The idea of choice doesn’t really crossover in a lot of cultures. Not that there is no choice but the idea itself. The idea that one has a choice and it’s their right if they make that choice or not. This is something that’s very difficult for a lot of my students to understand.
It’s inherent in their culture to not question authority or norms. Things are the way they are and there is nothing you can do about it. That is what they are taught. Some, after trust has been established, voice their distaste but the majority do not dare. Because a lot of thinking leads to one feeling like they have control over their life and therefore have a choice in that life. That’s why certain things are discouraged in discussion in most countries I teach. But more so in Saudi than any other.
There are four things you do not discuss in a classroom in Saudi Arabia. Teachers are told this in one way or another as soon as they arrive. The four things you are never discuss in a Saudi Arabia classroom are:
but what do you get when you tell the students that you are not suppose to discuss these things with them? More questions about these things. But let me talk about the idea of choice first.
I ate a piece of bread with my left hand. Three students saw me do this in the hallway. Their eyes popped and they walked up to me and said “Teacher, harram”, or forbidden. I thought it was their usual nonsense to mess with me so I dismissed their comments and thought nothing of it.
Then as I occasionally do, I switched forks at lunch and I was using my left hand to eat when got a message on whatsapp and was replying to it with my right hand.
Another student saw this and came up to me again and said it was wrong. So I asked him why. He asked me if he can be honest and I said yes.
He said, in Islam, you eat with the right hand and the left hand is meant for cleaning your ass after using the squatter toilets. So people are not suppose to eat with their left hand.
When I got back to class after lunch, I posed this question as a class discussion for our listening and speaking portion. And I was amazed.
All the students defending the rule. Then I said, what if someone is left handed? They all said, he must learn to use the right hand.
I continued, isn’t it up to the individual to decide what hand they want to use to eat? Isn’t it more important that the individual eats rather than what hand they use to consume the food?
These questions infuriated some of them and I had to calm them down and explain that it was just a discussion and not a jab at their belief system. Some of course took awhile to understand that it’s okay to talk about things.
It dawned on my while having this discussion why we are not suppose to discuss the four things listed above. Because if a simple discussion on the idea of choice riled them up like that, what would a discussion on the above topics do? They would definitely leave you beating your head.
What is written is what they understand and anything else is seen as standing against what is written. In other words, to ask questions and discuss those questions as common in Western classrooms is something that’s more or less frowned upon.
Yet that is precisely what the students that have studied extensively complain about the education system not just here in Saudi but in other countries.
What do you think?