By Eden Almasude*
“My mother was the most educated person I have ever known, people will tell you that” — my father said about my grandmother, an Amazigh woman from northern Morocco. My father has a Ph.D. from an American university, my grandmother never went to school and did not read or write. I’m a medical student traveling in Morocco to visit family for the first time, and between the hours of traveling and quiet mornings with strong black coffee and olives I’m having long conversations with my father about culture, philosophy, and language.
I asked further: what is the difference between education and schooling? How is it that my grandmother knew nothing of ‘schooling’ but knew more about ‘education’ than either of us? She grew up in a village in the Rif mountains speaking Tamazight, the indigenous language of North Africa which is attached to societal perceptions of backwardness, rurality, and peasantry. I’m not sure how she was educated, but certainly from the communal nature of the village — she was an orphan and grew up poor and with just one sibling.
All societies have a system of education, of course, which are often sophisticated means of passing on culture and tradition. For my grandmother, this means a system of values which holds up human interactions and ethics as key to survival and wellbeing. Her ‘education’ implies something about her characteristics, thought, and everyday philosophy rather than information. Everyone who knew my grandmother loved her, and I have never heard anything but adoration for her in every story my father has told: “she is reflective, caring, ethical, and has a strong sense of justice and fairness,” he says. He always uses the present tense to talk about her. In every story she plays the role of the caretaker, always sacrificing for others and taking care of everyone without even thinking about her position in society and her life.
In the modern Moroccan context, however, schooling has taken the place of education with increasing urbanization and loss of traditional societal forms. Going to school entails a practical loss to the family and wasted hours that could be spent contributing in more tangible ways. Families who don’t send their children to school are in many ways the most rational, as there is little benefit to spending years studying foreign languages — French and Arabic — which takes place at the expense of the Amazigh language and culture. Meanwhile, those who went through formal schooling are often left jobless as well, demonstrating the poor system of social support and job opportunities which exist in the country. Yet many are also excluded from even going to school, and approximately half the Moroccan population is illiterate, showing the failings of the present system of schooling.
My grandmother’s name was Fadhma, and I never met her. She died years before I came to Morocco for the first time. I’m sure that much of her knowledge and experience, and those of her generation, have been lost after decades of Moroccan state repression of Amazigh culture but it is by no means gone. As in any society, we are constantly creating and re-creating ourselves and the meaning of ‘tradition.’ My years of experience in a Western system of schooling fall short of the days I spend speaking with fellow Rifians, walking along the Mediterranean coast, and listening to my father’s stories.
As I reflect on all of this, a professional student born in the United States and looking across the Rif mountains, I interrogate myself: am I ‘educated’?
Eden Almasude is a regular Bokamoso contributor. Read her short biography and previous articles here.