Just finished another round of testing, this time with the new state assessment for the state of Texas dreamed up by idle bureaucrats; the last one was perfectly O.K. It gave me however a chance to talk to freshmen from all walks of life once they finished testing. It’s amazing how much information and interest a teacher can elicit in a couple of days in open and frank exchanges. As usual, we had 3 hours with nothing to do – nothing allowed of course, except talking, till the gods of education decided to let us go to class for the last period.
These were regular kids with some dyslexia problems so we had to read some questions and answers in biology, geography and math to help them understand the wording. I seem to have forgotten how delightful it is to talk to 14-15 year old teens. They are all so different in personalities and life experiences but even so they share a unique fresh view of life that made me feel the full brunt of my seven decades. Here is a brilliant idea: Pass a law at the federal level to force incumbent politicians to spend a whole week-end with some of these youngsters at least twice a year, none of them older than 15. I bet this would help our country enormously. One of the boys, the brightest one by far, said ‘women should do it’, when I asked how many had ever changed diapers. He thus revealed a streak of machismo that I didn’t expect from the new generation, so careful to claim equal rights for both sexes.
As a whole, this group of 12 teens probably presented a true picture of kids in the Rio Grande Valley in Texas. When I mentioned how I used to play in the snow in my home country, one of the girls jumped up and excitedly remembered the only day snow fell in our border town about 6 years ago on Christmas day. Her face lit up with joy as she recreated in her mind the joy of building a snowman while to me snow means more misery for my old bones.
When they discovered I was born in Switzerland, most of them had no idea where the small country was; they did however connect to the Swiss knife, but then asked me how long I had lived in Sweden! World geography is just another subject they have to pass, not a reality. Another absolutely great idea would be to finance trips to various parts of the world for teens whose families could never afford it. Can you imagine the learning that would take place in addition to the inevitable bonds of friendship they would establish with their peers in those foreign countries? Kids in their early teens are full of idealism, bubbling with enthusiasm and wonderful ideas on how to achieve world peace, among other important topics. The trips would make all of them more tolerant of other cultures, races and religions.
One of the girls whose grades are less than satisfactory took a marker and started to draw the most wonderful turtle I have ever seen traced on a white board. She then proceeded to show me how to make an elegant antelope out of simple paper, a memento I shall treasure as long as the figure survives on my filing cabinet. This teen may have flunked algebra, but her undeniable artistic talent tells me that academic topics are not the only way to become successful in life. Again, I insist, our schools are not addressing the unique skills of each individual; they are trying to force everybody into the same intellectual mold. Does this girl really need algebra and Shakespeare?
Let us, as teachers, stop teaching from time to time and take a moment to sit down with a small group of teens and listen to them, really listen! We might just learn something!