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Education Notes From My Travels Around the World - S. Hein
These conclusions are based primarily on my own personal visits to schools in the following countries: Australia, Canada, Columbia, Ecuador, Germany, Indonesia, Malaysia, Mexico, New Zealand, South Africa, Thailand, United States. I have also had many talks with teachers and students from other countries such as England, Holland, Switzerland, Norway, etc.
- Most schools I have seen take beautiful children and turn them into ugly adults
- Most schools make children and teenagers more competitive, more self-centered
- Instead of making learning an exciting, fulfilling experience, they make it a boring, painful one.
- The longer people spend in school the less they care about other people and the more they think about money
- Schools do not encourage people to have their own businesses. They prepare them to accept a life of working for someone else.
- Schools make children and teenagers feel powerless. They teach them that their ideas and feelings don't matter.
- Schools are closer to dictatorships than democracies. Students have little voice in the school.
- In countries like England and Australia, which claim to be the models of freedom in the world, students have to wear uniforms and aren't even free to choose the color of their socks.
- In most of the countries I have visited, students have very little real freedom. Sheep seem to have more freedom. When sheep are sleepy, they go to sleep. No one shouts at them or threatens to punish them. When sheep want to relieve themselves, they do it. They don't have to ask for permission to go to the bathroom. When sheep are hungry, they eat. They don't get yelled at or punished for eating in class. When sheep want to move around, they do. They don't get told to sit down. When sheep want to make a noise, they do. They don't get punished for talking without permission. And when sheep want to have sex, they do. No one tells them it is inappropriate or they are too young, or they should be concentrating on their studies. So who is more free. Sheep in a pasture or the average teenager in a school?
- Schools kill the student's creativity.
- Schools are based on the fear of punishment for disobedience
- Forcing people to go to school is not in the best interests of society
- Schools are turning females into males. They are teaching and rewarding the "male" values. One example, female students in many schools are forced to wear ties as part of their uniforms. In many schools they are encouraged to play basketball and other sports and compete against each other. Instead of developing the natural cooperative instinct of females, schools are encouraging competitiveness.
- Teachers who really want to make a difference and change the system are discouraged and often driven out of teaching. The teachers who remain are those who follow the rules.
- Teachers with new ideas are often seen as threats to even the other teachers.
- Most private school owners and directors care more about money and power than they do about the students.
- Many schools are simply businesses.
- Almost no one is writing about what is going on inside schools. I have not once seen a journalist or a news reporter with a camera and a tape recorder.
- Most adults do not take the complaints of students seriously.
- Many parents are happy to have their children and teenagers controlled by the schools. It is less work for them.
- Schools rob students of their time by forciing them to go to school and do homework outside of school. Almost no one questions this or sees it as theft of time.
- Grades are more important to most parents than love and relationships. Many teenagers around the world are told that they need to concentrate on their studies and they have no time for romance or even their friends.
- The emotional needs of children and teenagers are not being met. So they become more and more resentful, emotionally needy and unhappy. They become more likely to be hurtful towards others. Or to do self-destructive things such as drinking, smoking, using drugs etc.
- In countries like Australia, England and the USA students are much more deliberately hurtful towards each other than in countries like Indonesia, Thailand, Malaysia or Ecuador.
- The pressures, stress and lack of emotional need fulfilment in schools is a major contributor to teen suicide and self-harm.
- The teachers and school directors have too much power
My overall conclusion is this:
The commonly accepted idea that "education = a job = success = happiness" is a huge, misleading, harmful myth.
Some humor (or should I say humour?)
A consultant in the UK wrote this letter to a colleague,
This was an actual letter I saw posted on May 11, 2004
to a group of PhD's in an organization called EMONET
More notes on education - Laws on confinement
- Children were the most afraid I have ever seen. If you say hello to them they stare at you in fear.
- It is still legal to hit them at home and at school. And it is quite common. I even talked to a consultant in human relations and emotional intelligence who admitted to me that he hit his children.
- Talking to most highschool students there was like pushing the play button on a tape recorder. They all are so brainwashed with propaganda about their country. They justify and defend their rules and punishments.
- There are special private schools on nearly every corner offering extra classes on everything, especially, math, computers, science.
- Students must wear uniforms. They will be punished if they do not wear the complete uniform, including the school pin.
- Some schools require the females to wear ties.
- At one school I saw hundreds of students all sitting outside on the ground, cross-legged, in their school uniforms, getting lectured to by the school director. I saw one student get yelled at for not sitting exactly the same way as the others.
Other notes on Singapore
It is the most materialistic country I have ever seen. There is almost no nature. People do not sit on the grass in parks.
- There is a joke about the 5 C's of Singapore: Cash, Credit Cards, Cars, Cell Phones and Country Club Memberships
- It is common for children to be raised by foreign maids.
Here is one small story from my journal notes in Singapore
- I wrote a story about students being hit while listening to boring speeches written by adults in the government.
- I talked to a Muslim Math teacher who told me he wanted to make it legal again to hit the students. He also told me that the reason you get married is so you can have sex. He also said that he knew he had a very bad temper so he would tell his students "Don't make me angry."
- Most of the Muslim females would not shake my hand. They said their religion forbids them to have contact with males until they are married.
- I read an article about runaway female teenagers who go to Kuala Lumpor, the capital, where they become prostitutes, because they were being beaten and over-controlled by their parents.
- Some of the teachers make the students stand up when the teacher walks in.
- One of the teachers was teaching Christian songs in the school. She was one who made the students all stand up and all repeat the same thing at the same time. She would say, "Do you love me class?" And they would all say, "Yes," but when I talked to them individually they told me this was not true but they knew this is the answer she wanted to hear. She also was trying to get more money from the government so the school could have more athletic facilities. She was Catholic and the Catholic schools liked to have a lot of sports and athletic competitions.
- One Catholic school had a week of nothing but athletic competitions in the school with other Catholic schools. They had students checking the backpacks of people coming to the competition because in the past their had been fights with students from other schools. There was also at least one fight at the school that week. One of the students was in charge of security and was walking around with a walkie talkie.
- I watched some females practicing basketball at the same Catholic school. They were very serious and competitive. They were not anywhere near as friendly as the students playing basketball at the poor public school. At the public school they would pass me the ball and were happy to have me join them. But not at the Catholic school.
- The males playing volleyball at the Catholic school seemed very violent in the way they hit the ball. They also seemed to be very worried about looking "cool."
- One day I saw the females dressed up in different uniforms. I learned they were practicing for jobs in the tourism industry. Each one would walk around on a platform in front of a teacher who would advise them on how to dress. The females were wearing matching tight skirts and tight shirts. The males were wearing suit jackets and ties, all the same color.
- One day I saw some students walking home. They were all in uniforms. The females were wearing ties. I asked them about this and they just thought it was normal. This was an expensive private school.
- At one school I saw an English teacher shout at three females who arrived about five minutes late for his class. He had just started giving the class a listening test where he would play a tape recording and have the students try to figure out what was being said and answer questions. He made the students sit apart from each other so they wouldn't help each other. The students looked stressed and afraid. Then when he shouted at the others, they felt even more afraid. He said, "Where were you?! Why didn't you tell me you were going to be late?!" Then when they tried to sit down he shouted at them about not sitting next to someone else. He made two of them get up and move. This made all the students feel even more afraid and I am sure it did not help their test scores. The tape was very difficult even for me to understand. It was a copy of a copy of a copy, I'm sure and it was made in England so the speakers had a British accent.
- Later while the class was taking the test this same teacher walked out to the hall and shouted at some other students who were in the classroom next door. There was no teacher in the room and the students had been just sitting there talking to each other. Some of them were sitting on their desks or on the floor and quickly jumped into their seats when they saw him. He said, "Where is your teacher?! Why didn't you go to the office and tell them you didn't have a teacher?!"
- In Indonesia it was common for teachers not to show up and there were usually not substitute teachers. The class would just sit around, talk, play basketball or soccer, go down to the canteen and eat, etc. till the next period. The teachers didn't take their jobs very seriously because they weren't getting paid much. Most of them had other jobs to make enough money to live on. One had a motorcycle repair business for example and if he were busy with that, he just wouldn't come to the school.
- The students all across the country in the public schools had to wear the same uniform. The females had to wear blue/grey skirts and white shirts. All the students had to wear black shoes and white socks.
- In the Muslim schools they would go to a special room in the school and pray at prayer time.
- Students would freely walk around. They would sit at the canteen and talk to me without any interference from teachers. Sometimes we talked for about an hour.
- They seemed very responsible and very cooperative. I never saw any students deliberately hurting other students.
- The classrooms, halls, and toilets were the filthiest I have ever seen.
- On stairway wall was a sign that said, "Cleanliness is a part of faith." I was told this was the product of the Catholic teacher at the school, which was nearly all Muslim.
- Only about 10 percent of the Muslim females at one public school wore the headscarf to school. I asked some females why they didn't wear the headscarf and one shouted "Too hot!" The rest all laughed. Indonesia has a tropical climate, by the way, so it is always hot there.
- The favorite signers were all the American pop stars Brittany Spears, Avril Lavigne, Eminem etc.
- At one public school in Jakarta only about 1 percent of the students had cell phones. One Muslim student told me she lost hers but told her mother it was broken because she said her mother would kill her if she knew she had lost it.
- In one Catholic school I saw a sign that said "Say and do only positive things."
- In schools I would see females leaning on each other in school, holding hands, etc. For example, during one class I saw one female rest her head on the shoulder of another female. The teacher didn't mind.
Once when I was talking to some students one females laid her head in the lap of her friend. The friend stroked her hair.
- In one school in Indonesia you have to take your shoes off to go inside the library. I didn't have socks so I was walking around in barefeet in the library! No one minded and no one understood why this was so funny to me. They didn't grow up in a country where going barefoot in buildings is either forbidden or illegal.
- Once when I was walking around with one of the school directors we came to some students sitting on short wall. As soon as they saw her they jumped off and stood up.
- In a couple schools I asked the students to tell me about times they felt afraid. The main things they were afraid of were: their fathers getting angry and making mistakes. Other answers included walking in graveyards and seeing ghosts or the devil.
- Once I was told by a university student, studying to be a teacher, that I should not to collect papers with my left hand. I asked why and was told it was "not polite." I asked the class about this and they said, yes that was true. So I asked why and no one knew. Then I asked the students if they cared and they said no and laughed.
- All the high school females must cut their hair so short that it doesn't touch their shoulders.
- All the females I talked to about this hate it.
- At one school they got the director to change the rules so they could have long hair. But after one year he decided he didn't like the way the students looked and he changed the rule back.
- Virtually all the females I talked to said they would rather wear blue jeans.
- In all schools I saw, the students must wear uniforms. Often the female's uniforms were tight black skirts, sometimes quite short, with tight white shirts.
- Each school would usually have a pin which had the name of the school on it. You could get punished if you did not wear the pin.
- Many schools also required the students to use the school's backpack. The packpack had the name of the school on it and thus was more marketing for the school.
- Even some of the universities required the students to wear uniforms.
- The males also must keep their hair cut.
- At one school I was told I could not speak to the students unless I wore long pants. I said I didn't have any and had already decided in Indonesia that I wouldn't buy or wear long pants just to get the approval of some school director. The teacher seemed to really want me to speak to his students and kept pressuring me to just go to the market and get some long pants. He wasn't listening to what I was saying. He just kept debating with me and kept pressuring me. Eventually I just told him I am sorry and he said I am sorry too.
- At the same school when I first arrived the English teachers all were worried about getting permission from someone else. There were about five English teachers but no one wanted to invited me to their classs without permission from the head of the English department. I take that back. There was one teacher, a new teacher who said I could visit her class that afternoon. A different teacher sent me to see one of the other teachers who was in a classroom. When I got there some students were giving oral presentations. I asked if I could watch and she said no it might distract the students. I think she is the only teacher who has ever said this. She sent me back to the English office with a different student so I wouldn't get lost. On the way this student gave me her phone number and said she wanted to practice English. Unfortunately I never saw her again. I left town early the next day. These are the kinds of things which I feel sad about. This was possibly a once in a lifetime chance for this student. And the opportunity was denied to her by controlling school authorities. How did she feel that I never saw her again? I feel bad now that I did not make more of an effort to at least call her and explain. While I was waiting around for the head of the English department, I stopped by the school canteen. There I met a very enthousiastic student. Later we met after class and she rode me around on her motorcycle, showing me the town, introducing me to her sister and friends working in the markets etc. Sadly, I have lost contact with her too.
- Four female students in one school were sitting and laying on top of a table far from the school cafeteria, out in the yard of the school. They were talking to each other, talking. No one bothered them.
- Students are generally quite free to walk around the school grounds. But they can not leave.
- In one school they made all the students line up (from 6 -18 year olds) and repeat a lot of propoganda. I asked what this was about and I was told it is about respecting the king, the Buddhist religion and the school. I think this is normal in all schools, but I wasn't generally at the schools early enough to see it.
- At this same school they were giving awards for good performances in religion (but only the Buddhist religion, of course)
- In another school they had Buddhist monks leading many of the students in chanting. I asked one student about this and he said he liked it because it took his mind off his problems. I said what kind of problems for example. He said like his parents shouting at him in the morning.
- This same student told me once he was very worried about his chemistry test. I asked how worried and he said 10 because he had already failed he class once and his parents would be very angry if he failed it again. He was the top student in English though. I asked if he had to take chemistry and he said yes, it was required. This is just one example of the problems with forcing students to take subjects they are not suited for. This student wanted to let his hair grow longer but he was afraid of being thrown out of school. He was afraid of not being able to get a job even though he could speak English better than 90% of the people in Thailand already. I am sure he would have made a much better English teacher than many of the teachers who were already working. But sadly, he was probably right that no one would hire him if he didn't have a highschool and university degree.
- I was told by a teacher that "you don't touch people in Thailand." But I touched people nearly everyday and no one seemded to mind. The students, in fact, loved it when I "gave them five." Many times they would line up at the door when the left so they could each slap my hand. This was true of all ages, but mostly with the younger students. I got this idea from some highschool students in a class in Thailand. I saw them doing it with each other and quickly appreciated how much they enjoyed this so I started using the idea in classrooms. For example, when someone would count to five or ten in English I would "give them five." This just one small example of paying attention to the natural behavior of children and teens and learning from them.
- In the same classroom where I saw the students giving each other five, I watched them playing around with something. When they saw me watching them they tried to hide it. But when I approached them and they saw that my face showed curiosity and not disapproval, they took it back out and showed it to me. It was some kind of a paper shooting device. It was a tube with part of a balloon on it. They showed me how it worked and I tried it out with a piece of crumpled up paper. Then I put a pen inside and they said "No! No!" lol. But I shot it at one of them very lightly and they laughed. This was all at the back of the room while the teacher was at the front talking.
- In another school in Thailand I met some females in the hallway. They were excited to see me and I stopped to talk to them One of them was so excited she was literally jumping around. She taught me some way to hit our fists together and when I had learned it she jumped up and clapped and her friends laughed and clapped too. Again I feel regret that I have lost contact with her. I never even got her name. Now I wish I had cards and gave them out to all the students I met so I could keep in touch with them over the years or at least they would know how to find me.
- As in Singapore I saw hundreds of students all sitting outside on the ground, cross-legged, in their school uniforms, getting lectured to by the school director.
- I saw one English class where the teacher, a former construction worker from England, was walking around threatening students with a stick. He ordered them to stand up and answer questions. He would yell at them at nearly the top of his lungs "QUI-ET!!" The assistant teacher would smack a plastic ruler on a desk to try to get the students attention. She would do this on a students desk without any warning. Natually, this would startle the students sitting nearby. The teacher would give out extra points for someone who could answer the question correctly after one person missed it. But some of the questions were much harder than others and there really wasn't any fairness in who got extra points.
- On the wall in this same class room were huge posters with the names of all the students and some kind of an award system.
- In this same class one of the boys who was ordered to stand up was very nervous and was literally leaning on the shoulder of one of his friends. The assistant teacher saw this and told him to move away. So he was left there feeling even more alone and vulnerable. Here are more notes on this.
- One day in a class I thought I recognized a student. So I asked the teacher what her name was. He said, "I don't know, let me go ask her."
- I was told by a teacher that the assistant teachers in Thailand were like little Hitlers. He said he saw one make a student stand outside in the sun and this was especially cruel in Thailand where white skin is seen as a sign of high class and dark skin is seen as a sign of low class, or caste.
- One teacher was so happy to have me come speak to her class that she postponed a test. She was a French teacher and she said "This is a very special occasion! It is one of the only chances some of you might ever have to speak to someone who has been to France." (She had not been there herself, but her French was quite good.)
- I saw one teacher who sang the "Head and Shoulders" song. He had a lot of fun with the students and enjoyed what he was doing and they did too. He didn't have any problems keeping the students attention. If he felt frustrated with them he let them know in a playful, not hostile way, and they quickly quieted down. But he gave the same exact lesson to three classes in row. By the third time he had lost some of his enthousiasm and was starting to snap at the students.
- The students call the teacher "Teacher" instead of using his or her name.
- They make the students stand up when the teacher comes in. The teacher says, "Good morning." Then all the students say, "Good morning teacher. The the teacher says "You may sit down." Then the students all say, "Thank you teacher." I have seen this a lot in Ecuador too.
- Like in Indonesia, no one knew what the word "individual" meant.
- In the USA in many schools you need "hall passes" to leave the classroom.
- In at least one school district you can be sent to jail for not going to school.
- In this same school district you have to go to school until you are 18.
- In this school personal property is taken from the students, similar to what I described in Ecuador.
- You can be punished by being hit in many states, (see http://nospank.net) or by being put in a room alone for one or more days at a time - only being allowed out for lunch or to use the bathroom. This is called ISS - in school suspension. xxx get nicole's story
Interview with Alice Miller about solitary confinement in schools
Letter from a mother whose son was put in solitary confinement
- Teachers are not allowed to hug children. I have been told by teachers that if a child is crying and comes to them and starts to hug them for comfort, the teacher must push them away.
- One day I was visiting the school where one of my favorite teachers/counselors, Norma Spurlock, was working. A little black girl ran up to her and jumped in her arms and Norma hugged her. As she was hugging her she told me, "This illegal. But they can fire me if they want, I am not going to tell this precious child that I won't hug her." Norma told me later this girl came from a very abusive home and she needed all the hugs she could get.
- Austin, Texas. Once I wanted to interview a school counselor in Austin about the rules on saying the pledge of allegiance in their school and about other rules and punishments for not obeying them. I called and explained what I wanted to talk about and I set up an appointment. When I arrived at the counselors office I was told he was not available and I needed to go see the principal. When I did I saw someone dressed in dark, expensive-looking suit and tie, with his hair perfectly cut and combed. He reminded of a junior executive in an accounting firm. He told me very arrogantly that his school "Would not be participating" with my interview. He told me I would need to talk to the Austin disctrict school board because they handle all media questions.
- My story about JW
- Silverbrooke Middle School - Wisconsin
Here is some writing by a former student of Peru Central School in New York.
- Most schools make students wear uniforms. Many males have to wear jackets and ties.
- In one public school there I was told by students you can not even hold hands with your boyfriend or girlfriend. I think it is the same in most schools there.
- At the same school I was told they can not hug their bf/gf even outside on the sidewalk before school starts.
- At this same school the police were called after I had talked to the students on the sidewalk for about 5 minutes before school had started. The "vice-deputy" had come out and told the students to go inside. They protested and she said, "You know the rules." But some of them stayed and talked to me for a few minutes more. Then one of them said, "Here come the coppers." I looked up the street and, sure enough, a police car was coming. I walked across the street into a hospital and watched from a second story window. The police car stopped where I had been standing, telling me that this was no coincidence, and that the school had actually called the police because the students were talking to me. They had never seen me before, by the way, so it was not like they had any reason to feel so threatened by my merely talking to their over-protected and over-controlled students.
- A former student from one private school told me she was given the authority to tell other students to put their tie on, tuck their shirts in, even on the way too and from school. She said if they disobeyed her she could report them to the school authorities. (See more notes on this student, who I called Clara, for a much more detailed view of Australian schools.)
- Teachers are not allowed to hug children
- A friend of mine told me her daughter liked to wear bandana's. One day she wore one to school. It was a public school in Bathhurst, New South Wales. In the next few days a few of her friends started wearing bandana's. Then the principal decided to make a rule saying, "No bandanas." My friend strongly disagreed with this rule, but she had given up trying to change things at the school. She realized that she would probably be wasting her time talking to him. She had talked to him many times before with complaints and had learned it was just an excercise in frustration. So he was able to arbitrarily make another rule which had no relevance to education. As I learned more about this school and its principal, and after I attended the graduation ceremony, it became very clear to me this principal was more worried about his own job and the image of the school than any of the individual students. On graduation day he kept telling him to be proud of their school and tell everyone that they went to Bathurst South Primary school, or whatever it was.
- Conversation with university educated mental health counselor
- The students have to wear uniforms.
- In at least one school in Galway, they were allowed to leave school during lunch time, go to McDonalds, have a cigarette, talk, walk around the city etc.
- More notes from talking to students in Galway
Switzerland, Belgium, Holland, Germany, Austria, France, Sweden, Norway
- Students wear whatever they want. In every country in Europe where I asked the question, I was told you could even wear a t-shirt that said "Fuck you."
- In Switzerland a teacher told me that a female came to class wearing just a brassiere and blue jeans one day. She was allowed to stay in school.
- In every country in Europe where I asked the question, I was told you could also go to school barefoot if you wanted to.
- Notes from talking to some German teenagers who were on a
school trip in Belgium: June 5, 2002 - last night talked to
germans micheal, philip, michelle- all around 16. talked
about why micheal smokes. they punished him by making him sit in
a room by himself for one week at school. They called his
parents twice. Five of the girls in the group smoke. teachers
came to check on them the females at 10:30. i told them we would
watch them. joked that we were going to meet them at one in the
morning and go out. asked the teacher when she thought it was
okay them to have sex. she got embarrassed by the question and
changed the subject and
left. came back later around 11 and told them to go to bed. she didn't ask what we were talking about, didn't want to join in the conversation, didn't ask if they were sleepy, didn't say how she was feeling. she just gave them the order and expected them to obey her. michael said some teachers do talk about things openly with them and some don't.
I have not visited schools there but based on what I have been told and the people I have met from there, here are some notes.
- The students have to wear uniforms. The students' personal items such as jewelry and cell phones may be taken/stolen by the teachers.
- They can be punished by being forced to stay after school. As in other countries, this is called "detention"
- Females will start fights with other females. Sometimes it is because the victim is overweight or is unlike them in some other way. Often it is because they go to a different school.
- It is common for highschool students to lose their virginity while drunk at parties with people they won't see again.
- When students get a chance to get out of England they spend much of their time getting drunk. In Australia, British backpackers have quite a reputation for seeing almost nothing but the inside of the pubs in Australia.
They also make the students wear uniforms.
Females have to wear skirts, many of the males have to wear jackets and ties.
Students at one school were punished by being made to stand outside in the middle of the school courtyard in the hot sun.
See this story about students being verbally attacked
And this story about punishment and an alternative way of handling a problem
From talking to someone who taught English in China I was told the students are all very competitive because you have to take a test to get into each school. For example, there are three levels of highschools. If you don't get into the top two levels you have to pay to go to school. Otherwise the government pays for it.
He said the schools in each city are numbered and the students all must wear uniforms with the number of the school on them.
He said the students study nearly all the time and do homework every night and nearly all weekend except for playing a little ping pong or something.
Like in China, Singapore etc. students are loaded down with homework, according to what I have been told. I talked to someone who used to teach English in Korea. He said it is common for students to take an extra tutoring lesson after school for each course they have during school. He said they often arrive home at nearly midnight.
He also told me that Korea was known as the concentration camp for English teachers because so many Korean students don't want to learn English. He said they only study English because they are forced to. One reason they don't like English, he said, was because of the dislike for the United States.
I have a lot of notes on schools on Ecuador but am waiting to post them. But here is a little.
Punishment and Singing
Feeling Loved or Punished and Threatened
mal educado: this is what one 16 year old said in Ecuador about putting one's legs on the desk. but she also said it is comfortable.
In one school the teacher told me we had to get permission for the students to leave the school to use the Internet
One teacher said "gum is lack of respect, not our culture, not good for their teeth"
Same teacher doesn't like piercings. I asked why. She didn't give me a good reason. Then she said, "When they are 18 they can have them because then they will be adults."
She made a big deal about them coming in late. She said it only happens in the morning. This tells me they are starting school too early. Why not plan things that don't require everyone being there at the same time? Like make the first hour independent study. Which reminds me, where are the libraries!?
Same teacher uses a "contract" - see my criticism of these kinds of contracts
Same one called a student lazy. Also told him twice to stop drumming his fingers on the desk. Now, why does someone drum their fingers on the desk? Because they have too much energy. They are trying to find an outlet for it. Not because they are lazy! No, they are not lazy. They are bored. Their mind is not being used enough. And it maybe that chewing gum is also a way to use up extra energy when you are bored in school. Could it possibly be that smarter students are more likely to chew gum and drum on their desks?
Another way schools do not consider the input of the students: Students can't choose textbooks. I thought of this because the English book used by the government schools is terrible. It is full of irrelevant stories and information. For example, it had a story about olive oil and used words like "monounsaturated fat". First, the students can't even count to twenty or say "where do you come from?" Why do they need to learn words like "monounsaturated fat"? Second, olive oil is too expensive in Ecuador so almost no one uses it. They also had a story about herbal medicine and talked about how one ingredient was "sieved" into a bowl. When are they ever going to use the word "sieved"???
-- forget forgot forgotten. this is an example of what one teacher was doing. going though ten verbs in one class, present, past, past participle or something. it was way too much. they were learning next to nothing. they couldn't even say "where are you from?" and she couldn't pronounce the words herself. and she looked and acted like a zombie. i wanted her to help me find another teacher. i asked her three times and she didn't get it. the students did, but she didn't. and they knew the story about olive oil was irrelevant. but she had me read it anyhow. follow the book. follow the book. that is all most of these teachers do. it is an embarrasment to the country how bad the teachers and the system is here.
-- mark: we are going to get there and it will be closed. what a farce. we are going to get killed. why is it taking so long to get our bill? (these are notes from an american friend of mine)
we went to a dancing place - all lined up dancing. they like lines here.
See also convgrp in \sph (not posted)
How many of you really want to learn English?
Once I was helping teach English in an all male school in Quito. (Colegio San Pedro Pasqual.) There were about 50 students in the classroom. They were mostly 16 years old. I asked them how many really wanted to learn English. Three raised their hands. Since then I have often asked this question in Ecuador. Not once have the majority of the students raised their hands. Females, though, are consistently more interested in learning languages. Often, in fact, they want to learn multiple languages, such as French and Italian, but most of them will never get this chance in public schools. The government has decided all students will be forced to sit through a certain number of hours of English classes. Just English. (See note on Korea.) Only in private schools can someone take French or Italian or anything else. And these private schools cost money, which is a barrier for most Ecuadorians.
But my experience that day in the all male school got me started me thinking about what it is like to try to teach something that people don't want to learn. And I saw how hard it was that day. I realized this is a major problem in the education system whenever people are forced to take classes they are not interested in. I believe it is largely a waste of everyone's time. It creates a situation where the teacher is constantly trying to get a large number of people, often the majority in the room, to do something which is against their own will. The teacher is constantly having to keep the students quiet because they will immediately start talking when given a few seconds of opportunity. I don't blame them at all for this. This is natural. What is unnatural is to force them to remain silent.
Most teachers will never even ask how many students want to learn the subject. I know I was never asked such a question. Not in primary school. Not in middle school. Not in highschool and not in university. All along the way there were required classes. I was never trusted enough to be in charge of learning what I wanted to learn, what I was interested in or what I thought woud be most helpful to me in the future.
Looking back, there is only one course that I am thankful I took, which I probably would not have taken had I not been told it was a requirement for univerisity. This was my Spanish course when I was about 14 years old. I don't know if anyone could have convinced me of the benefit of learning Spanish. But now I am glad I did. And actually, I didn't have to keep taking it through highschool, but I did get interested in it. So maybe had I been given some exposure to it and been told about the possibilities of traveling and using it later, I might have continued to study it after just a few classes. It is impossible to know because I was never given the chance. But generally, I believe young people are much more capable of making decisions about what to study than adults give them credit for. And I believe it doesn't work very well to force them to sit through classes and study for tests in subjects they are not interested in.
Journal type notes
May 16, 2004 - Talked to Stefan Cabrera from Guayaquil, Ecuador. He had gone to college in Canada. He said his friends from Canada and the USA hated highschool and he couldn't understand why. He said he liked highschool because that was where he saw his friends and they had a lot of fun. He said school was not a place for learning but for socializing. He said has heard that students in the USA and Canada will form groups and call each other names like loser. I told him I thought that was just normal until I went to Indonesia and saw how the highschool students all got along much better.
May 17 - Why don't schools like Harvard make videos of all their professor's lectures for free on the Intenet? Do they want to share the knowledge they have or keep their school's resources to themselves and only available to those who can a) afford it or b) who have stresssed and competed for years so they can be selected to be one of the privileged who get to sit inside the actual classrooms?
May 17 - Met some students who go to a clothing design highschool in Quito. The school was something like "Diseņo de Moda" on Juan Leon Mera. I asked them if they could design their own uniforms. They said no. They seemed surprised by my question. I would guess they never even thought of that possibility. Their uniforms looked pretty much like any other school's uniforms. Plaid skirt etc.
May 17 - Why do teachers want students to learn their subjects? For example, why would I want someone to pay attention, participate etc. if I were trying to teach them English? What if some or many students didn't want to learn, what would I do? How would I feel? Would I threaten them? Bribe them? Try to manipulate them? Would I tell them why I believe it is important to learn English and then leave it up to them? Would I tell them they can go do something else instead of sitting in the class? (see note on asking how many students wanted to learn English)
I do believe it is important or at least useful to learn English. So what would I do to try to get them to learn? I think I would tell them that I care about them and I believe it will be good for them. I could say this to them with honesty. But there would be different levels of need for English. If someone told me they had no interest in English and just wanted to
June 1 - Talked to someone from Canada who told me she went to a private school for two years. They had to wear uniforms. She said it was so they could focus on learning instead of on clothes. I asked her if she believed that. She said, "Well, in a way I do. I am not sure. At least that is what they told us." She got a little defensive and said, "Plus it was an all girls school so that was another reason they had uniforms." I said, "It seems to me that that if there weren't any guys around, the girls would be less interested in what they were wearing so their would be even less need for uniforms." She didn't know how to respond to that. Then I asked her if she would have been able to study in her normal clothes, just like the ones she was wearning now and she said yes, but she sounded a little defensive and quickly tried to change the subject.
She also told me she had a friend who went to school in Venezuela and they made her learn how to march like soldiers in school.
Found some notes from a meeting I observed at a private English school:
Smile. Come on!
I have problems but I make myself smile.
He passes out a list of "ten commandments" for teachers at his school. One of them is "Be considerate of the feelings of your students, fellow teachers and visitors. But he doesn't ask his teachers how they feel about what he is saying. He might have asked how much do you feel lectured to.
He tells them what to do, but he could have asked them what feels better to them. Like of course it feels better when people use each other's names rather than saying you in the back row.
note to sph: see edj in \sph
June 3 - the other day at SB Mirabel was putting her arm around the music teacher and calling him by his first name, Jimmy. it is easy to see he loves to teach music. loves what he is dong. is not needy. so therefore no danger to anyone.
July 3rd - boy is sitting on same chair with his friend. teacher tells him to go sit in his own chair.
again i see that children want to be near each other, they want to touch. schools & desks separate them.
in class of 9 year old girls. they are excited because a visitor has come. i go sit in the back to observe. many turn to look at me. the teacher scolds them and gives them a lecture about this. she says something like "Girls. the visitor has come to observe how you work and you can't work while you are looking at him."
This tells me again that teachers don't understand children. They don't understand a simple thing like when a visitor comes in the children want to know who he is and they want to talk to him. She doesn't understand their excitment or validate it.
While the teacher is writing on the board, one girl gets up and walks across the room to talk to her friends. She is talking very quietly and doesn't disturb anyone. Then she starts to walk back to her desk. The teacher sees her and frowns and says, "Dayana, por favor."
levamos las manos, bajamos los pies, cerramos las bocas, uno dos tres.
she has to shout over them all the time. she sounds a little frustrated with everything she says. when a girl goes to write something on the board the teacher stands with a drained/frustrated look on her face and her arms folded in front of her.
one girl is playing with the pony tail of the other one. they look at me and i smile and they start to laugh and they cover their mouths.
the teacher tells one of them to ask me to sharpen her pencil, so she brings me a knife and the pencil. then about ten children come to watch they are all smiling and giggling.
a girl gets up from her desk and the bench she was sitting on comes apart. she tries to put it back together but it falls apart again, so i get up and help her.
there are groups of three deks and benches., two children sitting on each bench. this is better than all individual desks with all chairs facing the same way. the children are closer to each other.