24 November 2008 0:36 AM (namibia)
Tonight I would like to write about something of which I am deeply shameful. Please bear with me as I describe my experiences.
From the beginning of 2003 to the end of 2004 I had the privilege of teaching 8th and 9th grade kids in Namibia, a southern African country grappling with the aftermath of apartheid. Unfortunately for my students, I failed.
As a worker within the educational system, I just did my job, namely: convey the curriculum conferred upon me to convey. I damaged kids in the process. Let me count the ways, from nonmonotonically least to worst:
I made kids take tests.
Typically these would be tests coming from the district, containing problems from previous examinations.
These examinations favored students that understand the intentions of those "setting" the test over those students that had a love for questions and not for answers.
I acquiesced with the idea of giving kids multiple-choice tests, and with the idea of giving them tests in general.
These tests always check answers rather than feeling. A student who has a feeling for reality must be able to formalize and reduce her ideas; a holist whose ideas are nuanced is necessarily required to reduce her ideas to symbology.
I forced kids away from their loves by engaging them in an alienated environment.
The pressing question was not, "What do you think is the best way forward for your country with regards to energy?". Rather it was, "Compute the energy difference between position A and position B." The important questions have already been asked; the job of the successful technologist is merely to fill in the details.
I forced kids to ask for permision.
They asked for permission to go to the bathroom.
A request to go to the bathroom (in reality, a row of latrines) was understood as a request either to suit bodily needs (plausible) or to escape from supervision. On the probability of the latter, I often refused requests, in order preserve my dominance.
Kids had to ask permission to engage in anything that left my authoritative purveyal.
I always refused these requests to go home (to tend the goats that wanted to munch their neighbors' fields), to study in the library (an assured invitation to lasciviousness), etc. These were "obvious attempts to take advantage of our generosity".
Note that here, "our" is not racial: it was classist. The prerogative was with the controllng class, in this case the teachers.
I humilliated kids via alienation.
Those kids that really loved their subjects were forced to endure grueling tests to prove that they were worthy, whereas kids that just viewed subjects as hurdles were comfortably given exams on subjects not central to their fundamental ideology.
To put it another way: those that did not love, were passed according to their dedication; those that did love their subjects were passed according to their ability to sublimate their love into obedience to the assigned canon.
I humiliated kids by domination.
This point is very difficult for me to describe.
For my Western readers, imagine this: you are out in the middle of what you perceive to be "nowhere". You are far from Bachelors' degrees, far from Madison Avenue, and you have been asked to take care of a group of 25 kids.
At the beginning they are curious; also they are afraid. What's up with this white guy (in my case) teaching my class?
In my case, well, I stuck to the subject as prescribed both by the curriculum and by the final examinations for my grade. After all, I wasn't going to leave my kids unprepared for my grade's exams.
But all was not right. I went too slow for many. Also, some kids didn't quite get the things that I taught; I was going too fast. There were many valid reasons for this not-getting, not least the fact that South African Apartheid had formally ended only in 1990.
Aside from that, though, there was a range of abilities in my classes. Should I have taught to the most advanced? To the most needy? Who were the most needy?
Personally, I decided just to do my job as a teacher. I neglected Severus Hilma and Namwiha Sakaria (both beautiful, intelligent people) to teach to the rest. I don't really know why I did this -- some sense of the "broader good".
I think that I was wrong.
I should have taught only those who wanted to learn what I had to teach.
Those that I taught were already immensely intelligent -- many of them had been caring for their families and providing their own food for many years before they entered my classroom.
These peoples' knowledge was cheapened and degraded by being put through the industrial wringer of monetary effect. Schools produce the employable; these men and mostly women that had sustained their families with their sweat are worth *nothing* to the institutions seeking to pay back IMF-refinanced loans.
So they didn't need me and my coercion. All they needed was either a space in wish to consolidate their gains, or a helper along the path to academic credentials.
As I say, I failed in both. I neglected the first in an atmosphere of utmost discipline, and I neglected the last in a pedantic effort to make sure that all were at the same place in the great Textbook In The Sky.
When you as an enlightened elite are being ignored, well, that cannot stand.
I made kids kneel inside the classroom facing the wall. They were thus pained personally, and shamed by their peers.
I made kids lie down in the hot sand. This was painful and degrading.
I hit kids on the heads with dusty erasers. Their hair would be all white -- the intention was to amplify the strike with the disapproval of the kid's peers.
I hit kids on the heads with my knuckles. I recall one time in my second year teaching, one beautiful student named Daniel Ricard said after I had hit a companion of his, "Mr. Wingo never used to hit students."
I made kids go to the principal's office. This was a somewhat idle threat, to the extent that perhaps in the shuffle, the kid would get let off the hook. But this was not in my interest so I would follow through.
Once in the principal's office, the kid would get a talking to, with fear: the fear of damage. Almost always the damage would manifest itself: a whipping with a stick, or with a rubber pipe, or with a piece of a fan belt.
I recall a story that a fellow teacher told me of his principal, who had beat a student badly with the only thing at hand, the flat of a machete blade. The student got cut up a bit, and the family complained. The school ended up paying 500 Namibian dollars (about 80 euros) from the school fund -- the fund that the students paid to begin with.
I tell you this tonight because the writing of it relieves my conscience in some sense; it tells my story, though not absolutely. Again in some sense I hope for that Christian construction of "redemption", in which the confessor somehow is understood.
I do not hope for forgiveness, for that is not of the readers of this weblog to give, I do not think. But understanding I do ask. Thank you.