My little heroes this morning are this kid, and the other guy just behind him.
The basketball court was covered with earthworms this morning. Many of our little city-dwelling students were screaming mindlessly or stamping on them. These kids are scared by nature. Part if it is cultural – many people in this part of the world think the utterly beautiful and harmless Gecko is evil, for example. Part of it is their increasingly sad, air-conditioned, sanitized, concrete, screen-based lives. Show them a bug and they run for their lives… and usually an adult comes with a can of poison to kill it.
But these two Grade 2 students saw me picking up the worms and helped me out. They were a bit squeamish about it at first, but they soon found out nothing was going to happen and promptly returned all the worms to the soil. I made sure I made a big deal of how proud I was of them, but I walked away thinking a number of thoughts:
- We teach kids they must take care of their environment, but do we get them out there properly experiencing it? I have written about this here.
- How can we say we are developing curious students if their reaction to things they don’t know or understand is to scream or kill?
- What do we do about cultural beliefs – particularly damaging ones – that we believe are ridiculous?
- Caring for things – anything really – needs to be modeled. It is clear that this is not happening at home for many of the students in this part of the world – quite the opposite it seems. So, how do we put adult modeling at the forefront of everything we do in schools?
- If a student goes all the way through an international school and still screams at worms but gets into a good university, can we say we’ve “educated” them?
I recently explored an old colonial building here in Saigon. Tiled corridors, sweeping staircases and Art Deco features. Cool little boutiques and cafés juxtaposed with shady family apartments. And, what can only be described as a whole village in itself on the roof.
Beautiful? Yes. Tragic? Almost certainly.
It is quite soul-destroying inhabiting these cities in this part of the world. It is a perpetual cycle of coming across amazing bits of history only to to find them flattened the next time you go past.
There is a direct relationship between this cultural impermanence and the distinctly impermanent nature of international schools in this region. Though they may physically remain in place for some time, the attempts of their transient teachers to have a genuine affect on their transient students often comes across as fleeting. Students and teachers keep passing through as though on some conveyor belt both oblivious to their surroundings and incapable of shaping them. Never the twain shall meet.
Everybody needs to feel as though they are part of something that lasts. How do we create schools that affect and shape culture? How do we create schools that symbolize cultural strength and wisdom and not exploitation and destruction? How do we attract great teachers to those schools and get them to stop looking for a place where the grass is greener? ‘Cause it ain’t. The grass is green back home.