By Jennice McCafferty-Wright, PhD
What I Learned from Listening
My work in civic education regularly brings me to Morocco. Previously, I studied how Moroccan teachers and their students experience and interact with civic education programs provided through public diplomacy initiatives.
This summer, I brushed up on my Darija (Moroccan Arabic) and studied the development of civic efficacy and voice through a rapidly growing phenomenon in Morocco, public speaking competitions.
Every year throughout Morocco – from mountain villages to metropolitan centers – education associations, NGOs, and student organizations coordinate public speaking competitions around various themes. Through them, teachers and students engage with cultural continuity, social change, and pressing national and global challenges.
Hundreds of teachers and thousands of students participate in these annual public speaking competitions. Their speeches address a wide range of topics such as citizenship, violence in schools, women’s rights, and peace in Islam.
They’re a big deal, with competitions often including school, local, regional, and national levels. In some communities, newspapers publicize the events, and radio stations broadcast them.
Teachers and students amplify the speeches’ messages when they record and rebroadcast them through social media platforms such as Facebook.
By coordinating these competitions, teachers and organizations play a role in the development of students’ civic voices and bring them into conversations about culture, social change, and public policies. This has the potential to build civic confidence and shape issues affecting youths in Morocco.
What We Can Apply in US Classrooms
Educators in the United States would do well to consider the work of their colleagues in Morocco. For example, imagine the civic agency of our students if we more regularly encouraged them to research and publicly address issues that impact their lives.
Further imagine the collective civic power of U.S. educators if all teachers graduated with experience publicly speaking about issues that deeply impact our field, issues such as teacher compensation, assessment policies, and equitable funding of schools.
What more can Moroccan educators and youths teach us about the transformative power of a confident, public civic voice? Over the next two years, I’ll continue seeking answers to this question and others by attending public speaking competitions in Morocco, meeting with coordinators and participants, and learning more about how the competitions fit within the overall picture of cultural continuity and change in Morocco.