Sunday, June 19, 2011

A Reading Culture

Warning: I toot my own horn a few times in this entry. It's not serious, well, not totally.

I'm not quite sure where June is escaping to, but the countdown on my wall (yes I made a countdown. So did Jacque, don't judge us.) is about to be flipped over to 22. As in 22 months left. As in still quite a significant chunk of time, but one that is continuing to roll by. The new group of trainees arrives on August 5th, and my group will be known as "the six month group". I would love to be there when they get off the plane and see exactly how far I've come since I've been here. It tickles me when they get in touch with us via facebook or email asking for advice, as if I know what I'm doing over here yet. Ha. I was wondering the other day if I've changed enough to where it would be noticeable if I went home now. Bernadette said she had trouble remembering how to drive when she visited, and while that sounds funny, sitting on the left side of the car and passing on the right doesn't seem so terrifying anymore. Nor does leaving food out overnight and enjoying it for lunch the next day. I will certainly never take things like fountain soda, sinks, or vacuums with hose attachments for granted again. Not the things I'd initially thought I'd miss, but I do. Like whoa.

In actual Peace-Corps-what-I've-been-up-to news, not a whole lot. I taught for a couple of weeks, lessons here and there as the timetable got ironed out and beginning of term whatnots got completed. Then my school closed. All of the schools actually, all the PTCs in Uganda, due to budget issues and lack of funds to keep them open. According to my principal and the ministry the money will be found shortly and we'll reopen in a week or so. I'm headed over to the primary school tomorrow to see if they need any extra hands or help with clubs. The feelings of not knowing what's going on, like I'm not doing anything useful, and like there is an incredibly large amount of waiting for little things to happen have all gotten way more familiar, though not altogether less frustrating. I traveled down past the equator with a bunch of other PCVs to teach life skills and paint murals at a school. I helped out with a lecture on HIV/AIDS and was honestly surprised at how much of my own knowledge I'd taken for granted. We received all sorts of questions related to the transmission of the disease, what actually constitutes losing one's virginity, rape, and even some about homosexuality. Given this culture, that last one surprised me, but I was proud that someone had the courage to ask, so I mustered up the courage to answer it publicly and honestly.

I was posted to my school to teach mathematics, I think because in training that's the only subject in which I was observed teaching. According to the timetable (when the school is open) I teach four classes of math a week - two to year one and two to year two. The head of the English department asked if I'd take over some of the English classes and I said sure, after which she thanked me and said "We have a problem in Uganda, our problem is English." I thought about this for a while and then had a little epiphany, as only a girl who is as bright and learned as I could have; Uganda is not a reading culture. People here do not read before they go to bed, when they are on transport, when they are done working on a test in school. Parents don't read to their kids before putting them to bed, nor to themselves afterwards. No one ever references something they read in a book when speaking to others. I have only seen one Ugandan one time reading for pleasure. The culture here is more geared towards oral traditions - storytelling, singing, talking to one another (and usually not in English). It's all about togetherness, and I've actually been told "You must be so lonely just reading by yourself like that!" Yet, English is the language they teach in after P3, it is the language business is conducted in, and it is the language everyone is expected to master. In the states, being "well read" is assumed of anyone who has a good vocabulary or is a decent writer, there is an entire program in schools called Drop Everything And Read. I have just found the missing link in Uganda's education system (applause, applause, thank you, little bow.) *That was me being facetious.

I have no idea how accurate my ideas about this are, but it makes sense, doesn't it? That in order to be good at something, one should possibly be exposed to decent, even great examples of it, in different contexts, repeatedly? And then be required to think and produce their own examples of it? I haven't seen the whole curriculum for English yet, but I know that in the PTC I'm teaching parts of sentences. To adults. Who completed primary and the first half of secondary school. I would bet my whole next paycheck (don't get too excited, it's not that big) that literary devices and elements of style are never even introduced, let alone explored to any sort of depth. I would also venture to guess that resume, report, and grant writing are never touched either. I poked around in the library on Wednesday, just to see what they had in terms of novels or anything other than textbooks and was pleasantly surprised to see four whole shelves of titles such as The Republic, Madame Bovary, Crime and Punishment... wait, what?? There were some serious novels on those shelves, ones that I have never even gotten through, and I'm wicked smart. I really want to explore this, getting students to read more than just their notes that are copied from the board, but there's no way that Dostoyevsky is the place to start. As I'm obviously an amazing teacher, I know that books that relate to students lives are the ones that will capture their attention - seeing themselves in the story makes reading relevant. How the eff is European/Russian/Greek literature relevant to Ugandan students who lived their first half of their lives in war camps. Maybe some day if they go for a masters or something in literature, but not now, not when they don't even read to begin with. On the one hand I'm kind of stoked that I've identified something to start working on other than just the classes I've been assigned to teach, but on the other it's something I know is totally huge and possibly unattainable for one volunteer to do during her time here.

I'm done thinking about this for today, I'm off to reread the first Harry Potter (not even kidding) and maybe eat a Luna bar or some oatmeal for dinner.



Christina said...

I´ve...made a countdown too. And a countup. 64 days in site! Yeaaaa!

Anonymous said...

Great thinking and sounds like you have pieced together an important learning that will give way to capturing attention and hopefully duration(student stories can be written and published). FLmama2