Thursday, March 10, 2011

I'm experiencing a sprinkling of culture shock, perhaps

In the grand scheme of things, women's education is a relatively new thing in Saudi Arabia. It first became legal in the 1960s/70s, but didn't become popular till later. That means my students are only the second generation of women in their families to even be allowed to get an education. SECOND.

In America, women girls were allowed to go to school as early at the 1700s. It wasn't popular and many universities didn't open their doors to women until the 1920s, but that means that I haven't met a generation of women in my family that didn't go to school.

So I can understand the apathy and the disinterest in education among students in the United States. Students in America have the freedom to choose to be uneducated. If you're a high school drop out, there are still opportunities for you--they generally involve a McDonald's name tag or a mop/broom, but you have the freedom to make that choice.

Until just over a decade ago, women in Saudi Arabia didn't even have the choice to drop out of school! You can't drop out of something you're not allowed into! So the apathy and disdain for education among my students blows my mind. These girls KNOW someone who didn't go to school. These girls SEE women who are denied rights because of lack of education or because of gender discrimination. I expected that, of anybody in the "developed" world, they would understand the importance of education.

Last week, when we had the fire, girls were asking if it was real or just a drill. "Insh'allah it is real and the whole school burns down," one giddy seventh-grader said, arm-in-arm with an equally bubbly friend. They weren't the only ones who groaned in disappointment when we were let back into the building only to find that it was a very minor fire and no damage was done to classrooms or computer labs. The next day I had several students that said they had hoped the fire would be more serious so they wouldn't have to come back to school.

What?! I was shocked. I would expect that kind of flippant remark from a student in the States. Usually my kids said something like that just to get a rise out of the teachers. I taught middle school, and sixth-graders generally don't have a filter. My students back home were no exception.

But here!? My students are just as callous about education here?! This country is on the cusp of major change, and the GIRLS in my classroom could potentially be the leaders of that change. But 95% of them appear to care less about learning and more about being able to sit around and do nothing.

Do nothing. Which is exactly what their government forced women to do a mere 2 generations ago. Just sit at home, girls. No need for you to think.

Maybe I see a different side of my students because I'm the foreign language teacher. Very few of my students take English seriously (to clarify, they take their grades seriously, but actually learning and applying the language? no.) and most of them make it clear to me through their behavior that they don't take me seriously at a teacher. Perhaps in their Arabic classes they are the driven, determined, change-making girls that I was hoping to find before I moved to this country.

Because if they aren't, the men have won.

Vicariously yours,

1 comment:

  1. ugh, sooooo frustrating but I guess this proves that humans are deep down the same everywhere...still what a blow! Did you bring this point up to them?

    Oh, and yes, I stalk your blog b/c of fb.