Saturday, October 17, 2009

on shaming children

This week at DREAM we had "community service week" in our afternoon program, wherein we had a variety of different activities instead of regular classes. The first day was the only day that really had "community service"--we did a street cleanup of the barrio. Some of the older girls insisted to me that they couldn't possibly pick up garbage because it was too shameful. One girl insisted that she couldn't pick up trash because her mother-in-law would see. I said, "What? You have a mother-in-law?" and she gave me a glower and told me I didn't understand anything. Fair enough, teenage girl!

But most of the kids were enthusiastic and we picked up a TON of trash, which is great. (The DR doesn't have any kind of anti-littering culture. Kids, grownups, everyone will just toss trash into the street without a second thought.)

The rest of the week the kids got increasingly worked up about the change in routine and we had more and more behavior problems. After classes, some of the other volunteers and I talked about how frustrating working with Dominican kids can be. One of the biggest cultural differences we've noticed is how shameless Dominican kids can be. Most Dominican kids are huge cheaters--and don't get me wrong, American kids cheat too! But American kids will usually try to be smooth: writing on their hands, notes under the table, at the very least they'll whisper. Dominican kids lack any kind of subtlety in cheating. They will talk at normal volume levels about the answers to tests. While the teacher is in the middle of giving a "no cheating" lecture.

Or take the T-shirt painting activity I led. I started off by explaining that "Some very nice people donated a bunch of T-shirts to us! Wasn't that nice? Now we can give everyone a T-shirt as a gift. The T-shirts are pretty big, I'm sorry. But a big T-shirt is better than no T-shirt, right? So we don't want to hear any complaining when we pass out the T-shirts, okay?" To which all the kids replied, "Okay!" And then literally the second I pulled out the first T-shirt, all the kids immediately started whining about how big and ugly the shirts are. Of course, American kids would have whined about the shirts too. But I estimate that lecture would have shamed them into at least five minutes of silence before the complaints started.

This shamelessness can be super frustrating to American teachers. Like, the kids don't even respect us enough to fake listening for five minutes? But on the other hand, it's a little refreshing. What you see is what you get, even if what you see is sometimes kids who are cheating off of each other, talking over your frustrated lecture about how rude it is to talk when other people are talking, or making out in the library during class.

Luckily, these kids don't speak English, so if you occasionally have to mutter to your co-teacher, "I am going to KILL ALL THE CHILDREN," they are none the wiser.

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