Sunday, November 1, 2009
Exams – and sharing
This picture shows how kids here study – they pour over their notebooks trying to memorize everything in them. Frequently that means they walk around in circles murmuring out loud to themselves in order to commit everything to memory. Can you say “kinesthetic learners?”
The kids have been taking exams all week. They have a whole week of exams at the end of each quarter, and their exams count for 50% of their quarter grade. It’s crazy to watch them work on an exam sometimes for three hours, sometimes for 30 minutes and know that this work represents half of their grade for the class. They work so hard during the exam time! There’s no screwing around or joking about “I’m gonna fail …” as my American students unfortunately do sometimes. They just get to work and don’t stop until they’re done. Today I was proctoring exams in a room that’s right on the edge of the property across the street from a place that makes cement blocks. They run some incredibly loud machinery at that place, and by the end of two hours of listening to it, my ears were ringing. But somehow it seemed not to phase the kids at all. It’s like they’re just so used to things being uncomfortable, or having to make do in a bad situation, that they don’t even notice the deafening roar outside. I wish I could be so relaxed about things.
What’s so nice about having a big campus with lots of outside space is that as soon as they’re done, they leave and can go outside and study or run around and play. It’s perfect! Work hard, play hard, then be back in time for the next exam. There’s a two hour lunch / play break in the middle of the exam days! It makes me a little sad to think of the limitations of what we can do with our little school in Cambridge – where releasing the kids for two hours in the middle of the day to blow off steam is not an option. It would be so good for them!
Watching the kids take exams has also made me think more about something I’ve noticed a lot since being here. In general, Haitian people are incredibly generous with what they have, in a way that is frankly kind of embarrassing when I consider how stingy we Americans can be sometimes. If someone comes in to dinner with an avocado, they cut it up and pass the pieces around. If one kid doesn’t have money for a snack, her friend will give her a bite of his snack. It’s like everything is for the community. I asked James about this one day and he said that of course there are plenty of greedy, stingy people in Haiti, but that in general, people see sharing food as “money in the bank.” They know that this time they might be the one with the food, but next time they might be the one without, so it’s best to share now to ensure that others will share next time.
Why did exams make me think about sharing? I watched as 28 kids in the room shared one little white out pen. They just tossed it back and forth around the room, without causing any disruption or drama or without the owner of the white out complaining that everyone was using all of his stuff. I watched kids share calculators, passing them around without talking or complaining, or telling each other to get your own darn calculator. The most amazing moment was when one little kid’s blue pen ran out. He asked me for one, but all I had was black (and for some reason that is utterly inexplicable to me, they are required to write only in blue pen.) He then asked the rest of the kids, but no one had one. So he sat there for a while trying to make the pen work. Then, without even talking, the kid next to him just handed him his pen while he read the next question. The pen-less kid then scribbled down answers until the other kid tapped his arm to give it back. They went back and forth for the next 30 minutes sharing one blue pen to write two exams. I was amazed. This simply would not happen in the United States. We are all accustomed to having what we need when we need it, that we kind of fall apart a little when inconvenienced by loud noises outside an exam room, or having to share our white out, or not having a pen, or having to share the avocado that I bought with my own money with whomever’s sitting at the table. It’s humbling, really.