores potentially valuable educational concerns. Beyond this, an ERIC searched revealed no articles of any kind concerning problems of the international schools in the Arab world. Obviously, this lack of literature could suggest that none of those schools have similar problems, however, again, anecdotal evidence suggests the contrary (Akbar Sixteen: 1998, Akbar Seventeen: 1998).
Finally, the children themselves deserve consideration. As previously noted, the students in this study will likely fill the highest levels of Myrri society and government. Ideally, they should receive the best possible education, and that education would include one free from disruption by unruly students.
1.31 Who is Disadvantaged by the Developing Situation
This problem, then, disadvantages several people in a rather direct fashion. First, it disadvantages all the students. Class disruption makes it harder for other students to learn. Even the students who disrupt, themselves, suffer because their unruly behavior keeps them from learning.
Secondly, this disadvantages the teachers. Misbehavior constitutes a major reason why teachers in the US experience (Lortie: 1975) frustration in the classroom and, indeed, decide to leave education altogether. This bears particular relevance in the case of Al-Akbar as misbehavior, and frustration over it, has lead to several departures (Akbar Five: 1998) .
Third, this situation disadvantages the administration. Obviously, instances of misbehavior take away time from the administrator's day. Moreover, poor achievement, in such an academically-obsessed environment such as this, puts the administrator in a defensive position in his relationship with the parents.
Fourth, this situation disadvantages the parents. With no removal option for their children, they have staked their children's future on their success at Al-Akbar. Their children's difficulties can only cause anxiety and unhappiness, particularly in a culture like that of Myrr which makes "family values" a national priority.
In sum, then, this situation essentially disadvantages all of the important groups classified as stakeholders in the section below.
1.32 How the Problem Affects Other Important Problems
This problem compounds several other problems at the school. First, this causes an inevitable deterioration in relations between the teachers and parents. Contacting a parent, of any culture, regarding misbehavior, constitutes one of the more difficult tasks in teaching.
Second, the problem causes a deterioration in relations between English-speaking and Arab-speaking teachers. The more contact between parents and teachers, the more Arab-speaking teachers find themselves employed as unpaid translators. This makes American teachers more dependent on the Arab-speaking faculty, who, naturally, do not relish the idea of working more for nothing. Further, as subsequent sections will show, Arab teachers have genuine reasons to fear too much contact with parents on the subject of misbehavior as their citizenship status makes them vulnerable.
Third, the problem places strains on the relationship between the administration and the parents. Again, with such a heavy emphasis on academics, parents of the 9th grade group, in particular, would want to find out from the administration "what is wrong" with their children and/or their teachers that makes their grades and test scores so sub-standard.
Fourth, the problem puts a damper on the relationship between the staff and the administration. As the third section will show, some of the "solutions tried" include moves to ouster students. This would cost the school tuitions, putting the budget back. Inevitably, as well, parents would resist. This puts the teacher, anxious to remove the worst student, in a position of opposition to the administrator trying to find some other remedy.
Fifth, poor performance and misbehavior put a strain in the relationship between parents and students. While this particular concern does not directly effect the school, indirectly, in the form of distracted students, it could actually contribute to the problem. For example, a teacher calls a parent about a child's behavior, the child and parent have a confrontation, and the child returns to school determined to act even worse. Al-Akbar probably experiences more of this kind of out-of-school argument due to its very nature that puts students, at least part of the day, into an environment very different from that of normal Myrri students.
Seventh, the behavior of the students creates a staff retention problem. Within the country of Myrri, myriad regulations make the hiring of a native-speaking English teacher a six-month proposition (Akbar Two: 1998). Having a teacher leave puts the students in the hands of less-able substitutes who, if replacing native-English speakers, generally lack the skills (British Council: 1983).
In general, then, the very high emphasis on academics of the school means that failures in that area cause considerable strains in relationships between all of the principle groups interested in the school. Misbehavior, moreover, in and of itself and in conjunction with poor performance, causes the problems noted above.
1.4 Identification and Description of Important Stakeholders in the Problem (Positive and Negative)
Due to the relatively isolated situation of Al-Akbar in comparison with a typical American school, a smaller group of stakeholders enters into this discussion than might enter into a discussion of a US public school. The stakeholders include, the parents, students, the headmaster, the principal, the Board, and the teachers. This discussion divides the teachers according to their nationalities for reasons that will become apparent later.
In this case, the actual decision-making falls upon the Headmaster. While, technically, making rules in the school devolves to his assistants, the principals, in fact, he approves most of their policy-level actions. Further, in most questions regarding the day-to-day running of the school, he holds the authority though, as the analysis will show, he cannot proceed against the wishes of the Board.
This analysis does not include anyone from the Myrri Ministry of Education. Though, in theory, the Ministry of Education runs Al-Akbar, in reality, it takes little interest in it other than providing a certain level of budgeting that student fees augment. As appears in the "Solutions Tried" section, teachers at the school attempted to contact the Ministry about exiting students and received no response. The bureaucracy in Myrr moves so slowly that likely, even if it took an interest, action would occur at such a pace as to not merit consideration.
Identity: MS Money, The Chairman of the Al-Akbar School Board
Position of Authority: Until recently, this person theoretically ran and owned the school. In fact, however, Ms. Money delegates the day to day running of the school to the Headmaster.
Basis of Interest in the Problem: Technically, Ms. Money only heads the Board. Still, she tends to regard the school as "hers," part of a legacy. This makes important matters regarding the school personally relevant.
Skills and Resources: Ms. Money comes from the so-called "Five Families of Myrr." She belongs the social group that runs the country. Her mother started the school, giving her more than a little moral authority, and she continues to give funds to the school when it falls short in its budget. When parents of students feel upset, they sometimes appeal to her. She, herself, only graduated from the school five years ago with an indifferent academic record.
Extent of power to act on the problem: In theory, the school delegates day to day running of the school to the Headmaster. In reality, as section two will show, Ms. Money can hold more informal than formal power.
Level of Commitment to solving the problem: This remains open to question. MS. Money only graduated a few years ago and hardly excelled while enrolled. In recent years, MS. Money's family has expressed an interest in distancing themselves from the school. This may result, in part, from a real assessment, on Ms. Money's part, of her own skills at running a school, and it may stem from the fact that most considered the last Headmaster, whom she hired, not particularly stellar. Hence, she has tried to create a Board to shoulder some of the responsibilities and hired an administrator (Mr. Headmaster) with much stronger credentials and more experience than his predecessor. On the surface, then, she appears involved in efforts to make Al-Akbar run more like a typical international school and less like a "sole proprietorship."
On the other hand, like most school owners in the area, she takes a personal pride in "her" school. For the school to become known around the country as a "joke" would probably bother her and yet so would having students expelled from families close to her. The peculiar position of Ms. Money will become more clear is the second section of this paper.
Identity: The Board at Al-Akbar
Position of Authority: Technically, the Board of Al-Akbar makes major decisions in the running of the school. It delegates day-to-day running to the headmaster.
Basis of Interest in the Problem: Again, supposedly the Board delegates authority to the Headmaster. In fact, serious matters, such as expulsion, tend to become Board topics and part of the "agenda" even if not specifically within the Board's area of responsibility.
Skills and Resources: The Board comes from the so-called "Five Families of Myrr." All of the top families inter-marry. Their children, in turn, form the school population. Hence, while the Board takes little formal interest in the running of the school, Board members wield high amounts of informal authority.
The Board represents quite a mix of talents. Like many Boards, it includes important members of the community who have considerable skill elsewhere, businessmen in this case. It also includes, however, very young, recent college graduates, contemporaries of Ms. Money, nominated for Board membership simply to occupy them while their families find suitable positions for them within their financial empires. The ECIS pre-accreditation team (Akbar Twelve: 1995) specifically mentions their lack of training.
The exact functions of the Board sometimes seem open to debate. No one has ever written a description of their exact duties though the Headmaster supposedly ordered a book on Board training used in other international schools. Certainly, however, their job includes the allocation of moneys and the raising and lowering of tuition.
Extent of power to act on the problem: Formally the school can expect students. The school can also pass tough disciplinary regulations. As important matters, these considerations would probably require Board approval. Certainly, the Headmaster would not proceed without at least informal approval. As future sections will demonstrate, however, the Board will more likely have an indirect rather than a direct effect on the discipline problem.
Level of Commitment to solving the problem: This remains open to question also. Without going into an analysis of Myrr society (which occurs in section two), it suffices to say that disciplinary actions that affect Myrri tend to become matters for Board discussion (even condemnation), but the cheating scandal (Akbar Seven: 1997) demonstrates that Board members may well talk about disciplinary problems without doing anything to help solve them.
Identity: Mr. Headmaster
Position of Authority: He runs the school.
Basis of Interest in the Problem: Technically, Mr. Headmaster runs the school. His professional responsibilities, then, include guaranteeing a safe and orderly learning environment.
Skills and Resources: The headmaster hires and fires teachers. He can also influence their evaluations.
More than any other American, also, he holds the most influence over the Myrri because they respect his superior education. Ms. Money typically defers to him as an older person, a man, an experienced administrator, and a high degree holder. Though the Board holds final approval on important matters, typically they will pay heed to Mr. Headmaster.
Extent of power to act on the problem: Technically, the Headmaster could do many things to solve the problem. He could encourage the principals to set very tough standards for misbehavior. He could try to persuade the Board to approve expulsions.
Level of Commitment to solving the problem: Conversations reveal a commitment to solving the problem without ending his position. As the second section will show, Mr. Headmaster works within more restraints than a job description would show. This suggests that even if he attempts to solve this problem merely by talking with parents, this may show a relatively high amount of commitment even if displaying a low amount of action. It bears mention, in this context, that the school fired the previous Headmaster for his inability to run the school, in general, not for failure to maintain school discipline.
Identity: Mr. (Deputy) Principal, head of the high school
Position of Authority: He runs the high school as principal.
Basis of Interest in the Problem: Disciplinary matters become the concern of Mr. Principal as part of his job description.
Skills and Resources: He can suspend and discipline students. On the other hand, Mr. Principal comes from another Arab country, not Myrr. That puts him at a disadvantage in terms of dealing with students and their parents who tend to see him as "lower class."
Extent of power to act on the problem: In most "vital" matters, the principal does not act without the approval of the Headmaster. Section two will show that vital matters typically include any actions that might upset important members of the Al-Akbar community.
Level of Commitment to solving the problem: Teachers often question Mr. Principal's commitment. His own daughter, a well-behaved, high caliber student, attends the middle school, and her tuition constitutes a considerable financial boon to a non-Myrri Arab. He maintains the school detention for tardies and sees students in his office.
His approach to most disciplinary issues seems to consist of talking to all parties, carefully weighing all options, and then taking steps most likely to alleviate the pressure on him, whether from teachers, parent, or students (Akbar Five: 1998). He has chosen to take some, strong disciplinary measures, such as suspending the ninth grader who stole the test. (Akbar Ten: 1998), and yet this action, only occurred after a conversation with the boy's parents in which they expressed support for this action.
Identity: MS. Counselor
Position of Authority: School counselor
Basis of Interest in the Problem: She deals with unruly students from the more clinical side.
Skills and Resources: She can schedule classes and move students. On the other hand, most class moves tend to come from parent request. In bears mention that MS. Counselor married into a Myrri family.
Extent of power to act on the problem: At best, Ms. Counselor can try to persuade misbehaving students to act better. She cannot suspend students as some counselors can.
Level of Commitment to solving the problem: She tried to help several teachers charged with the 9th grade, worst group. Even though she, technically, holds ties to the Myrr community, she tends to have American-trained concerns about behavior. For example, along with the teachers, she attempted to contact the Myrri Ministry of Education regarding "No Exit." She also agreed to break the 9th grade class down into three units, from two.
Identity: English-speaking Teachers, Positive Stakeholders
Position of Authority: In theory, they have command of their own classrooms.
Basis of Interest in the Problem: Teachers try to maintain an orderly classroom as part of their professional responsibilities.
Skills and Resources: They have the usual, within-class sanctions, such as detention, making students write, etc. On the other hand, the Headmaster can terminate their contracts quite easily.
Extent of power to act on the problem: This seems fairly limited. They can send students to the office but can't guarantee any action when the student get there. They cannot suspend students (though some teachers have tried). They can keep students inside during their lunch.
Level of Commitment to solving the problem: For English-speaking teachers, Myrr holds many challenges. The fact that teachers still devote considerable amounts of their time calling parents, trying to contact the Ministry of Education, etc. shows a high level of commitment.
Identity: Arabic-Speaking Teachers
Position of Authority: In theory, they have command of their own classrooms.
Basis of Interest in the Problem: Like American teachers, Arab teachers consider keeping an orderly classroom environment a professional responsibility.
Skills and Resources: As Arabic-speaking, but non-Myrri, teachers they can speak directly to parents. On the other hand, their continued, relatively-high salary depends on maintaining good relations with Myrri parents.
Extent of power to act on the problem: They have about as much power as American teachers. Politically, though, as the next section will explain, they hold a weaker position than American teachers due to their Palestinian status.
Level of Commitment to solving the problem: American teachers claim they have none. In reality, Arab teachers try, whenever possible, to deal with misbehavior within the constraints of their position. Like the principal, they usually try to talk things out with students, parents, etc.
Position of Authority: In theory, they have command of their own children.
Basis of Interest in the Problem: Parents should send their students to school in a manner that enables them to learn. Conversely, the behavior of their children should not inhibit the learning of others.
Skills and Resources: They have various resources with which to discipline their children at home. Moreover, unlike American society, Arab culture takes a less critical view of corporal punishment.
Extent of power to act on the problem: Some parents will claim they have little power to effect the behavior of their own children at school. Others will claim they have lots of power.
Level of Commitment to solving the problem: This seems unclear. As the first sections of this paper showed, the parents have a far greater commitment to academics and college placement than anything else. Moreover, as sections in part two will show, they will often sacrifice the interests of other children in order not to offend other members of the community or to advance the interests of their own children.
Identity: The Students
Position of Authority: In reality, they have only power over their own decision-making.
Basis of Interest in the Problem: As the Handbook says: students have a right and responsibility to learn and to allow others to do so.
Skills and Resources: They have various forms of social punishment they can bring to bear on students they do not like or accept. Sometimes, these sanctions work far more effectively than adult ones. This author terms student efforts at keeping classroom order "Street Justice."
Extent of power to act on the problem: This remains open to question.
Level of Commitment to solving the problem: This varies. Some students complain continuously about their poorly-behaved classmates. Others seem delighted by the same behavior or at least amused.
This analysis does not generally identify "positive" and "negative stakeholders" for a very good reason: In most cases, the position of the persons involved in a disciplinary issue will influence whether the actor becomes a positive or negative stakeholder as the next section will show.
Part Two: An Examination of the Causes of the Problem
As the previous sections asserts, Al-Akbar functions as a self-defined institution, rather like a charter, magnet, and private school. Its distinctive approach attempts to balance English and Arabic languages in the classroom so that graduates readily speak both but retain their Arab identify.
While Al-Akbar celebrated its twentieth anniversary, relatively recent developments make it, in some ways, a changed institution. It expanded from a K-6 to a K-12, and it hired new faculty to deal with this older group. A larger school led to a revised admissions policy that allows a more heterogeneous student body. School documents reflect an altered mission: no longer does Al-Akbar lead to placement in international or Myrri schools, but rather directly to the university.
School students do not consistently behave at a level consistent with that outlined in the student Handbook. The evidence from the 9th grade class, moreover, seems to show at least one class falls well below those standards. Moreover, further sections will show the ninth grade represents merely the most blatant, but not the only, example of unsatisfactory behavior by Al-Akbar students.
2.1 Theoretical Perspectives in the Causes of the Problem
The following sections will begin the process of determining what causes the problem. First, this analysis will discuss possible sources of the problem. Then, it will review some theoretical frameworks for looking at the problem before selecting one. In the process, this analysis will consider both frameworks for analysis and the particular cultural characteristics of Myrr.
2.11 Possible Causes of the Problem
In order to introduce possible causes of the problem, this analysis returns again to the earlier schematic diagram of discipline. Duke (1978) and Crain (1982) suggestion that, in many instances, adults inadvertently cause misbehavior problems by unclear or differing behavioral expectations. Figures illustrates the potential for this occurring at Al-Akbar because, as subsequent sections will show, expectations differ:
FIGURE FIVE: REPETITION OF FIGURE ONE
Logically speaking, then, the problem could lie with the community, the documents, the expectations, or student behavior. Of course, several different actors could all contribute. In fact, this seems to be the case as the following analysis will show.
2.12 Possible Theoretical Frameworks for Analyzing the Causes of the Problem
Alan Gaynor's (1997) text on organizational analysis, following on the work of Bolman and Deal (1991), lists four basic different kinds of frameworks for examining organizational problems such as the one at Al-Akbar: the structural, the symbolic, political, and the human resources. Gaynor's work will serve as a point of departure in attempting to match the framework to the problem, though each of these frameworks can provide some needed insights into the problem at Al-Akbar.
The structural framework looks for the causes of the problem in the structure of the organization itself. Weber's bureaucratic (1958) model remains the best known model in this framework. Weber delineates nine different aspects of a bureaucracy:
"a. Continuous Organization.
b. Division of Labor:
c. Functional Authority
d. Functional Specificity of Authority
e. Hierarchy of Authority
f. Technical Competence
g. Separation of Administration from Ownership
h. Written Rules and their Universalistic Application
i. Contractual Relationships"
This analysis will not use the Weberian scheme precisely because Al-Akbar does not function as a bureaucracy, appearances notwithstanding. First, a cursory glance suggests that if the rules written in the Handbook met universal application, Al-Akbar should have already expelled several ninth grade students. Second, with the daughter of the school's founder as head of the Board, the division between ownership and administration can become very unclear. Third, with little training, a fact noted in ECIS's 1995 preliminary accreditation report (Akbar Twelve: 1995), the Board lacks technical competence. Fourth, Weber's ideal bureaucracy requires contractual relationships, not personal ones, as a means of doing business.
It's important, then, while dismissing the Weberian scheme as inappropriate, to note that it begins to suggest some of the aspects of Al-Akbar that contribute to the problem. Specifically, though Al-Akbar appears a typical bureaucracy with clear functional lines of authority, in fact, personal relationships often take precedence over position, especially in matters of discipline. Further, the rules that the bureaucracy typically writes, such as the Handbook, do exist, but, as subsequent sections will show, form only a secondary method of dealing with important situations such as those involving disciplinary infractions.
The symbolic framework deals with perceptions. In terms of disciplinary problems, this often means that a school's ideals about how students should behave do not translate into administrative practice, leading to adults and students having totally different ideas of what constitutes acceptable behavior. Fruit (1997) suggests that sometimes mere inconsistency can actually contribute to misbehavior. In fact, the Al-Akbar administration has not consistently carried through on its discipline policies as later sections will explain.
Before leaving the symbolic framework, this paper will look at a model proposed by Joanne Ciulla. Ciulla holds a Ph.D. in philosophy and teaches business ethics. Ciulla holds that organizations can, indeed, influence the behavior of those working for them, not so much by the rules they espouse but by the consistency and universality of application:
"Critics say that corporate codes of ethics are useless because they have no teeth. Some codes of ethics are regarded as laws and carry particular sanctions for violations. However, ethical norms or mores are usually reinforced and punished through informal social channels...These social sanctions depend on what is valued, expected, and desired of people in a particular context." (p. 497)
In other words, for rules, such as those in the Handbook, to really have force, people in the Al-Akbar community must value them as well as apply them. This means the actions of individuals such as parents, the Board, and administrators must show a respect for these rules. As subsequent sections will demonstrate, the administration does this, at best, in a disorderly, erratic fashion. Moreover, the community as a whole, in important questions tends to regard these rules as largely secondary to more important considerations.
This leads to the political framework. The political framework deals with questions of power and the allocation of resources (Bolman and Deal: 1991). At first, that seems very remote from the situation at Al-Akbar. As the earliest sections of the paper, show, however, the school community takes college placement very seriously and worthy of high amounts of effort. This paper chooses the political framework because, as the following sections will demonstrate, the conflict over consequences that would lead students to have lesser chances of obtaining a degree, college placement, etc. have a political dimension.
This returns finally to the fourth framework that of human relations. Earlier this paper poses that the differing groups of the school hold differing standards of behavior. As the following sections will suggest, the behavior of the students, therefore, holds a high level or rationality: they know exactly what they can get away with.
In the case of Al-Akbar, the political and human resources frames tie very closely together. The Arab community links power and relationships so tightly together that talking about one becomes talking about the other. For that reason, before proceeding to the actual analysis, the paper must spend some time explaining some particular characteristics of Arab culture in general and Myrr in particular.
2.13 Rationale for Choosing a Particular Framework for Analysis
The problem at Al-Akbar seems, as the human resources frame assumes, a problem of human relations. Simply put: one group of people, the teachers, parents, and administration, expect a certain performance from another group of people, the students. Every group of students present at Al-Akbar, saving the 9th grade class, seems able to meet those expectations. For that reason, this paper will use a human resources model, that of Hofstede, to describe the problem situation.
This, however, could describe a political problem also. As stated in the previous section, political problems involve the allocation of scarce resources. In the case of Al-Akbar, the resources consist of grades and college entrances. The documents cited in the first sections of this paper make it clear the importance of these things to the school community. Disciplinary actions, such as expulsions and failures, can negatively impact a students' chances to enter college. On the other hand, persistent misbehavior can inhibit the learning of others. The problem of misbehavior, then, presents a potential clash between parents of well-behaved students, administrators, and teachers, on one side, and parents of worse-behaved students, on the other. For that reason, this paper will use a political model, that of Lindblom, to describe the administration's means of coping with the problem.
2.2 A Theoretical Analysis of the Causes of the Problem
The human resources framework possesses many different models for human behavior. This paper will rely on the work of Geerft Hofstede in conjunction with the work of other authors writing more specifically about Arab culture to describe Arab culture while using the model of Lindblom to describe the actual decision-making.
Hofstede's (1990) work, written for businessmen, explains that many differences exist between different national cultures. These differences surpass those of differences within a given organization, and some scholars argue (Ali: 1992) tend to actually increase with industrialization. In this case, note some of the dissimilarities Hofstede (1990) finds between that of American culture and that of Arab culture:
FIGURE SIX: HOFSTEEDE'S UNCERTAINTY AVOIDANCE AND INDIVIDUALISM
The Arabs and Americans come out in diametrically opposed quadrants. The American orientation, weak uncertainty avoidance and individualist, indicates individuals who can thrive in a relatively undefined situation and work best alone. The Arabs, on the other hand, end up in the quadrant with a high level of group cohesion and high uncertainty avoidance. This cultural differentiation re-appears in Hofstede's discussion of individualism and power distance:
FIGURE SEVEN: HOFSTEEDE'S INDIVIDUALISM AND POWER DISTANCE
Again, note how the American and Arab end up in quadrants furthest apart. The dimension of individualism, of course, simply repeats from the previous figure.
These terms need some further explanation. "Power distance" refers to the relative degree of equality between persons holding different levels of authority in an organization. In a culture with a large power distance, such as the Arab culture, a boss would treat an underling as very much beneath notice; an American would treat that individual as more of "team member."
"Uncertainty avoidance" refers to the need for a culture to know a given way to act in a particular situation. In Arab culture, society and the Koran give clearly "correct" behaviors for most situations, and to act otherwise seems "harran," forbidden. American culture, in contrast, holds a looser set of expectations allowing individuals a higher degree of flexibility in improvising and creating norms in new situations.
Finally, the term "collectivist" refers to a culture that commonly decides as a group for most purposes, such as Arab culture, while "individualist" refers to a culture in which individuals largely make decisions on their own. Note that Arab culture can be both collectivist and hold a large power distance. This simply implies that those at a certain level, such as all managers, will decide on a particular action, not that decision-making necessarily involves everyone in a group, high and low. Other authors (Marr: 1997) confirm Hofstede's characterization of Arab culture as collectivist and fundamentally different from American (Porter and Samovar: 1976).
This raises two very interesting points. First, the English-speaking classroom appears as a source of potential cultural clash. The teacher comes from a culture that expects students to act relatively equal to him and "do their own work." Students, on the other hand expect a distant figure in the classroom and don't easily distinguish between one students' work and that of the class. Finally, American teachers can thrive in an environment with a fair amount of improvising on their part, but students would expect a more structured environment of very clear rules and expectations.
However, another clash potential class occurs at the levels above the classroom. To make this more clear, consider, first, a typical American school system, pictured below. The parents, only, appear outside the system's bureaucratic chain of command:
FIGURE EIGHT: BUREAUCRATIC HIERARCHY OF A TYPICAL AMERICAN SCHOOL
Administration <----- parents
While one might argue some cultural differences exist also between individual Americans, consider, on the other hand, the far more ambiguous situation at Al-Akbar:
FIGURE NINE: CULTURAL DIMENSIONS OF AL-AKBAR
ARAB CULTURE MIXED AMERICAN CULTURE
parents->The School Board
Notice how the students, apparently the least powerful members of this hierarchy, share a culture with those at the very highest level, the School Board and Ms. Money, the school founder. Their level of influence, then, at least potentially, outranks that of any member of the administration, including the Headmaster. None of this would matter, of course, if both cultures shared a common belief in orderly, bureaucratic procedures, but, as the next section will show, Arab culture, including management culture, differs from American in some important respects.
2.205 Arab Culture and That of Myrr
This analysis will rely heavily on the work of several authors, but particularly that of Patai's (1973) The Arab Mind. Patai defines Arab society as tight-conforming, rule-bound, and group-oriented. Children learn from their elders and sources of authority, the "correct behavior," with little toleration for individuality or creativity. Recent studies at MU confirm Patai's characterization (Soliman and Torrance: 1986).
Arabs function, Patai asserts, within the context of groups. Each group forms a kind of kindred with the degree of solidarity varying with the degree of distance from the individual. The following drawing, after Patai, illustrates the world of a given individual:
FIGURE TEN: THE ARAB WORLD CONCEPTION
The greater the distance from the center of the circle, the greater the level of mistrust (Patai: 1973). Within a group, a circle on the drawing above, individuals have a higher fear of losing face (Marr: 1987, Al-Balhan: 1998) than of doing wrong. Persons within the group try to maintain the dignity and smooth running of the group as a primary value, even above that of written rules or procedures.
In order to understand this drawing requires working outward from the center. Within a nuclear Arab family, the father remains the key figure. Often considerably older than the mother, the father retains all authority (Patai: 1973; Cowan: 1987). Less than 15% of all Myrri women actually work and take a subordinate role in society. In most family decisions, the father decides, and children listen rather than debate with parents. Fathers often determine such matters as a young man's career and the girl he marries (Marr: 1987).
The third circle concerns the extended family or kindred group. In this context, the work of Al-Thakeb (1985, 1982) concerning the Myrri family can provide considerable insight. Al-Thakeb, following on the work of Goode (1963), confirms the importance of the Myrri extended family or kindred group. Al-Thakeb argues that Arab society's response to modernization consists in simply altering the form, not the function, of the extended family. The Arab family substitutes modern methods of maintaining close ties: email, pagers, and telephones, for the more traditional one of living in close proximity. Thus, the Myrris, although among the most affluent and modernized of all Arabs, paradoxically maintain kindred ties at least as strong as that of their poorer, less-educated brethren (Al-Thakeb: 1985).
Al-Thakeb's (1985) data concerning the Myrri seems to show tight family cohesion. Al-Thakeb finds nearly half (48%) of the sample married relatives, particularly first cousins (78%). A further 59% say they prefer to marry a relative. While 43% of those surveyed have a grown sibling living next door, a further 80% of those studied visit their kin daily or weekly.
This kindred unit continues to support individuals in many ways. Al-Thakeb reports that over 50% of all Myrri state they would aid kindred in such matters as illness, finances, employment, personal problems, and business problems. Nearly a quarter (24%) have a related business partner, and an even greater number (27%) have relatives in the same governmental office.
This kindred network tends to operate as a cohesive whole. Al-Thakeb finds arguments among kin few and short-lived. Further, these disagreements reach settlement within the kindred group without deference to outside authorities. While Al-Thakeb reports the best-educated the least likely to marry within the family, primarily due to fear of perpetuating genetic defects, this group also provides and requests the highest amount of assistance from kin (Al-Thakeb: 1982). Overall, half the respondents indicate they would consult a relative in case of a crisis situation.
This returns to the fourth circle. When encountering strangers, Arabs attempt, whenever possible to enter into a kind of extended family relationship with them (Patai: 1973). American educators often note with surprise the efforts of Arab college-age students to treat them as surrogate mothers and fathers (Marr: 1987, Meleis: 1982). Western businessmen find that they cannot successfully conduct business in an impersonal way; rather, Myrri expect to work out a personal and business relationship at the same time, with the latter depending on the former (Ali: 1987). The Myrri Pocket Guide (1998) goes so far as to assert: "There are no purely business relationships in Myrr."
The fifth circle concerns everyone not inside the three other circles, i.e., anyone not family, kin, or friend. Patai (1973) maintains that Arabs look upon these outsiders with fear and suspicion. In fact, individuals outside the group receive a cold, formal treatment that to Westerners would seem unexceptional. In other words, their treatment tends to follow the letter of the law, whereas all others, depending upon the strength of their ties to the individual with power or influence, receive progressively more special treatment. In business, Ali refers to this as the practice of "personalism."
Logically, one might expect the upper classes to behave somewhat differently. In terms of marriage and use of kindred, as noted above, they don't seem to differ from their poorer brethren. Al-Naser (1996) finds that, indeed, the more Western-exposed upper classes do differ somewhat in their relatively liberal attitudes towards women's education, marriage, and politics, but concludes:
"society is in a stage between tradition and modernization (p. 17) in which traditional and modern values exist together, and an individual may follow either, depending on his/her exposure to change and upon family or other social institutions."
This orientation towards the group often takes place at the apparent expense of
individual success, but as Arab scholars note, often the two become the same (Barakat:
1993, pp. 203-204):
"Individuals engage in unlimited commitments to the group. Instead of asserting their separateness and privacy as independent individuals, they behave as committed members of a group-hence the significance of family, tribe, neighborhood, community, village, sect, and so forth. Generally speaking, one may claim that the need for affiliation is nurtured at the expense of needs of power and achievement. In fact, however, the latter two needs are often met through affiliation."
Within the world of business or government the extreme result is what Arab management scholars (Abd-al-Khaliq: 1984, Ali: 1995) term a "sheikocracy," an institution that looks from the outside like a bureaucracy, but in fact operates in the traditional manner of an Arabic tribe with personalized relations taking precedence over formal rules. Abas Ali, the most prominent Arab management theorist, defines this institution in the following manner (1995):
"The characteristics of sheikocracy include hierarchical authority, rules and regulations contingent on the personality and power of the individuals who make them, an "open-door" policy, subordination of efficiency to human relations and personal connections, indecisiveness, informality among lower-level managers, and a generally patriarchal approach. Nepotism is often evident in the selection of upper-level managers, but qualifications are emphasized in the selection of middle- and lower-level personnel. Chain of command, scalar principles, and division of labor are also characteristics of the sheikocracy. They are not as strictly observed as in the West."
Notably, while Ali criticizes the sheikocracy as undemocratic and anti-Islamic, he applauds personalism. One can easily picture personalism and the sheikocracy as essentially two forms of the same thing with a sheikocracy simply the extreme form in which connections become so important that merit means nothing. Personalism represents more of a mix with merit and affiliation both counting for something. This logically brings this analysis to the situation in Myrr and its particular form of personalism known as "wasta."
2.207 Wasta, Group Dynamics, and Informal Decision-Making
One particular aspect of Myrr society requires specially explanation: the concept of "wasta." A word in the Myrri dialect, "wasta," roughly translated means, "influence." Wasta results from personal relationships, either via family, marriage, or friendship. Wasta relationships conform with Arab and Islamic concepts about helping out family, kindred, and friends.
Wasta does not distribute evenly across society; in fact, people in Myrr probably have more equal wealth than wasta. This follows naturally from the fact that important relationship ties to officials with power and wasta tend to come more easily to some individuals than others. Unlike American culture, money tends to flow to those with influence, not the reverse.
A Sri Lankan maid, for example, has very little wasta. She shares neither religion nor culture with her Arab employer. She does not have enough money to make her an attractive business partner, and she lacks friends with wasta. She lacks any potential to marry into her employer's family due to citizenship laws, and, as a woman, enjoys only a second-class status in society. Her only wasta, then, comes from her own relationship with her boss.
Her employer, in contrast, if a Myrri citizen, enjoys a high level of wasta. He probably holds a half dozen nuclear relations with whom he can collect favors. By marriage to another Myrri, he can create another half dozen wasta relationships, and, if he marries within his own family, strengthen his already strong wasta ties. These wasta relationships bring him into contact with many high officials of government with whom he can build relationships. If he doesn't simply rely on doing business exclusively with his relatives, he can attempt to bring new business associates, such as Americans, into a close, favor-trading relationship which, with luck, he can convert into more wasta. In short, he can conduct most of his business and personal relationships successfully, even if he lacks talent or ambition, simply by wasta.
Members of society, then, tend to have different wasta levels. Myrris hold, by their citizenship and relationships, the highest amounts of wasta. Of the Myrri, the members of the Five Families hold the highest level of wasta after the royal family. After them come other Myrri. Below them come other Arab-speaking, non-Myrri, Moslems, including those working as policemen, soldiers, etc. Westerners, typically, have little direct wasta though they may acquire wasta through friendship and business. Non-Islamic workers, such as Sri Lankans and Indians, have almost no wasta, though, of course, their employer may use his wasta in their favor.
Roughly speaking, then, one can rank the wasta according to the following chart:
FIGURE ELEVEN: WASTA LEVELS OF DIFFERENT SOCIAL GROUPS
5 Families Very High
Other Arab-speaking Workers Average
Western professionals Below Average
Other non-Arab, Moslem Workers Below Average
Non-Arab, Non-Moslem Workers Low
Having wasta can have many benefits. For example, most policemen (Arabic-speaking, but non-Myrri) will not ticket a Myrri-driven car no matter how badly driven. Myrri children, unless creating a serious behavior disturbance, ride city busses for free despite fare regulations. Persons with high amounts of wasta with governmental personnel tend to get their business deals approved; those without do not. To give an obvious example, many teachers suspect that wasta determined current Board composition. Such dealings proceed without comment or protest. An Arab policeman, for example, stopping a Myrri car will simply make a quick assessment of the situation and wave the driver onward.
Unlike money, one doesn't save wasta. Giving it away, even flaunting it, conforms to Arab and Muslim conceptions of proper behavior. Arab society, guided by the Q'uran (1998), doesn't admire misers. Instead, it exhorts hospitality and giving. Whereas an American businessman might talk of "calling in favors," as a somewhat questionable practice, an Arab businessman would think it wrong not to do a favor, such as getting a business associate quicker access to a license. To cite a simple example, one school teacher did a slight amount of business with an Arab businessman only to receive a promise that, should any troubles occur in getting his license, his "friend" would take care of it.
This concept of wasta and of the extended family holds a particular importance to Al-Akbar. As previously stated, many of the students enrolled come from the Five Families. Those who don't, also, often enjoy a wasta relationship with the Five Families as does the Board. In other words, though the school appears very similar to an American school, in fact, a better way of conceiving of it is this: