Saturday, September 6, 2014

Education is a Privilege -The Day I Understood How Lucky My Students Were

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 in war.

 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 afterwords. 

 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.