|Some of my former students.|
About two weeks ago I finally understood that my students are privileged. I had known that most of the first graders I see every weekday came from wealthy and middle class families. I know that my school is considered, by Thai standards, to be distinguished. I know the rowdy and indignant temperament I often encounter in the classroom is the result of my students having everything handed to them. Yet I didn't comprehend just how fortunate, and coddled they truly are until all of first grade watched the movie Rio 2.
If you come from a first
world background (the US, Europe etc.) you might wonder why showing six and
seven year olds a movie in school would be a indication of privilege. It's not
an abnormal thing, you might say, for elementary students to be shown a movie
at school as a treat.
Spend any time in the
developing world though and you realize how, for so many children, it would be
a fantasy beyond their reach.
During the movie I sat in the
back with the other English teachers in my department, watching as three
hundred children gaped at CGI parrots through 3D glasses in an air conditioned
auditorium. At different points throughout the film, my thoughts turned to
other children I had seen throughout my travels.
I thought of the boys and
girls selling tissues outside Cairo metro stations. I remembered how I would
often see them sitting cross legged on the sidewalk, filling out their tattered
homework books on the filth caked concrete as their packages of tissues sat
next to them.
I remembered the boys in
India I saw along railroad lines who spent their days picking up plastic
bottles and cans and stuffing them into bags.
And I thought of other
children as well. Children I had only read about or seen in short videos: The
Yazidi children in Iraq who had seen their fathers decapitated and their
mothers raped by Islamic State militants. The girls in the Democratic Republic
of the Congo forced to be sex slaves for rebel groups. The thousands of Syrian
children languishing in dusty refugee camps after seeing their homes destroyed
These children live in a
world far removed from the classrooms and homes my students know. They are
children of grit, offspring of bloodshed and desperation- who will never set
foot in any kind of school let alone one which has the capacity to show its
students a movie just for fun and give them the chance to eat sweets
Education of any sort in this
world, is a privilege. I hope one day these first graders might realize that. I
hope anyone reading this will never forget it.
|A Hmong hill-tribe girl in a tourist market in Laos.|