Saturday, 3 November 2012

# 13: “ ..Teachers get to touch the Future..”

A bit of a slow week for classes this week with public holidays falling on 2 of my 3 teaching days - I actually got a request to do one of my classes on Saturday instead but, since Annie would be coming over first thing in the morning, I couldn't do it. So how many teachers have students that are so disappointed at the prospect of missing their class, because of damned holidays, that they ask you to reschedule for the weekend !!

It did mean that Chantha and I had lots of time to spend on writing, refining and translating the ethics program that I've compiled so far. We're also constantly working on vocab. lists - Khmae for me and English for Chantha, although you can guess who's ahead on that score..

Chantha learned the meaning of the phrases: 'appropriate criteria', 'habits of mind' & 'appeal to principles' and the Khmae words for scrutiny, intervene, infringements & gene - among others.   

I learned a long list of animals, a longer list of food, family members & my favourite:

 soht dae ondūng binh dook hah yeung - my hovercraft is full of eels...

 I am totally going to go burn around the Sangkae River in a hovercraft just so I can use that one....

As far as the course goes, there has been a great deal of rewriting required as I've slowly come to realise just how insulated the Khmae have been from the
world at large.
As a rule, their knowledge of the world outside Asia is almost non-existent.
Very few of my kids have ever seen a map of the world - I bought one yesterday, still searching for a globe... 
I've begun to make references, about various historical people and events, to my students, both the older kids and adults, so that I can find out what they're familiar with and refine the references made within the ethics course to suit that knowledge.

Their knowledge of their own history is limited to a few disjointed scraps about Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge (a subject that has been taboo for 30yrs) & the great Khmer Empire, that existed for over 600 years and was responsible for building the enormous city of Angkor Wat. 
They know nothing about the Egyptians, the Greek Empire, the Roman Empire, or the Persian Empire (or their philosophers...)
They've never heard of Eskimos, or Vikings, or the Aztecs, or the Inca.
They are astounded when I tell them that Australia and the US have both been settled by white people for less than 300 yrs.

I haven't yet found a student, child or adult, who's heard of Darwin, Einstein, Newton or Mozart or Beethoven and Chantha is one of the few people I've met, so far, who has even heard the names Shakespeare or Da Vinci (she's now doing a course in Humanities and was shown a print of the Mona Lisa). She was absolutely enthralled when we checked him out on Wikipedia.

They are unaware of WWI & WWII, or the Holocaust, or Hitler, or Jews. 
They don't know about seasonal variations in other countries, or that the seasons are reversed in the northern & southern hemispheres -
 "Excuse me Dai, is Summer the cold month?"

We were discussing the subjects of cultural diversity and multiculturalism as part of a topic on 'Sameness and Difference' in a group of 12 to 16 yr olds last week. When I told them that, next week, we'd be looking at the Eskimo, or Inuit as they prefer to be called, not only did all the kids look totally confused, my translator for that day (an intelligent,charming young man who's one of CCT's teachers) said he had also never heard either of these words before and didn't know what the Khmae translation would be. Thanks to the Wiki-gods, I was able to show them pictures and finally, when they saw igloos, my translator said: " Ooh, I've seen them in a Hollywood movie! Did people really used to live in such little, round houses?"  When I told them that these houses were made of ice because there is nothing else to build with - no trees, no plants, just ice and snow and that there are still some tribes of Inuit who live in these traditional homes, they were stunned. "But Dai, how do they grow their rice?"

They are familiar with only a handful of animals from other parts of the world.

I wasn't really surprised that the kids had never heard of a platypus..
I have a beautiful boy called Sayon who comes to the Youth Centre. At 14 & in Grade 5, he's one of the brightest and most enthusiastic students I have there. Last Tuesday we were talking about the importance of thinking for yourself and asking for evidence whenever you are told something new. I stopped, mid-sentence, and said:
"Oh, did I tell you I saw a mermaid when I was crossing the bridge to go home last night.." I then went on to describe this vision of loveliness to a rapt audience and then proceeded with the lesson.
 After a while I asked the class if they had believed my story about the mermaid. Most of them just looked at each other, uncertainly, but "S" said "yes, of course." When I asked him why he believed me he replied: "because you are very smart and your face looked very honest when you were talking."
To say he was a little disappointed when I told him it wasn't true would be an understatement - he was crushed!
I pointed out that you can't believe something just because you like or respect the person who's telling you. Even if they believe the story they're telling you, it could still be wrong. You must always look for evidence to support their claims; Did anyone else see it? Did you take a picture? etc
Then we came to the platypus. No said Chantha, I don't know this animal. So I described it. "S" immediately said: "Did anyone else see this strange animal, do you have a picture?" back to Wikipedia....

" S "
I am beginning to believe that these kids really are going to change the future of their beloved Srok Khmae !!

It's such a privilege to be able to play even such a minuscule role as I am.

And to the corrupt politicians who are running this country, take heed, "S" is on his way....


  1. So many things to comment on in this post.
    It is so difficult for me to get my head around the things they don't know. I find it easy to imagine that their knowledge of the things you list may be extremely limited, but too have never heard of them just boggles my mind!
    It makes me realise yet again how very much we take for granted here in Australia, and how lucky we are to have won the life lotto that saw us born in a country where certain fundamental things, like education, are an expectation, not an exception.
    It also goes a long way to explaining why your students would give of their own free time to ensure they get their education when it is offered to them. As humans, it is natural to thirst for knowledge, and when that is something that has not been a given in your life, it must seem like the most amazing thing in the world to have the opportunity to get it. What an amazing gift it is to be in a position to give your students a big ol' swig of the cup of knowledge that we all guzzle from daily without a genuine appreciation of it.
    Lastly, I'm glad you are learning such useful Kumae phrases! You never know when it might be important to convey the fact that your hovercraft has been overrun by eels! Thank goodness that little gem is firmly planted so when the necessity arises, you are equipped to communicate such a vital piece of information!
    Keep up the good work ma. Lots of love. xxxxx

  2. well done ma. i really like the mermaid tale. I retold it this morning as an ingenious mechanism for teaching one to question the truth.


    ps. thank you for keeping me off anti-religious ranting with this one.

  3. Thank you both for your constant support and feedback - I think I look forward to your comments more than you look forward to my posts! The standard of education in Cambodia just isn't good enough. They deserve so much more. As we've come to expect, Tara is already looking into alternative education systems that would better suit the Khmae. I'll send you links to some of the more innovative programs that she's considering implementing here.
    and Jay, we like your anti-religious rants :)
    I love you both, xxxxx