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Learning to be “Good”: The Ethics of Socialization and the Socialization of Ethics in Amman, Jordan


While much of the rest of the world looked upon Jordan and surrounding regions in 2013 with fear of continual revolt and religiously motivated violence, Jordanians continued to live their everyday lives, attending to ordinary concerns, such as the raising and socialization of children. The central question that this dissertation explores is: how are children in Amman, Jordan, socialized into matters of morality? Though moral education is rooted in Islam, the source of moral education is found not only in formal religious education, but also in the way Islam is lived in the everyday. Moral education is integrated into interactions between children and their caretakers. Through activities such as answering questions in the classroom, to misbehaving and then being scolded, children are absorbing values about how to be members of the community and, specifically, how to be good, moral community members. But this preparation for adulthood is done within a context of change. Amidst political, social, and economic instability, what it means to be good is in flux. Jordan is also in the midst of large-scale educational reforms, which have led to new curriculums and methods of teaching. Economic reforms have fallen short in creating jobs for the increasingly educated population. In my dissertation, I look closely at language—starting at the interactional level and moving to broader discourses about bilingualism—and argue that children are caught between what it means to be good in a moral, Islamic, and cultural sense, and what it means to be good in a globalized sense where English and the pressure toward individual achievement take on tremendous power in Jordan’s move into the future. While the particulars of the balancing act differ across Jordan and even within the population I worked with, moral education is about finding a balance between local values and concerns (like who are you and how you relate to others) and progress (tied to leaving Jordan, learning English, and achieving individual success in education). The dissertation analyzes classrooms at Al-Dawran, a mid-sized private school in Amman, and interactions between children and their caregivers at home, including parents and extended family.

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