Joshua E. Taylor
Copyright 2006 by Joshua E. Taylor
“It makes you hate people”, my colleague said.
I nodded in agreement and we both sighed from the weight of what we were talking about
However our topic of conversation wasn’t a solemn subject like war, slavery or the holocaust. No, we were talking about teaching children.
He was an elementary school teacher and I a kindergarten teacher. We had signed on for these positions with a private school in Mexico, breezily unconcerned with what we might be expected to do and shockingly ignorant of the economic and historical forces that allowed ourselves and everyone else to think that two hairy gringos with no training and experience were qualified to teach kindergarten and elementary school.
Now, that I have taught English as a foreign language for three years I must stifle a guffaw every time I see some bright-eyed Brit or American so delighted and eager to impart their language and customs in the classroom.
They wouldn’t be so smitten with their future employment if they knew there is overwhelming evidence that the English teaching business thrives abroad, because English is essential to upward mobility. Like any successful business it exists because it offers something that is a good investment. The English immersion program we were in was merely a service that Mexican parents had demanded to augment their children’s opportunities and yet most teachers speak of E.F.L. like it’s all a bunch of multicultural good-cheer.
Anyway, there I was; Inexperienced, Untrained, and left in a room of twelve six-year olds. I tried to give the kids fun didactic activities-and like anyone, I like to think I did my best. Unbenounced to my students-as it is to most-they taught the teacher quite a bit. When I think of what I’ve learned while teaching I will always be reminded of Fernando, Richie, Dayra and Carlos.
Fernando Jose was the laziest child in the class and possibly the world. Every morning he would shuffle into the classroom-half-asleep, his hair looking like it had been combed at the local dog-grooming salon. During times where he had to remain seated he would slouch so far as to slide out of his chair and end up on the floor, with his limbs pointing in all directions like some ridiculous accident victim. On those rare occasions when he did finish his work and was allotted free-time, he would traipse and flap about the classroom like some amphibian perpetually out of water, aimlessly wandering in the direction of the person or object which would compel his attention for the next ten seconds. Even his voice was a lazy drawl-and to my exasperation-he used this mumblespeak when addressing me.
Richie was the noblest child I have ever known. Richie was a fat boy, which in some ineffable way complimented his nobility. Since he was a plump, dark-skinned lad with spikey hair he earned the unfortunate nickname Hulk de Chocolate. I have found that evil is a rare presence in fat souls and Richie was no exception; He had the patience of Job. When other children had a gripe with him Richie would patiently listen to them, his chunky arms folded and his brow in an ultra-serious furrow. Richie was quickly pegged as a literal and figurative big softy. The other children took advantage of the patience and concern that Richie so undeservedly gave them. Unless I found a way to successfully intervene, major classroom disagreements would culminate with blubbery Richie blubbering in the corner.
This male triad was rounded out by Carlos. A pale ghost-like boy with a gender identity crisis. Whenever Carlos earned free time he would run to the drama center, trawl through the box of costumes, put on a dress and wig, and sashay around the classroom to the amusement of the girls and the disgust of the boys. Carlos had an inability to keep his hands to himself around any males. Carlos was sent to the shrink’s office on numerous occasions for grabbing the buttocks or genitals of other boys and myself. Carlos’s own divorced parents never showed up for a single parent-teacher conference but other parents-outraged by his behavior-showed up merely to complain about Carlos. These disgruntled parents recounted their children’s stories of Carlos revealing his wiener in the girl’s bathroom or grabbing boy’s asses while my back was turned.
On top of this Carlos managed to offend people with positively Kafkaesque insults. Nonsensical statements that I could only conjure while half-asleep or stoned would fly out of Carlos’ mouth like so much vocal flatulence. He once referred to the principle as a “marshmellow sausage-dog whose butt cheeks smelled of cheese”. Once-while dressed as a girl-he told me that I was “A monkey that releases gases from its penis.” I stood there in awkward silence. I mean really, what is there to say when a five-year-old cross dresser calls you a monkey that farts out of its dick.
Dayra is a personality I recognize after years of teaching. She is the girl with no male figures in her life. Dayra’s sisters were named Mayra, Nayra, and Zaira and she had a father who-she explained to me-was constantly working abroad and who she rarely saw. Whenever the triad of Fernando, Carlos and Richie began to act out; laughing hysterically at their own flatulence and or throwing crayons at each other, Dayra was so thoroughly bothered as to mill over to the boys table, and assail them with warnings about how their boorishness would affect future life opportunities, followed by threats to tell the principal. Sometimes her threats were so contrived that even I burst out laughing and Dayra would sulk back to her table; dissed by another male.
Now, I don’t want to give the impression that the children ran around the classroom completely unsupervised as I sat back and watched Rome burn. No, I had elaborate reward and punishment systems. However, when these broke down and my frustration reached near-psychotic levels, I would dissolve from teacher to sociologist and recline to watch the kids fight with a bored perverse curiosity, happily ignoring their pleas for intervention. Having an indifferent director, inappropriate materials, and no experience led to me to many moments like this.
On one such occasion, as I sat back watching the children’s mindless bickering and self-inflicted conflicts, an argument between Dayra and Richie turned ugly. Whatever the disagreement was, Dayra felt sufficiently offended as to kick Richie in the crotch. I punished her, but the damage had already been done.
Well, news spread that Dayra had kicked Richie in the ding dong and Dayra had been punished for it. Richie, Carlos and Ferando would torment Dayra in an attempt to get her to kick them in the crotch. On one occasion after the children had again frustrated me into apathy I watched the boys sheepishly trail Dayra around the classroom, hopping to provoke her into another dick kicking outburst. As they followed Dayra they whispered furtive remarks and giggled until she suddenly whirled to face them and they scattered. Oftentimes Dayra’s eyes would narrow with contempt and I could see her weighing whether another snap-kick to the balls was worth a trip to the principal’s office. The boys seemingly enjoyed the masochistic suspense of not knowing whether they would be kicked in the crotch.
The incurable gossip of a director, well acquainted with the family issues of each child, told me who had divorcing parents, parents that constantly fought or some other daunting issue on the home front. Richie’s mother was a devout Jehovah’s Witness and allowed him to celebrate NO HOLIDAYS whatsoever, including his own birthday. Dayra’s mother had decided to put her on a diet at the age of five and she had since become obsessed with pointing out people who were fatter than her. Carlos’ parents were divorcing and he rarely saw his father. But since his father sold Mercedes he had taken to calling himself Carlos Mercedes as some strange attempt to cope with this loss. Fernando, had no father whatsoever, and was being raised by his grandmother for reasons obscure.
All of the unpleasant unresolved frustrations the kids experienced at home where acted out in the classroom, an environment where the teacher had to manage twelve other students and was a pushover anyway. Carlos’ genital grabbing antics mixed with Fernando’s indifference and Dayra’s man hating. These psychosis and neurosis mixed with others too innumerable to mention, and the result was incredible idiocy. All the while, the big gringo presided over this circus and tried to cajole and manipulate the performers into learning something….In a foreign language!
Oftentimes after watching the children bring issues from their dysfunctional families to the manufactured classroom, to have their education administered in a foreign language I wondered whether, well, all this was….I dunno…..natural?
Bear with me. Many Anthropologists who have studied so-called primitive hunter-gatherer cultures observed that their lives were not the nasty, brutish and short episodes that Hobbes imagined. Rather they were people who labored for a tiny percentage of the year in order to maintain their food and dwellings and spent the majority of their time in recreation. Things like nuclear families and formal education did not exist and they did just fine without them. Many also argue that there is a direct correspondence between the immergence of civilization and an avalanche of mental illness’ and social problems.
Civilization is something of questionable value. But
I don’t need some stuffy academic to explain this to me. The
divine characters of Richie, Fernando, Carlos and Dayra illustrated
this point for me through their hysterics, colorful behavior and
personal crisis’ better than any adult.
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