Chicago - It was a warm and windy morning in the middle of September, 1982.
Chicago – It was a warm and windy morning in the middle of September, 1982.
I can’t recall that much of the details except how my mom was holding my hands in full celebration of the moment and how my heart was melting from a mix of fear and excitement. I had Heard of all the beautiful things in classrooms from my older brothers and sisters and the kids in my neighborhood.
Letters, words, pics, colors… I expected my teacher to be a great man like my father; one who gives love and wisdom, or a great woman like my lovely mom. I was also scared. Teachers sometimes are rough. Not to mention that the day at school is usually long and boring for a child like me; someone who spent most of his childhood walking around in the streets of the Old City. I let go everything without necessarily knowing how and when. Our destination was Riyad Elementary School in Kenitra- one of the most beautifully remains of my years and the place I still admire most. Finally, “I am a student!” Everything begins and ends at that very exact moment. It is the moment that matters most; Love to learning, wisdom, charm and candor.
It’s been 33 years since I proclaimed my first day at school a turning point in life! To mark the occasion, I hold to the memory so strongly. Of course, I am fully aware that my life witnessed new beginnings later in life. Of course, the journey was long enough to trace different paths, ups and downs and a lot of memories. If there is one that I attach to more emotionally is the day I became a teacher. On september 16, 1996, my footsteps on Zerkan -a tiny village in the region of Azilal-, marked the beginning of my teaching career. I felt proud and ready to open a new chapter though I was worried about the hardships of life in the mountains.
Anyway, the news coming from the teachers about teaching in those areas were not promising at all. Zerkan was something totally different! Now that I am matured enough to realize reality, Zerkan seems more than an isolated place nestling in the arms of the Middle Atlas mountains. It is more of a glimpse into time, a view from my living memories, an escape to the warmth of people and a moment of return. Return to faces, gestures, dances, vagaries, and most importantly to the haunting portraits of marginalization; to what was bitter to swallow. It was a mix of contradictions; love and hatred, hope and despair, courage and fear, etc. Today, I can see myself locked within a jar and lost in a deadly routine and submitting to sadness.
By time, my mood began to dramatically submerges in a stagnant reality. Time has passed. Nothing has changed except the modest dresses we used to wear, the little pens and the few books are more now of a bunch of things. What I have experienced throughout the years now worsen. The love I felt once in my childhood gradually has turned into an icon of shame. All those beautiful things are certainly collapsing. The current reality of the Moroccan schools is rife with malicious politics, disastrous and hollow choices, fragile infrastructure, cultural negativity and, of course, the plague of profitability in private schooling sector. With all this mess, one can’t help dreaming of a painless death, of a deliberate ending of all this suffering. Yes, all we need is an euthanasia!
Corruption tears down my insides so that no matter what I say or how I euphemistically fool my self with words; with vague or mild substitutes for what is truly offensive and harsh, only in few occasions we can see hope on the horizon. Corruption is so widespread in the sector of education that every Moroccan can hear it or see it at the flip of a switch. People know well of their debased schools, of their depravity and moral perversion. People know well that we are moving more confidently this time towards a tragedy. In the absence of what are solid, true and reasonable ideas, fragility, immaturity and irrationality prevail. This is severe enough to raise more than a single warning. No doubt that The Moroccan school system is closer to being a real disaster; a disaster that cannot be beautified by any of our official’s speeches or false promises, or by any ‘decorative’ education boards or councils.
At the level of academic debate, education still remains a delusional subject since it does not address the main challenges this vital sector faces, fails to offer a reasonable glimpse into its real problems and neglects to investigate the many issues plaguing that permeate throughout the country. Periodically, We hear of the many councils, committees, decrees, memos, manifestos, slogans and of suggestions made by state officials and politicians to change the whole schooling system, but no one yet, be it at the level of politics or education tells us how and when. No true expert yet speaks out of a reality. On the contrary, this debate still favors hesitation, lagging and evasion, and relies most on a pragmatic ideology serving no benefit or goal to education. What we hear most in those talks is simply a trickery language; a deceptive discourse.
Of course, we are dealing with a cancer now and the symptoms are out there; the non-homogeneous academic climate, the blurred vision, the ambiguity in thought, the prevalence of politics over a domain that should be purely academic, the shameful pragmatism, the immaturity of teachers and the lack of professionalism, poor logistics and violence. I don’t think it is hard enough to straightforwardly and provocatively pose this question: what can be worse?
Obviously, the structure of Moroccan education is shattered and there are only few fragmentary evidences to prove the opposite. Should I have to put things in order, politics comes first. I mean the political will; what we may define as the sustainable commitment of the ruling parties to have the right vision, to provide the necessary resources and to seriously invest in education. Normally, this political will “manifests through public commitments, financial support, and close formal relations between politicians, policymakers and technicians.”
Such a statement of Angela W Little pronounced loud in a 2010 London conference on education in developing countries hosted by the Institute of Education is absent In Morocco. Such things are definitely not yet a priority .From the 1960’s up until the 1980’s, the state’s main objective was to consolidate political stability and authority in post-protectorate Morocco. With his Majesty, King Mohamed VI in power, the state’s policies, driven by socio-economic forces, began to concentrate on social security, with the philosophy behind the “National Initiative for Human Development” serving as a vivid example. Education is absolutely left behind.
In developed countries, schools benefit from the philosophy that “schools are central to the mission of building knowledgeable societies”. That is it! Centrality. Personally, I don’t know where to trace it here in Morocco. I don’t know who is being acknowledged in the sector of education, what are the forces driving reform. Basically, it is hard to know who to blame. That is it ambiguity. That is the poisonous state leading to doubt. Here, Abdallah Laroui, one of the most brilliant and influential Arab contemporary thinkers, says that ” the state failed -pre French protectorate, under France authority and post independence- to seriously address the problematics of teaching and to have a comprehensive and agreed-upon plan of reform. Everyone failed including the political parties, unions, civil society and PTO,s, …et cetera.”
Second, comes culture. In many respects, the absence of a true, solid and comprehensive cultural project serves no benefit to the reform regardless of how beautifully fits into the system. The magic word nestles somewhere in art; theater, cinema, painting, music… Normally, we would expect schools to cultivate social values, ethical norms, humanitarian ideals, discipline, and the love of wisdom through investment in culture. Again, we are nowhere near such an attitude. Albert Einstein once said that “education is what remains after one has forgotten what one has learned in school.” Sadly enough, nothing really remains.
Then we have morality; the substantial ingredient in the recipe of success. Here, I recall Joan Caldarera bringing Socrates’ dictum that “ethics concerns no small matter, but how we ought to live forward. It is what “conditions the way we respond to those needs, to the universal right of living in a good and meaningful way.” Her suggestions are logically chained to the idea that moral growth is as essential as physical and intellectual growth, and is nurtured in everything, from the smallest consciously-formed gesture; watch a kindergarten teacher carefully folding a cloth, to the grandest idea elegantly stated; hear a high school teacher describe the flowerlike pattern formed by tracing the arcs of the orbit of Venus.
Let us gently flip the coin and see if we really appreciate and advocate the presence of morality in schooling or living. The bad news is NO. Unfortunately, we don’t. Otherwise, those smallest acts of living; I mean the way we smile to others, we cross a street, we get on a bus, should be much different than the way they shamefully manifest. The worst news is that this shame moves quietly into the mainstream and reach the highest levels possible. Corruption touches upon almost every thing including politics.
Finally, technicality pops up to the surface of debate. Now it is time to look at what is exactly and purely didactic. What should we expect from a schooling that is based on memorization rather than research, supports memory instead of understanding, submission instead of critique and exercises power and authority instead of encouragement and positive enforcement. How can we teach our kids to be fully human, to be fully educated? How can we prepare them morally, intellectually, physically and spiritually? How can we secure them in a more challenging world of innovators and entrepreneurs? How knowing that we still rely mostly on old fashion dogmatic schemas and we favor ambiguity and blurred visions to an extreme and in a deadly measure.
I Personally wring my hands in joy to know that out of freethinking grows the blossom of knowledge. The idea is whether a first grade student draws a flower in his or her art class, a middle school student solves a math problem or a high school student works on a science fair project, the quality of teaching and learning lies in their abilities to bring forth new ideas, to inspire, to lead and have dreams.
Now, I wring them very well in anger to know that Moroccan schools’ predicament is deepening and to realize that our kids still don’t -still can’t- fulfill their natural thirst to true knowledge. Their cries still haunt me, their sighs still rip my feelings off, their shattered faces still bleed within my insides. I may feel sad to see how everything was falling apart even the idea that I was a teacher. Yet, I have a dream that the hollow political ‘sensationalism vanishes one day and those little kids can breath love and care. I hope so from the bottom of my heart. The heart of a teacher.
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