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On Philosophy in the Maghreb



One of the most striking differences that I find between American students and Moroccan students is their reasoning behind pursing higher education: Moroccans are very much geared toward gaining skills for a future career, whereas I feel like most Americans who attend liberal arts schools seek to refine their worldview and absorb knowledge that they won’t have a chance to when they do have a career. That is why one of my professors at AUI says that Al Akhawayn University is not a liberal arts college, but rather a trade school that is (half-heartedly) preparing students to enter the business, engineering, and communications fields.

My favorite philosopher: Plato

My favorite philosopher: Plato

Although I was excited to study in Morocco again, my excitement immediately turned to disappointment as I browsed through the course offerings: there were only two philosophy classes being offered, both of which were introductory courses that would not count for any credit at my home institution. If you don’t know by now, I am a philosophy major at Princeton University. I chose to study philosophy because it was something that I had never been exposed to in high school, and I absolutely loved it. My first philosophy class was phenomenal and opened my eyes to a whole new way of thinking. It wasn’t something that I was good at, but it was something that I wanted to try to be good at.

Anyways, my first encounter with the perception of philosophy in Morocco was on the train to Ifrane (well, to Fez, and then to be picked up and taken to Ifrane). A man sat in our compartment and began talking to us: asking us where we were from, where we were going, and what we study. I was the first to respond, and immediately after the words came out of my mouth, he started laughing. Not a small giggle or snicker, but an actual full-hearted laugh. I was taken aback, and quite frankly, offended. Why on earth was this man laughing at my choice of study? I am, at least, getting a college education! The man didn’t speak enough English to explain to me what was so funny, and I didn’t know enough Darija to understand what he said afterward. So I quickly clammed up and barely said anything else to our rude cabin-mate for the rest of the ride.

It was only in Essaouira that I understood why the man had laughed. As I have written, we met some nice men with whom we had dinner, and one of them explained the situation to me. He said that philosophy is looked upon as a “useless” subject in Morocco because, “what kind of job can you get with a philosophy degree?” I asked what lawyers studied in college before law school, as many who go to law school come from philosophy backgrounds, and he replied with “pre-law.” Seeing as Princeton doesn’t offer a pre-law program, that was never an option for me.

I got an even more in-depth look at how philosophy is perceived by interviewing a philosophy professor and the Vice President for Academic Affairs at AUI. Both of them said basically the same thing: that AUI students had no interest in philosophy because they think that it would not help them to get a job and because it is taught in a completely different manner than what they were exposed to in high school. In the Moroccan school system (and perhaps some of the French system), the emphasis for learning is placed on memorization of material. Obviously, this is not possible in philosophy, for it really teaches you how to critically think and argue, rather than having you memorize useless dates and charts and other information. So when students enter college, they do not like this “new” way of teaching, and thus, the subject itself. I think this is a very unfortunate way of thinking.

Even as I talk to people my age about philosophy, it’s mostly negative. My roommate, for example, has repeatedly told me that philosophy was her least favorite subject in school (she is currently a business major), and that for her next elective she will be taking comparative religion rather than philosophy. Other students have told me the same as well, even praising me for being so “brave” to be studying philosophy, as they don’t like it and don’t see a future in it. I have, thankfully, found a few sane souls who actually do like philosophy and are willing to talk to me about it, including my boyfriend.

In conclusion, I can tell that much of the stigma of philosophy comes from the fact that Morocco is a developing country that places an emphasis on finding jobs in an economy that is mainly supported by agriculture and tourism. I can now see how privledged I am to live in a country that puts the emphasis on education as being a wholesome endeavor, rather than a means to an end. I still haven’t sorted out how I feel about this, exactly, as I can see the logicality of this reasoning in Morocco; however, I must and always will stand by the belief that philosophy is a worthwhile and necessary subject to study, for its benefits are enormous, if not always “practical”.


1 Comment

  1. David says:

    Thanks, Katrina! I totally agree. My philosophy classes were probably the most “useful” classes I ever took: they taught me how to read very difficult texts and how to think clearly and critically. In Morocco, alas, there’s very little interest in a liberal arts education.

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