Thursday, October 18, 2007

who am i to judge?

so i went to the school on monday to teach a class and the teachers decided that since it was raining so much and there weren't that many kids at school that they'd just let them watch a movie. ugh, but fine. i went up and hung out with niña domy and had cafecito and pan dulce. tuesday i went to san salvador to deal with my passport and carnet verde extensions for my third year. wednesday i show up at the school and managed to work with the first graders for a while, but in the afternoon was told that there was a meeting scheduled with the parents so there was no school in the afternoon. fine. so today i show up and when i walk into the school i see all the kids in one of the classrooms watching yet another movie....apocalypto. ????? i ask mirna if they're gonna watch another movie all afternoon and she says "no, just for a little bit." this was at 1:15. school doesn't officially start in the afternoon until 1:30, so i was like "ok." so 1:30 rolls around and the movie isn't over yet, so they keep watching it. finally at like 2:00 the movie ends (the teachers had been watching the movie through their lunch hour and it was the last part of the movie) and elba goes "ok, time for física (recess)!" i'm like "what?"

kids are only in school half the day.....of that half day, at least in my school, the kids have "recreo" (time where they eat their snacks) twice a day for ½ hour each. in the afternoon for example, they start school at 1:30, have class until 2:30, have recreo, then go back in the classroom at 3:00. then at 4:00 they have another recreo and go back into class for 15 minutes before the teachers let them go for the day. that's right, the kids are only technically in class for two hours and 15 minutes a day. in the morning, they have even less because the teachers basically let them go at 11:30 because the teachers want to cook their lunch. anyway, it's even worse on days where they have física because they have that for a friggin' hour! so on those days, they only have class for an hour and fifteen minutes.

sometimes i wonder what the hell it is i'm doing here. how am i supposed to come in and teach a class when they are only even getting, at most, two hours of class where they're supposed to be learning language and reading and math and social studies. i look at this education system and it literally makes me want to throw up. what a waste! the shitty education these kids are getting in my school has nothing to do with how many resources they have or anything. the teachers have the ability (well, except in elba's case, since she has no friggin' education herself) to teach the kids adequately. i mean, two hours and 15 minutes isn't a lot, but it's more than lots of kids around the world have, right? so lucky them. but honestly, these teachers do the bare minimum and they don't have any qualms about it. they think that the education they are providing is sufficient and that they are seriously helping these kids learn. i want to shake them and tell them that they're seriously mistaken.

the sad thing is, the kids want to have class with me. they'd rather have a science or english class with me than watch the damn movie. this is how i answer "what the hell am i doing here?" because of the little education they do get, the even smaller time they have with me is probably worth so much more. but the teachers set the schedule. so the kids have to do what the teacher says. and so do i, really. i can't just come in there and say "well, i don't care what it is you have planned, we're going ahead with my science class." so a lot of the time, i waste my time going to the school because all i end up doing is turning around and going back home or going up to niña domy's and chatting and having coffee.

back to the movies.....the other day i came in and they were hooking up the brand new HOME THEATER SYSTEM dvd player they had just bought. the previous dvd player was stolen when our school got broken into and robbed. so they used school funds to purchase this system. WTF? seriously, WTF? mirna the other day was asking me if i had any more pencils because her first graders had used up all their pencils that i had previously given her to give to the kids to use. seriously, why in the hell is the school buying a dvd home theater system when the first graders don't have any friggin' pencils to use to study with????? i mean, i look at that situation and i think "do they not have ANY common sense? do they not care AT ALL about those kids' education?" why do we even need a dvd player? i don't even know myself. it's not like they're showing educational movies to the kids ever. it's always a movie for día de los niños, or some other occasion. never for education. it seems like nothing is geared towards education.

but there i go judging again. just like my previous post about the telenovela that is san jorge, that's completely and totally my judgment of those series of events, right? i come from a completely different culture where we have our own telenovela lives that make no sense to salvadorans (por ejemplo, why in god's name would i choose to leave my parents' home and live independently without having a husband???). so that whole entry about how i think things are so crazy here and why in the world would people put up with that stuff is totally my judgment of them. in my experience with education in the states, schools basically stick with the school schedule - which is focused on education, for the most part - and the fiestas and movie-watching days are few and far between. right? i mean, i know there are exceptions to this standard, but generally, schools in the u.s. are places where you get an education. and you're there for hours, right? i mean, in college, each class is longer than the ENTIRE SCHOOL DAY for these kids down here. i know that's comparing apples and oranges, but still. my point is, i'm taking my experience of growing up with the u.s.'s education system and applying it to here. and while our system makes sense (as flawed as it is), it's light years ahead of what salvadorans think of as education. things that are wham! common sense to me, may not be to these teachers. and as true as that might be, it's still unfortunate. i've had conversations with the teachers where i've brought up the subject of the comparison of education in the states to here and they all just kind of chalk it up to "you're country is rich and we are poor." so that kind of tells me that it's not that they don't understand or it doesn't make sense to them, it's that they're using the excuse of lack of money to adequately teach. which is totally not the problem. you can teach without money. you can! but you have to be dedicated and willing to put forth your best effort, which i know they don't. so am i really judging them? or am i just stating the obvious? ugh, who knows.

this is such a crazy situation to be in.....being from a totally different culture and trying not to get frustrated when things don't add up in the culture you're living. but like i said before, it does make me more confident that what i'm doing really is affecting these kids because they have a class with me and it's completely and totally different than how it is with the other teachers. and the majority of them love it. i give them pop quizzes and competitions and it means they have to study, but they really do love it. i had a competition one of the other days in class and a couple bratty girls were trying to cheat and mirna saw them and just laughed. i, of course, took their cheat sheets away and all that. but i got to thinking later that that's what happens and it's how these kids learn. they may or may not go to class, and when it's time for a test, they cheat and they move on to the next grade. and they wind up with not much of an education at all. and here i am trying to teach them that "cheaters never win!" and "it's harder to cheat than to study" (yes, i've turned into one of those people....), when it's totally the norm to cheat here.

there are certain kids that are just great....they study super hard and come to class every day, rain or shine. these kids are just so great. i feel bad because sometimes it's like you can see in their faces that they expect so much more than they're getting. and in some ways it's so sad to see them loving to learn and study and be in class, because they aren't getting that in any other part of their education. it's heartbreaking, really. i have been having reading classes with the kids in first grade. my mom and some other teachers in her school bought a ton of these kids' spanish books for the kids in my school and so every week i have a group of first graders and we read one of the books and then i ask them questions about the story and all that. they absolutely love it. they get mad when they have to leave to go to recreo or home for the day. and it's simply a matter of them being able to read books. how can we even take for granted the fact, that in the states, we have libraries - not only in our towns and cities, but in our schools - where there are thousands of books that we can read whenever and whatever the hell we want to. for these kids, basically their only opportunity to read books is with me. doesn't that suck? i, in my judgment of my school and this culture, think it sucks terribly.

this is all a vicious circle, because after six years of educación basica, where they've had no opportunity to read books (actual real books with stories of animals and kids and fun things), and have been able to cheat their way through, they have no desire to go on to 7th grade. why would they? i mean, if the teachers don't really give a hoot about their education, why should the kids? so most of them don't go on to 7th grade. instead, the girls start looking for boys to mess around with, eventually hooking up and getting pregnant or whatever and the next thing you know, they are standing behind a plancha making tortillas for the rest of their lives. some boys do go on to 7th grade, but for lots of them, graduating from 6th grade means it's time to look for a full-time job in the fincas.

i was so mad when we had that competition where the girls tried to cheat. i felt like, here we are in this world where, as women, we're trying to prove that we're equal to men. i mean, in the states, it's been this struggle to prove that we are just as smart and able as men. and then to be thrown in the middle of this culture - it is like being back in time. during this competition, both groups of boys studied....i know they did. they were ready for the competition, readily gave me their notebooks so i could make sure they weren't gonna cheat. they had no problems completing the task. whereas the girls just whined and begged for more study time, tried to hide their notebooks under their jackets on their laps, kept trying to get me to tell them at least one of the answers. it was exhausting. after the activity (where i gave out prizes to the group that finished first), i was like "the winners didn't win because they're's because they studied." but the sad thing is, the girls, and the boys, i'm certain of it, think that the boys won because they are smarter. i've tried mixing boys and girls together to have these competitions, but the girls REFUSE to work with the boys. they absolutely refuse to. isn't that crazy????? but there goes my judgment again.

what are the kids to do? they only have their parents and teachers to look up to. and if their parents don't promote any kind of learning (the sad case for most kids), and then on top of that the teachers just let them watch movies and have recess most days, seriously, what are the kids to do? it's so frustrating, because it is so much easier to change kids' minds....teach them that there is a different way. but they aren't the ones that can make the decisions about the school schedule or what they do at home. that's all on the adults. and the adults, in my opinion, aren't helping the cause. the adult parents are the ones that keep the kids out of school when it's time to cut coffee. the adult teachers are the ones that decide to show movies. the teachers are the ones that decide to buy a dvd player and no pencils.

there is a fantastic book that i just finished reading a couple months ago called three cups of tea. it's the story of this mountain climber who happened upon this village in pakistan after his failed attempt at climbing k2. he gets to talking to the villagers and they mention that they've no school, that the kids are having class on this mountain, out in the open. so this guy decides to build them a school. and the project changes his life, he realizes the need for more schools like this in pakistan and afghanistan and dedicates his life to building these schools. his theory is that education is really the key to peace. educating the younger generations, giving them well-rounded educations really is what the world needs. i completely agree with this theory - especially after being here. everything from medicine to human rights to equality to overpopulation hinges on the education of the people.

i live in an area where maybe half of the people can read and write. i was reading some statistics that said el salvador has an 80% literacy rate. that gives such a false projection of what the literacy rate is for the WHOLE country. i think the fact that there are so many people living here, and that san salvador is so huge, skews this so-called data. as with any big city, the literacy rate is going to be higher, but out here in the campo, there is no way literacy is 80%. every time my committee has a meeting with the members of the community, we have them sign our libro de actas, to keep a record of who attended the meetings, and most of the people who come can't even sign their names. so here, we have a generation of people who can't read or write, who've not placed much thought into education in their lifetime, raising children and may or may not be sending those children to school, where the teachers aren't placing much importance on their education either. and i can see how the lack of education, for a lot of people, really does affect their knowledge of other things - like reproduction and health. for example, nutrition. they think that buying 5 cent bags of potato chips for their children is an adequate form of nutrition. they don't drink water, not because it is contaminated (they can boil their water to get rid of the contamination), but because they think it makes them fat. so they drink coke and salva cola instead. ?????? why do they think this??? maybe because they've never sat in a classroom and learned the importance of water. how can they know that they need water to grow their crops, but they don't know that we need it to stay healthy? like i said, it all comes down to education. it really does.

but back to the book three cups of tea.....another interesting thing i noticed was how different that part of the world seems to value education. the problem there isn't getting people interested in education, but having the actual physical structures to teach in. here, it seems like the opposite. we have schools all over the country here, nearly every child has an opportunity to go to school. it's the interest of the parents, or the children themselves, and often times, the teachers as well, that is lacking. my friend courtney has the same problem at her school....she shows up to teach and realizes it's "extended recreo" that day and so she can't teach. it's almost like they're adverse to actually teaching. any excuse they can use not to teach, they jump on it like a flash.

anyway, these are my latest observations and frustrations. but the good thing for me is that i really do feel so much more needed here, even if the adults don't realize how much i am needed here. it is such a great thing to hear the kids asking me when i'm teaching again, or to hear a first grader asking me if we're gonna read another book. during my classes with the first graders, i'll have other first graders and second graders standing outside the classroom, trying to get in or be part of the class. when i go into the first grade classroom and am like "ok, i can work with a group of five," the kids go nuts....they're all pleading with mirna to be one of the ones selected. i feel like i'm some kind of really popular professor at some ivy-league college who has this great class that fills up really quickly, but since the professor is so popular and teaches so well, other students just want to sit in on the class even if they don't get credit. that's a rather dramatic comparison, but that's honestly what it feels like.

imagine that. a situation where kids want to learn and teachers want to teach. books and pencils. in my not so secret, judgmental opinion, that's what education should be.