Learning early in the morning

If you have an internet connection, you can learn anything you want to learn any time you want.  This just happens to be a story about a particularly powerful learning experience I had at 4 a.m. this past Wednesday.  Now that sounds early (okay, it is early), but I have been fighting off a cold, and my sleep schedule is all off.  I went to bed at 9 p.m. on Tuesday, so I’d had my seven hours of sleep.

Soon after I woke up, I checked my email, and saw this notice promoting some interesting TED talks:

I decided to click on the one circled in purple, largely because I’d been following the Egypt storyline pretty closely, and wanted to hear the “inside story”.

When I started watching the TED talk, I was captivated…

Here’s this Google executive who had been imprisoned for 12 days in Egypt, and he’s now giving a TED talk in Cairo within weeks of helping to make history.  He started his talk by saying “This is revolution 2.0.  No one was a hero because everyone was a hero.”

Now this is amazing.  History is coming to life.  Here’s one of the people who demonstrated in Egypt starting on January 25 of THIS YEAR… he was arrested on the 27th.  And while he was in Egyptian police custody, a few thousand protestors grew to this crowd of about two million people in Tahrir Square …

… Which led, of course, to President Hosni Mubarak resigning on Day 18 of the protests.  And now there’s craziness in Libya.  And here’s this guy — a Google exec! — talking about it right now — I can learn the inside story about the Egyptian Revolution from a major participant.  How cool is that?

Now let’s just think about how incredibly cool this is — he’s in Cairo, Egypt.  And he gave a speech at a TED talk in Cairo.  In MARCH.  And I got an email on March 9, opened it, read it early in the morning, clicked on the link, and started learning from Wael Ghonim. I mean, this sort of thing simply wasn’t possible when I was growing up.  We read history in the textbook, which was written several years earlier.  Now, we can access primary sources that allow us to think about events as they happen:

Mr. Ghonim became my new teacher for the morning — because in today’s learning environment, anyone in the world can be your teacher, right?  I mean, that’s clearly how it is in most schools, right?  The internet comes into the classroom all the time, doesn’t it?  It’s not like we’re stuck “following a curriculum” when major world events happen, is it?

Anyway, my teacher for the morning explained that he helped set up an anonymous Facebook page, commemorating the death of a middle class businessman at the hands of the Egyptian police.  The page was called “We are all Khaled Said,” and the idea was that anyone in Egypt could just as likely have been Khaled Said — we need to stop the police brutality.

So at the 4:16 mark of the video — less than five minutes into my learning adventure, I hit pause on the TED video, and looked closely at the name on the Facebook page.  I’d not heard the name before — who was this Khaled Said person?  And why were demonstrations organized in Alexandria, Egypt, to protest his treatment? 

The TED video had just described how — to protest his killing — thousands of people showed up wearing black and just faced the Mediterranean Sea, away from the street, for an hour.  And that was it.  They peacefully protested.  And the police attacked them.  But it was, in many ways, a sort of dress rehearsal for Tahrir Square.  If a thousand people can organize that quickly, how many people might be able to organize on Jan 25?

But I’m getting ahead of myself — I’m still wondering: who is Khaled Said?

Let’s do a quick Google search:

And from there I can get right to the current version of the Facebook page (which looks far more celebratory, since Mubarak stepped down):

And I am also one click away from detailed information from an article about the initial protest in Alexandria, back in June 2010:

So now I have more context. 

And by poking around, I answered a question that had been bugging me for a while:


I mean, I get that it happened after the Tunisian protests, which inspired the folks in Egypt.  But why January 25?

Well, it turns out that January 25 is National Police Day in Egypt:

So now, thanks to 10 minutes of watching a video, and 10 more minutes of active learning via internet research at 4 a.m., I understand far more about the context of the Egyptian protests.  The Egyptian people were fed up at the way the police were treating them.  And so they wanted to protest on Jan 25 to show that: “Hey — back in the good old days (in 1952, when we got our independence — hence the symbolism of Tahrir Square — Tahrir” means “Liberation”) the police used to be our buddies.” 

The police used to stand up to the oppression by the British.  Well, now it’s 2011, and the police are the ones oppressing us!  Let’s show the irony of that by having a demonstration in Tahrir Square on Jan 25.

And because there had been 30 years of oppressive rule by Mubarak just simmering, the protest grew to become about more than just police treatment — it expanded to protest the whole regime.

In the TED video (which you really should watch – it’s only 10 minutes long), Wael Ghonim explains that he was imprisoned for 12 days, starting on the 27th of January — two days into the protests.  When he came out, he saw what was going on in Tahrir Square, and he thought it was 12 years later not just 12 days later. 

The people had risen up.  And Egypt would never be the same.

So let’s review: I learned valuable information about the “inside story” of the Egyptian Revolution yesterday morning.  I gained that deeper context thanks to a powerful TED video and less than 10 minutes of targeted early-moring internet research. 

Total time invested: 20 minutes. 

As a result, my understanding of Egypt deepened significantly.

What do YOU want to learn about?  It’s out there.  Find the experts who have posted material online about it — read it — do some research — and write about what you learned.  Hey, that sounds like a great premise for a 21st century school, doesn’t it?

In fact, that’s the idea behind the middle school (grades 6-8) that I’ll be opening in the Triangle in August of 2013.  See the prospectus for my school for details.

About Steve Goldberg

I teach students at Research Triangle High School (RTHS) about US History. RTHS is a public charter school in Durham, NC, whose mission is to incubate, prove and scale innovative models of teaching and learning. The blog posts here reflect my own personal views and not those of my employer.
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