Whose Education Is It, Then?

Amman, Jordan

I’ve said I like teaching business people because they know the value of their own education. They know how many hours they had to work for the money to pay for it, and they know the exact monetary value of success. But sometimes even business people have to be reminded.

My Beginner 1&2 classes are my favorite classes, because students come in knowing almost nothing, and make visible, often remarkable progress. This was especially true for a class we designed especially for Abu Dia3 and his colleagues, who arrived without even any confidence in their knowledge of the alphabet. Now he’s in Beginner 1 proper, and while he finds the much faster pace challenging, in part because he’s well into his forties, he was recently regaling his classmates with the new study habits he learned with me. “Miss Maryah, I copied out the whole text we did yesterday, spelling and punctuation and everything, and translated every word, and now I really know it!”
“Miss Maryah!” said another student. “Why don’t you give us things to copy for homework? It would be so useful!”
“Why do you need me to assign it for homework, if you know it’s useful? Why don’t you just do it?”
“Because you need to threaten us with a big stick!” he laughed.

I have to say, it really hit a nerve. In my school-age students, I can understand it. Kids, whose parents are paying for their educations, too often see education as a burden, and will do as little as they can get away with. Unfortunately, when teachers resort to a big stick as motivation for completing homework, it has repercussions for the way those children see the world and education even as adults.

So I tucked my chin and lifted my eyebrows in my best disappointed schoolmarm face. “I’m not responsible for your education. I’m responsible for your lessons, but you are responsible for your education. If you think it would be a helpful exercise, you can certainly do it yourself.”

You should have seen the sheepish looks on the faces of these businessmen half again or even twice my age…!

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