By Erin Geneva
By Erin Geneva
Morocco World News
Rabat, June 14, 2013
As a women’s empowerment volunteer here in Morocco, one of my tasks is to teach English to a group of thirteen year-old girls once a week. I’ll admit, when I arrived here from North America I was a little underwhelmed about this particular assignment. Particularly, because of the increasing amount of makeup, eye-rolling, cursing and bullying I see among preteen girls at home and the noticeable decrease in their childhood innocence.
I blame this on not only the media, but increasing economic challenges that leave even the most well-intentioned of parents too tired, too overworked, and plainly without the time to explain to their daughters what their priorities should be. Even the most cautious and caring North American parents (and I’d count my own parents among those) are powerless to protect their girls from the indoctrination of the media, as well as their peers.
So coming from this experience, I was expecting to spend most of my time shushing, glaring and making futile attempts to maintain any type of order in my class. However this hasn’t been the case. My students are much better behaved than I expected. Although their class is two hours (which I think is a long time for a thirteen year-old to concentrate) and they sometimes get a little distracted, they are overall incredibly respectful and diligent in their studies. They are grasping all of the new vocabulary, grammatical structures and I can tell they are doing a lot of practice on their own. What’s more, I haven’t had many problems with crowd control, and even when I’m teaching the more boring parts of a new language (grammar, punctuation) they seem genuinely interested.
After experiencing Morocco for a month and a half, I would credit the diligence of my students to two things: one being that they are from a culture that promotes more respect for authority figures and adults than my own; the second being a desire to consume all things Western, and this means learning English.
The first day of class, my students were all happy to tell me how much they like English music and TV. They listed off their favourite pop stars with pride, and were very excited about Rihanna’s Mowazine performance. They asked me which musicians I had ever seen perform and which movies and actors I liked. They seemed eager to impress me with their knowledge of Western pop culture. I was both happy and saddened by this.
There are certainly things that as a Westerner, I think are good about my own society and about “Western ways” in general. These things include secularity, democracy, freedom of speech, a good economy, multiculturalism, the protection of human rights, access to justice, education and health care, and most of all, the luxury of living in a secure environment.
I certainly think that the spread of these ideas is a good thing, and in some ways, the increasing use of English as a global language is a vessel through which this can take place. For the first time in human history, many of us can speak to each other across great distances, and many of us have the luxury of being able to travel nearly anywhere in the world with the certainty of encountering someone with whom we can communicate, in English. This presents enormous opportunities for cooperation that didn’t exist before.
But still I would like to caution those enamored with Western culture. Young people, like my students who watch Western movies, listen to music and dream of a Western life should know that although we may have it all materially, we are often lacking what Moroccans have culturally: a sense of community and belonging, a cultural identity, a close connection to our family, and physical proximity to them. Many of us (myself included) will move thousands of miles from our families and see them only once or twice a year. We will have hundreds of meaningless interactions with strangers who we will never see again. We will work many hours to have the money to support our families, at the cost of actually spending time with them, and we will feel isolated and alone in large cities even when we are surrounded by millions of other people. All of this because we are so busy, and our culture is so fixated on money that we have lost something along the way. We console ourselves with TV rather than our parent’s advice until it becomes obsolete.
I want my students to learn English, so they have the opportunity to participate in the global conversation. So they will have access to the ideas that have made the West idealized. But I want them to simply learn from it. Not copy it. We have a lot in the West. But we certainly don’t have everything.
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