A Declaration of Independence

“Teacher, what is date?” she asks me. Another innocuous question in a endless string of simple questions. I face a barrage of them from her. The queries are easy to answer, and I could utter the solutions in seconds without even looking up.

Should I, or should I let her ponder the answer, look around and try to solve the problem herself?

Over the six weeks we have been in the kitchen classroom, I have repeated ad nauseum basic kitchen rules: like goes with like, say behind, label and date, raw chicken on the bottom shelf. I’ve demonstrated, I’ve illustrated and I’ve exhorted.

I stress to her over and again how following these basic rules of kitchen courtesy are so important, that her future employer will expect her to know and observe them. I tell her that what will set her apart from all the cooks in the kitchen is her ability and INITIATIVE to think independently, to show she knows her stuff, that she has a good solid foundation on which her chef can build.

I look at her and return the question to her. “What would you do if I wasn’t here? How would you find the answer if no one was in the kitchen with you?”

I know, it seems heartless of me. Why won’t I answer such an easy question? Why am I making her think about how to find out the answer on her own? What harm could there be in just handing out solutions? It would be so much easier and faster for me to just chirp out answers all the time.

Truth is, this simple question is the symptom of a much deeper issue. And that is the case of someone who has been conditioned to believe she canNOT think, that her opinion doesn’t deserve to be heard, that somehow she is not smart enough or worthy enough of anything more than a cursory education. It is the marker of an infection by someone, many someones really, who have told her over the course of her life that she has to do as they say, that she has to follow their orders, that she has no volition of her own. They have intellectually, emotionally and psychologically crippled her.

In four months, I am trying to take someone who has relied on everyone around her to take care of her, direct her, make decisions for her, and help her claim her power. Her success in the working world will rely less on her technical skills than her ability to think on her feet and to show initiative.

It’s a powerful combination of religion (doesn’t matter which one, all of them can be used to oppress someone else), social views on women, a lack of education and exposure to the world that renders some of these women helpless in daily activity. They may not be able to drive, have their own bank accounts, or do simple math. They are kept as children in adult bodies, reliant on their husbands or other males to make all the decisions.

But she is NOT a child. She is a beautiful female with an agile intellect, on the cusp of learning how strong she is. She lacks confidence and has been taught through the years that she is inferior, that her opinions are not worthy and that education is wasted on her.

Oh, I get it. Part of the constant question asking is a desire to do the right thing, to make ME happy. But it’s not about pleasing me. It’s about developing her drive and confidence to make a decision, even the wrong one.

I’ll be honest. I get frustrated. I don’t understand how someone can let themselves be so reliant on another person. I want to shake her up and tell her to wake up and stop being so subservient. I want to grasp her by shoulders and tell her to rage against her oppressors, to be in command of her own life.

But then, I have had the luxury of freedom of choice of religion, of a good higher education, of millions of women before me marching, protesting, and fighting to get a few more cracks in the glass ceiling. I can wear what I want, know how to drive (and parallel park), and have my own bank account, my own cell phone and email address (yes, these are small but important things for autonomy). I can vote. I move cross-country and around the world alone if I choose to.

I am heard.

She hasn’t. She isn’t.

This class may be her introduction to her own personal declaration of independence. And she’s taken the first steps by enrolling. She may think she signed up to learn how to get a job, but getting and keeping a job is about more than just learning to put Widget A together with Widget B.

This is the hardest thing I teach. How do I make her realize she has the ability to find the keys to her strength within her? How do I push her to stand on her own two feet? How do I help her reach the point where she grasps the idea that she in and of HERSELF is enough, more than enough, and more importantly, worthy of so much better?

So I look at her again, and ask her, “How can you find the answer?”

She pauses, and then says, “mobile.”

I smile and say that yes, that is one way, that’s a great way, and good job.

And I hope that she has discovered through this little exchange how she IS capable of being her own heroine.



2 Responses to A Declaration of Independence

  1. She need time to learn how to be her self . She need to discover that by her own . I found it hard to do as Arabic women. All you talked about was so true but some times I feel so exhausted to fight with everything and everyone even myself I believe if we try so hard we can show the others how truly we are .

  2. I agree. But I hope we can help her realize that.

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