Wednesday, March 12, 2014

On Thinking Outside the Box

A couple of nights ago, Anya told us they had been discussing Christopher Columbus in class again (why in March, I don't know). I silently cringed, trying to prepare myself for what would come next--as a Latin Americanist, it pains me to hear what is still being taught as "history" in many of our elementary schools.

Then, rather unexpectedly, Anya said she pointed out that Columbus didn't really discover America because there were already people living here. 

Be still my heart.  My girl thinks outside the box, much like her mother.

But of course it doesn't end there.  Her teacher "corrected" her by explaining that he was the first European to discover America... missing my daughter's point entirely and thus reinforcing Eurocentrism.  Mind you, this is a good woman, a kind teacher. But she doesn't think outside the box.

If Anya's experience is at all like mine, she'll encounter plenty of teachers who won't "get" her, or recognize her intelligence.  Again: most of these will be good people.  They just won't get it.  If she makes it to college, more of them probably will.  Our K-12 school system has fine qualities as well as limits and problems, but it's definitely not geared toward creating and supporting original thinkers.  

And so some of my own early days of encountering this phenomenon came back to me.  There was the Sunday school teacher who was explaining why Catholics can't remarry, even if they get a legal divorce.  I raised my hand and said something like "Okay, so if a man beats his wife and she leaves him...I can see why God and the Church would say he can't remarry, but you mean the she can't either?"  I was in 8th grade.  It was 8:30 on a Sunday morning. I just couldn't understand why this woman couldn't find a man who would treat her according to the Church's own teachings about love and kindness. I was destined to be a troublemaker, I guess.  (Please note that I am not trying to bash the Catholic Church more generally here, just recalling a moment of my youth and how my own sensibilities don't match with its rules.)

In high school English class--probably in 10th grade--our teacher told us to write a paragraph describing the snow that was gently but steadily falling outside of our classroom window.  Bored with the standard tales of the lovely whiteness of it all, I concocted a story in which the snowflakes were actually tenants thrown out of the clouds for owing back rent.  It was a story of unjust landlords and the hazards of poverty--except that I didn't know how to express that then, even though I understood it on a gut level.  That teacher, to his credit, recognized and appreciated the originality and cleverness of my response. 

Anya, I hope that you find more teachers who appreciate you than those who just politely tell you to follow the norm.  And girl: don't let go of that spark.  It's so terribly valuable.

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