The University of Iowa

On Moroccan Pedagogy

November 10th, 2015

By Claire Jacobson*

Last weekend I visited the former Arab city of Toledo, in Spain. The streets still look like a Moroccan medina, seven hundred years later.

Back in August, I was told that Al Akhawayn University was designed on the American system, differing from most universities of the world in that it involves a “liberal arts” education. Students don’t just study within their specialization, but a wide range of subjects in a way that is meant to broaden one’s worldview and train in critical thinking.

But I’m discovering that while you can take the professor out of the Moroccan university, it’s harder to take the Moroccan university out of the professor. Even though the university is “American” in style, that doesn’t change the way individual professors conduct their classes. As a result, I’ve been learning the hard way what it’s like to attend an actual Moroccan university from my two language professors with whom I have a love/hate relationship.

While I’m sure there are numerous pedagogical differences of which I am unaware, or lack the vocabulary to describe, there is just one that has been causing me a great deal of stress: the ample use of public praise and humiliation of the students. Having been on the receiving end of both of these tactics, I can say that the avoidance of public humiliation has become probably the single greatest motivator for me to do anything. Praise is embarrassing, especially when my Arabic professor praises the international students in order to humiliate the Moroccan students (something along the lines of, “Wow, guys, even these foreigners did better than you on the exam. Let’s all clap for them”). Which, for me, is really not that motivating.

But humiliation… There’s just something about being the one person whose final presentation proposal gets ripped to shreds in front of the class that sucks all the joy out of learning. Which is unfortunate, because French is my major and has usually been my favorite class. Now I have to give myself convincing reasons twice a week why skipping class would be worse than attending; every week I reach farther and farther, usually ending up on “if I don’t go then she’s going to shout at me next time.” On the bright side, only five weeks of class to go.

We made some autumn-y American food for the homesick American students after midterms.

Speaking of which, the public humiliation would be easier to bear if it didn’t involve so much shouting at and insulting the students (“If you’re going to sleep in class I’d rather you stayed home,” to a wide awake student who just didn’t know the correct answer, or “You all did really terribly on this quiz, probably because none of you ever pay attention”). But I think that might be a matter of her personal teaching style rather than the system as a whole.

Nevertheless, one of my greatest joys in life is found in accomplishing things despite someone telling me they were not possible. So for my Arabic professor who tried to place in me in Intermediate I before I moved myself up into his class, I conscientiously proofread all of my writing and endeavor to never mix French into my Arabic by accident (possibly the reason he tried to put me in Intermediate in the first place). And in French class, rather than giving a carefully prepared rant (in French) about how “américaine” and “stupide” are not as synonymous as my professor might believe, I let my work speak for itself.

The result? She has ceased publicly questioning my ability to actually speak the French language since scoring my midterm.

Vindication is sweet.

*Claire Jacobson is a 2018 sophomore from Iowa City, Iowa, majoring in French and Arabic with a certificate in writing at the University of Iowa. She is studying abroad this semester on the ISEP Al Akhawayn University program in Ifrane, Morocco.