Monday, March 26, 2012

Prohibited! Prohibited!

“In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing. The worst thing you can do is nothing.”
Theodore Roosevelt (1858-1919);
26th U.S. President

(little warning - this blog post may be slightly uncomfortable to read - but it contains courage too - but not from us)

When we first started at Sainte Jeanne D'Arc - we were 'given a heads up' by friends back home about the French system (who were familiar with it) in terms of how one drops kids off at the gate and that's where your involvement ends. We did honestly think it might be different here since we were in Africa - but it's not. Because of that dynamic engaging with parents requires more creative ways individually. I'm not sure whether to say we are sad or disappointed or just making an observation -  recognizing that for us  the sense of school community never seemed to materialize.

Which leads me to mention that Ecole Bilingue - Parker and Addison's school back in Berkeley - from our view - has a strong, warm, unique and welcoming community relationship with parents, students, administrative staff and teachers - of which we will certainly look forward to embracing upon our return.

Putting that aside, Parker and Addison have made friends and we know the education is a very good one. And we also know beyond the school itself - the parts that make up the whole are the entire year's adventure and global experience we are having.

At the start of the school year there was clearly a learning curve for us all - an indoctrination on how things work "school-wise" as Addison would come home on occasion and be told he had to re-copy a paragraph or multiplication table 5x or even 10x. No, Parker never seemed to get this same type of  'assignment' - he did have a different teacher.  In some cases the task was short and sweet. Other times it was long and painful for Addison to be on top of other work he had - not to mention trying to settle into being the new kid on the block - in Dakar/Senegal/Africa.  We tried to seek out a few parents who could explain this 'exercise' to us of which we were told that it was 'punishment' for behavior <whether disruptive or not up to speed>. It was clear parents we were able to communicate with on this subject did not agree with the method but no one seemed to take a stand for change.  Clearly there must be more productive or useful exercises that would have some learning value than wasting time copying for the sake of copying!  (Yes - it was explained - that's just how it's always been here).  Of course, at first we thought who are we to question this or even talk to the school on this topic?  It's an interesting higher degree equation of African, French, Senegalese, Catholic, and developing world culture.

So now we know fast or slow, real or perceived disruptions are a red flag for 'punishment'.  Eventually things did settle down.  And we opted to take up the suggestion by Addison's teacher that she come and do some tutoring. Seems to be a thing all kids do here.  (Maybe it's because they don't go to school all day? I have no clue but we figured it couldn't hurt). So with these weekly tutoring sessions (both Parker and Addison) we were able to get to know the teacher (Madame S.) a bit better - and she was able to get to know us better too! And we do think it helped bring them along in their classes.

During the week of March 11th we found out that the Madame S was attending a conference and that the secondary teacher, Madame G, 'moved to the head of the class' and used some new (old?) techniques to discipline the children.  Addison shared with us that Madame G actually slapped a student in the face with her hand. He told us she yells at all the kids and is "mean".  I was horrified to hear this report and not sure what to do or think?  

The next day I ran into a girl in his class in one of the little grocery store  here that dot our neighborhood and I asked her what she thinks about this teacher?  She kept using the word "mechant" and "gifle" which means "wicked" and "slap".  I started to cry - what is wrong with this teacher - this Madame G, this school and do they even know about this?  What do the kids think and what goes through their minds when they see their friends 'hit?'  What kind of fear for learning is now being generated.  We know we are foreigners to this culture and can't go around muscling our way in as Americans with the answers of 'what is right and what is wrong.'  But this seemed to require 'some' type of action.'  But we were not sure what until it was clear the next day.  The next day Addison returned home and told us his friend was hit with a ruler in the face.  Addison's response to us was "In America - this person would go to jail for child abuse" - extreme or not with his comment - there is no question parents, school administration and/or law enforcement would be communicated to accordingly, and depending on the situation - action would certainly be taken!!  Here in Senegal it is hard to say or know. But certainly at this juncture - we could not sit by and do nothing.

So, we decided that it would be best to meet with the Directrice  first and tell her our concerns.  (Since we didn't know the relationship between these teaching colleagues - Madame S and Madame G., we thought it would be better to go direct - maybe that's why she's called "The Directrice").  However, when the main teacher (Madame S.) came to our house for the weekly tutoring session, Addison decided to share with her what he saw - it certainly was troubling him on some level.  Madame S's response simply stated (in French but translated to us by Addison) which was quite comforting and telling -  "She should not be doing that."  
At the end of it all - Manning had a very receptive meeting with the Directrice and was asked to write a letter detailing the facts and situation - which of course Manning obliged. It was evident she herself was troubled by it not only as the Directrice but as a parent herself (and was likely thinking she was relieved her children were actually attending a different French school in Dakar). I also made mention that if Madame S has any other reason to be out of the classroom - Madame G should not be left to her own with the kids. I think a point she had not considered - but realized now!

It's hard to know what kind of disciplinary or course of action if any will be taken by the school. We do think our comments were taken seriously  as after the latest tutoring session with Madame S, still in disbelief of what occurred during her absence - her final words to us about the incident were -  "Interdit! Interdit!"

And of course we're proud of Addison for speaking up to his teacher and finding the courage on his very own to voice his concerns for his fellow students and friends who do not deserve this kind of treatment.  Tres Bien!

1 comment:

  1. What a great kid, that Addison!!
    Over and above that, your experiences in Dakar certainly give you a new perspective on the form that education takes in different cultures.