Tuesday, May 1, 2012

May Day

Growing up, my mother would drag me to Pakistan every other year for the summer. A large chunk of my mother's family resides in Karachi, so we generally stayed with them for three months at a time, switching up which aunt or uncle we stayed with every so often. I used to hate going there, but as I got older, I grew to love it. And eventually I developed deeper friendships with my cousins, which was nice.

We would get to Pakistan in early June and leave late August, so I was able to observe my cousins end and begin their school years. Most of my cousins considered school to be a privilege and a way out (generalizing here, I know). I couldn't relate to the former, but I definitely agreed it was a way out: a way to get options.

In Pakistan, I have family at all class levels: lower, middle and upper class (although right now it seems there isn't a middle-class left anymore). My cousins, not by any means wealthy, took school very seriously - sometimes memorizing entire chapters of books. Even my wealthy cousins took school seriously, which impressed me. However, what I found incredibly strange was that both my poorer and my richer set of cousins would often cut classes offered in school to attend private tutoring sessions run by "better" teachers and master test-takers. The one-on-one and group tutoring model in Pakistan was big business: it usually led to significantly increased test scores. Sounds like NYC should simply start adopting Pakistani children to take NY Regents exams - at least they would make the city look good.

Most of my cousins worked their asses off throughout the school year, but not how I imagined. They took to teaching themselves, and generally didn't go to school when it rained or if it was too hot. If someone within the family needed the kids to cut school to do something, they did it without fuss. It seemed their "school of enrollment" didn't add any value to their real education, since they were pretty much teaching themselves most of the material and supplementing that with private tutoring sessions. As a dorky, American public school kid, I couldn't believe it. Who doesn't go to school just because it's raining? That's just ridiculous.

Fast forward to now.

I woke up this morning to the sound of rain hitting the air conditioner in my bedroom. It's May 1st, 2012. As I downed a giant bowl of oatmeal, I began to reconsider my lesson plan for the day: it's raining. For the past three years, my experience has taught me that America's most marginalized students cut school when it's raining. Except, these students aren't receiving or seeking out private tutoring sessions. Most of them are not memorizing textbooks and reading novels for shits and giggles. They're not all shooting for a 2400 on their SAT scores - most of them don't even bother taking the SAT. For some reason (media, friends, parents - who knows), these kids grow up believing that being intelligent isn't cool. I'm not a fan of rainy days - my job is tough enough as is.

Before leaving for the subway, I checked the weather forecast for the day. As suspected, it's supposed to rain all day until the afternoon. Great.

Exhibit A: Weather forecast via the "internet."
I arrived at school and propped open some windows. I took a picture of the outdoors. The image did not look student-friendly.

Exhibit B: A little bit of London in New York.
When the bell for first period rang, my lesson was ready to go and projected on the SMARTBoard. Unfortunately, someone forgot to tell me that my students were all X-Men with invisibility powers. 

Exhibit C: A packed classroom beaming with eager students.
May day. There's something seriously wrong with what we're doing in this country.


Janelle said...

Maybe they were all out at the protests! #igotjokes

Yo Mista said...

Yeah... I wish.