A Blog from Amman, Jordan, Online Since 2004.

How to encourage students to think for themselves

“There are three things which you may never write about in your essays for this class.”
That was the first thing I heard yesterday in my first writing class on the first day of the summer semester.
The professor walked up to the chalkboard and wrote the following three words:

1. Religion
2. Politics
3. Sex

An hour later in my second class, Military Science, the officer introduced himself and then told us that there is one thing that will never be discussed in this class, and which we are not allowed to ask any questions about – politics.

Snippets from the website of Jordan University,

The adoption of the principle of democracy in the education and decision-making processes.

… it is by such activity that the university would become a main center of enquiry into the physical and social problems of the country. Within its precincts, there could grow up succeeding generations of students with an understanding of the sociological and technical problems of their country, and, as practical experience was added to their theoretical knowledge, these scholars would be in a position to make an outstanding contribution towards their solution.

How depressing.


For the love of…


Detour City


  1. indeed.


  2. thumbs up, that was strong..

  3. This is so sad!!!
    How do they expect people to progress and be creative when our festering points continue to go neglected among the brightest and upcoming generations?
    I do understand that there might be valid reasons for these matters be treated with sensitivity to stop people from ending up in a position where they would cut each other’s throats. But for god’s sake if universities are not the place to discuss pain points then where!!?

    May god be with you Roba! My heart aches for our youth, who’s destined to be frustrated even before it blossoms! Ya haram

  4. Drop the summer courses to do more blogging. That would make your summer much more productive ;-)

  5. If it makes you feel any better, American universities do the same thing. But, it depends from institution to institution. Usually, if we want to discuss those topics, we have to sign up for a class dealing directly with the topic.

  6. Nas

    talking about politics, religion and sex are highly over rated :-D

    the sad irony is that the first educational institutions to ever address these exact three topics in a free learning environment with actual intellectual exchanges…was during the Islamic empire…specifically in Baghdad and Cordoba. kings in europe would send letters of requests to the caliph(s) to get permission for their sons and daughters to study there.

    we’ve come a long way eh?

  7. Unfortunately, I don’t think the two parts of the above (i.e. the anectodes and the snippet) are necessarily exclusive. The problem, however, is that the university probably does not have a well-defined philosophy of liberal education, hence the question of debating matters of religion/politics/sex falls into a grey area, and teachers and/or students shy away from engaging in ‘controversy’. But the academy should be the place to facilitate free and critical enquiries in difficult subjects, without endorsing value-based judgments (Hence, the distinction between debating “political science” in class as opposed to “politics”).

    A major problem with the approach to education in our societies is the over-emphasis on the technical/sociological disciplines, and the neglect of the humanities. While there are historical reasons why things turned out this way, this partly also connects to the problem above: society would much rather have you become a doctor/engineer than an academic of religion (there’s a whole fear). And so, Roba, here’s also the whole reason I admire your courage to pursue the arts!

  8. moi

    Truly saddening. I cannot even begin to imagine what my college experience would’ve been like if I had not discussed those topics. I’m so thankful that I had the chance to speak my mind all the time, regardless of whether the profs agreed with me or not. I hope that Jordanian students will have this freedom one day too.

  9. The prohibition on discussing politics is appropriate when discussing military matters, as I assume a “Military Science” class does. It’s illegal in the United States for a member of the military to become to voice a political opinion. As I assume it is in most countries. For good reason :)

    I’m curious, though, what exactly is “Military Science” – I’ve never heard of that!?

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  11. Sorry, but cant see your point

    I do not see your point Roba.

    I mean I do not see any contradiction between the snippet from the site and the events you described.

    For instance, “there could grow up succeeding generations of students with an understanding of the sociological and technical problems of their country”.

    Note two things, first, they have a disclaimer. The clearly say “there COULD grow..” … so it could, and it could not.

    Secondly, the whole statement still applies to all cases !ALL CASES! except for the insignificant minority of issues relating to Religion, Politics and Sex.

    These issues are over rated anyways. I mean Sex is a non issue in Jordan and no body thinks about it.

    Its not like we have sexual perverts or people yelling “Aish ya khassih” to passers by of the other gender.

    Same applies for politics and religion (except for the khassih part).

    I do not know why you would even open such an issue. Its not like the professor said you couldn’t write about ….. uhmmm …. Food! or ….. colors ….. or doors .. or any of the other hot issues that are at the core of sociological and technical problems of our country.!!!!!

    I am so PISSED!! I have to literally go and pour cold water on my head!!!!

  12. b.

    For your writing class:
    As counterintuitive as it may seem, I do think it’s a way to learn how to think for yourself — an opportunity waiting to be taken, a challenge waiting to met. To express your feelings, thoughts, and beliefs about these issues, you will need to find ways to talk about them which don’t break the given set of rules — and that is an exercise which will allow you the greatest of intellectual freedoms, in the end, by forcing your mind down paths which otherwise you may not have considered.

    If you can learn this while in university, you will have learned one of life’s more valuable lessons.

    For your Military Science class:
    It is a rule that is hardly surprising, given the subject matter. Consider the very name: “science”. I think it very likely that your instructor will present himself and his material as though it were as pure and free as, say, geology — as a true science, free from human interference except through the practioners of that “science” — even though nothing really could be further from the truth. Any discussion of politics, however relevant, will muddy the waters. And we are, of course, talking about Jordan, which for all its many, many merits, hardly ranks high on the “freedom of expression” scale, especially with someone who is, after all, a representative of the government.

  13. IE

    Its our lack of understatement of freedom of speech that mobilize us to prevent the acceptance of such movements , the power behind such freedoms and the universal understand of the effect of modern freedom of speech is what motivating the majority of our communities to fight such principles, however I cant remember how said it but it was better said
    ” shall we judge a community by its majority or its minority ?
    Of course by minority , the mass are animals “

  14. Suggested title for your first essay,
    Mary Magdalene a symbol for sexuality, morality or an advocate of women rights!

    Suggested question for Military Science
    The army where dose it stand on democracy?

  15. This is one of the most obvious hypocrite symptoms of the so-called democracy inside Jordanian universites and Jordan, I’ve posted about the same exact topic in the past, this is disgusting.

  16. Actually, Military Sciences has a lot to do with politics due to the nature of this region. It’s impossible to talk about the army without mentioning Israel, the Arab Revolt, the war on Iraq, and many other issues that directly involve the army and this country. It’s proving hard for the officer to keep mentioning various incidents in 2 words followed by “I’m sure you know all about that”…

    It really sucks.

    Anyway, the reason this bothered me is because everyone is always complaining about how today’s youth is shallow, only worrying about where to eat, what to wear, and how to party, and although that’s the case for everyone, there is a good amount of people who are like that. But such cases are only a product of the system.

    Keko, I love your idea! Especially about the essay :D

  17. Hi Roba,

    I’m still not sure whta military science class is. Strategy and tactics, combined with historical examples? Or is it a study of the use of military force?

    I still think the military should be completely dissassociated from politics, no matter what country or region. When military forces get involved in political issues, it usually ends up in the military taking over the government. Then again, maybe this is exactly the sort of concept that should be studied in a military science class? :)

    Military coups have taken place as often in the middle east as anywhere else in the world. Some in recent history. Q in Libya, for instance. And Saddam had the backing of the military when he took over Iraq, though he wasn’t a military officer.

    Any way, the proper role of the military is to protect the state, and that’s where their loyalties should be. Not to a specific government. Hence the prohibition on becoming involved in political matters.

  18. You are a tool! Ok I don’t mean you as in Roba, I mean this is what you are supposed to be, and this is how the MAN wants all the students to be!

    A parrot that must memorize what’s written in their textbooks.

    CRAIG Well, in Jordan the course goes like this:

    It basically talks about Jordan’s modern history, like how the state was first established and how it gained its independence from the Brits,Wars,etc. It talks about the history and duties of the army divisions (airborne, infantry units,etc) , their vehicles, equipment, ranks.
    The organizational structure of the army and the state.
    It talks about drugs fighting, where you’ll have a guest speaker telling kids to stay away from drugs and stuff. A great emphasis on the rule of women in the army.

    The course has nothing to do with military tactics nor would anyone touch a weapon or something! It’s just a series of VERY boring lectures, where half of the students are asleep and the other half are checking out the ARTs chicks (only applicable for engineering students). Attendance is mandatory and it’s a pass or fail course.

    I really think they should change the course title

  19. Thanks Firas… I guess we don’t have an equivalent course in US universities. Thankfully, because it *does* sound pretty boring :)

  20. Roba, the reasons why i failed the military science class last course is:

    * never attended any classes after boredom of first class.
    * the doctor didnt like me
    * the material is shit

    don’t feel bad about it.

    and when’s the next JP meet-up?

  21. he’s taken out all the good stuff! sab eh?

  22. Roba, the University of Jordan is one of the most contradicting, hypocritical institutions in this country.

    Aside from their success in teaching us how to hate whatever it is we are studying, they fail to instill one shred of good habits or practices that can help students excel in the real world after graduating with below zero experience –that means you have the wrong kind of experience.

    I can assure you, every successful graduate who has ever come out of UoJ is the product of hers own efforts to overcome the disadvantages brought upon her by this university.

    It is really funny when you read the ideals they publish and really sad that many people –like we did once- actually believe them.

  23. Hello..

    I totally agree with arafat ( commentor up ).

    Unfortunately, the supposedly educated part of the society is not practicing its right ( to express itself nomatter what ) in anything. What would you expect from their students ?

    Sad, and SHAMEFUL.

    Another note :
    The situation is dramatically improving I believe. I can sense it.

  24. Anonymous

    Let me guess… This is a government school you’re talking about?

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