Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Let young Saudis be themselves

Fascinating letter to the editor from a Saudi teacher Dr. Khalid al-Seghayer to the English daily The Saudi Gazette about his students being unable to express their opinions on the women driving issue and other social questions. A link to the story is here and the full text is below.

Let young Saudis be themselves


Saudi youths seem to be inhibited from expressing their thoughts or feelings and lack the ability to think independently as well. Neither homes nor schools teach young Saudis how to stand up for their own ideas and thoughts.

At home, expressing views is subject to a hierarchical order. My father or older siblings are entitled to give their opinions concerning, let’s say, a family matter. The same tradition is practiced in schools where teachers are the authority figures. Students are taught to follow precisely whatever their instructors tell them. They should not deviate a bit from the teachers’ thoughts or directions; otherwise, they will put themselves in a difficult situation or, to state the obvious, fail the subject.

This social phenomenon is common in the workforce, especially in the government as opposed to the private sector. It creates, I would contend, a generation of young Saudis who cannot, or who are not willing to, express or communicate freely their thoughts and feelings. When you ask them to state their personal views on a subject, they will either ask you in return about your opinion or refer to what so and so said about the issue under discussion.

Let me relate my recent experience with my own students. I asked them to write an academic essay about whether Saudi women should be allowed to drive. I was shocked when all of them, about 50 students, quoted so and so concerning this topic and did not write their thoughts about this controversial social issue. I confronted them and explained I was interested in what each of them personally thought on the issue, not the opinions of the respected people whom they had quoted.

I returned their essays and instructed them to try again, taking into account their need to express their thoughts. To my surprise, a large number of them could not follow my instructions and thus I found it difficult to extract comments and opinions from my students concerning the subject being discussed.

To find out what was wrong, I held a conference session to discuss why they did not write about what they thought about the issue. The overwhelming comment was, “We are not fully trained to express our thoughts,” or “ We are not accustomed to being given a chance to state our ideas freely and independently.” Some of them also mentioned that they were afraid their thoughts might upset me on the assumption that their thoughts might be different from mine.

The following is an example written by one of the students: “….sheikhs of Saudi Arabia say that women’s driving is forbidden. They contend that the disadvantages are more dangerous than the advantages…some of these Islamic scholars say that women driving will be the starting point of Westernizing the Saudi society which will eventually break the teachings of our religion.”

The conclusion that I would like to leave you with is that the inability of young Saudi citizens to express their own thoughts deserves our greatest attention. It also shows us the importance of reconsidering our approaches when it comes to raising and educating our youth.

So let’s do something to make our young Saudi generation aware of the different ways in which they can communicate a range of feelings and thoughts and, most importantly, express their ideas and insights independently.

— The writer is a Saudi academic who can be reached at alseghayer@yahoo.com

1 comment:

  1. Admittedly I used 2 be like that,but gradually as I got older & was more & more exposed to the opinions & views of the outside world, I discovered we are all entitled to express our own opinions. No matter how different. We have only one voice, let it be heard. Mind you, it's an advice I heard somewhere that I myself am trying to follow. Hopefully they'll find their voices....anytime soon?