So Many Similarities

After working with Moroccan teens during the last few days, it has confirmed the fact that adolescents around the world are basically the same. Some of their traditions might differ but the desire for independence and the feeling that their parents just don’t understand them is not unique to American teens. Virtually every students we spoke with said that their parents tell them what to do and that they quarrel with their parents regularly. And the issues were the same…school, going out with friends, too much Facebook or Internet, not doing chores. While they see American teens as being much more rebellious than they generally are, we perceive Muslim students as being much more obedient than they actually are. So yet again we are meeting somewhere in the middle.

This morning’s conversation revolved around gender equality in Morocco. Both the boys and the girls agreed that both sexes should have equal rights and they argued about who is to do the cooking and chores if both parents work during the day. Such a familiar conversation but one that did not happen in most Moroccan families until recently. It was agreed that these tasks should be shared and many of the students told us that it is shared in their families today especially when both parents work. One brave young man said that there are some jobs that women cannot do because they don’t have the physical strength but the same young man went on to say “if men had to give birth they would hate their children because men cannot tolerate pain”. Sound familiar! Below is a picture of the young man who happens to be a fan of American football. He is one of the smallest students in his class but getting a football team together is his dream

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Perhaps I have mistakenly given the impression that ALL moroccan students are highly motivated and very diligent. That is NOT the case. There are those who do not care and don't do their work but remember the stakes are higher here than in the US where there are other opportunities for students so as a result more students are hard working.

I also wanted to mention their love for American music. It is very surreal to be in a traditional Moroccan restaurant, eating a tangine, and hear Katy Perry's "California Girls". It makes us chuckle every time. However, the teens we have spent time with LOVE American rap. We were told that one of the major reasons they want to learn English is so they understand the lyrics of the songs.

Here are some pictures of the presentations we saw today. One was on culture and two girls wore some traditional clothing like the Kaftan. They also baked us several different types of pastries even though students are not allowed to have anything to eat or drink in school. The second presentation was about religious tolerance in Morocco ( These were given by students in their first year learning English). It was very enlightening to see these students make the same mistakes our students make: cut and paste off the Internet, putting too much information on the slides, reading the slides, etc. We were asked to point out the mistakes and I felt like I was in my own classroom in the states.

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We learned that a Moroccan wedding can last three to seven days and costs the family $500,000 or more. That is NOT a typing mistake! I was flabbergasted and cannot imagine how they do this. The salaries here are much lower than at home but other than fresh food everything else is roughly the same price. What an incredible pressure for a family.

Ok, I was asked some great questions about the language in which classes are taught and how do they handle controversial religious topics such as evolution. Surprisingly, the second question has an easier answer than the first so I will start there. Topics such as evolution are taught as a scientific theory that you can believe or not. You are, however, expected to understand the scientific ideas. Just like what many of us do at home. The national curriculum also discusses contraception and abstinence until marriage. Many of the more modern teachers discuss teen relationships and sex and they will reinforce the teachings of Islam which require abstinence (isn’t that what most world religions expect?). Now for language…it depends on if you are in public or private school. In private school, you begin learning French on day one and you will be taught in both French and Arabic. English begins in sixth grade. High school science is in French and Arabic. In public school everything is taught in Arabic. French begins in third grade and English in tenth. However there are two concerns within the country. Because of the many dialects throughout the Muslim world there is tremendous difficulty communicating with Arabs from other regions. Moroccans who have traveled to Egypt or other Muslim countries find themselves unable to communicate. There are few people who can read, write, or speak classical Arabic. Students hate learning it and do not want to study in it. (Our host’s 13 year old son is struggling with it. His father offered to help but Yassid said “How can you help, you are worse at it than me!” …Aren’t teenagers the best?) This problem is a major concern here in Morocco and throughout the Arabic speaking nations. Secondly, students learn all of their science and math in Arabic and then when they get to college everything is taught in French. As you can imagine, this is a major frustration for students.

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Here are two interesting pictures I wanted to share. The first is of a computer lab in the public school. Notice there are only girls. That is because only half the class is there and you can see that even with half the class they are in groups. The second is looking out the window of another computer room in which we had class. There was a rooster out there who definitely wanted to make his presence known. While we were in class, I was sitting right in front of that window and chicken feathers were flying into my hair and clothes, plaster was falling from the ceiling onto a girl sitting in front of me and there was dust everywhere. Not the best environment for learning but the students thought it was amusing. Our final class was supposed to be from four to six but as it got darker we tried to turn on the lights ( The switch was more than six feet high on the wall. I could not have reached it) and one 10watt bulb came on so we had to let the students leave an hour early because they could not see well enough to complete their work! But those lights will Not be repaired anytime soon.

My final story from the last two days is about a soccer game. Kristen, the IREX leader, travelled with Jim and I to Beni Mellal. Kristen is a very good soccer player and several of the highschool boys asked her to play in a match with them. Keep in mind that girls and boys DO NOT EVER play together and soccer is their life. Kristen ended up scoring two goals. I thought all of our diplomacy was shot! The poor goalie was mortified and I am sure his friends will never let him live it down. Here is a picture if the infamous match.

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The Beni Mellal teachers and our fabulous hosts, the Massaqs.

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