Sunday, September 22, 2013

As I was saying . . .

Mono had me watch a documentary a few months back called "De Panzazo." It's about the education system in Mexico and it's probably not an accident that it came out when it did, shortly before the attempts at reform went through. In it the host visits schools and talks to students and teachers and administrators and people in the government, one of whom was recently arrested for stealing money from the country's education funds for, among other things, jewelry, clothing, and a house in California.

This was not in the video but I have to point this out before I get to the movie. The Secretary of Education Emilio Chuayfett is currently advocating for the elimination of math in the first five years of school. His justification?

"Well, with the current plan of studies the majority of the students learn almost nothing anyway, and these days almost every phone has a calculator."

The first time I read this I posted it on my Facebook page, then I took it down maybe five minutes later. I thought there must be a Mexican version of "The Onion" and I was dumb for falling for it. Not the case.

In the movie they discuss the lack of preparation for teachers and the fact that there are no consequences when they are no good or just decide not to show up to teach. The unions control it all and get as high a percentage of funding from the government as any other country, but much of that money gets siphoned off here and there to various corrupt game players. Teachers can get jobs I think with only a high school diploma - perhaps because only a quarter of the population makes it to university anyway. Mono has two family members that I know of in education. One of them is some kind of world famous chemist who won the still-standing award for "Best Student at Our University, Ever." Maybe not called that exactly but you get the idea, and it would seem he doesn't count as one of those under-qualified teachers.  He teaches at a university in Mexico City. Mono's aunt is an English teacher in Michoacán and although I haven't spoken to her, Mono's cousin lives in Missouri and therefore speaks English, and he says her English is basically.. nope.

In Mexico you can study five or six levels of English - lasting maybe a year in total? I think? And with that certification you can teach it. I met several English teachers when I used to go on school visits in Cozumel and uffda.

To be honest the idea of potentially having children and putting them through this system is not one that I embrace with much delight. I mean really. But aside from my own interests there's an entire generation of students that stands to lose an understanding of math (and language arts, etc.). Imagine never getting to the Algebra and Geometry and Calculus and Statistics classes that we study in high school. I am not a lover of math, but I'm grateful at least for others who used those years of advanced math to figure out that they are, and to go on to understand it more and bring about some of the comforts of everyday life that depend on mathematics. (I don't know how exactly. Aren't there numbers and stuff involved in computers?). What happens if a country doesn't have any of those freaks?

In my classroom we celebrated Mexican Independence Day by calling Mr. Z and asking him some things about life in Mexico. The questions were varied: What's your name? How old are you? Do you have allergies? What noise do foxes make? I wonder if kids get it; do they understand really that this person has a different life, a completely different experience?

A couple of times different countries have come up in lessons and I've pointed out on our world map where these places are, but how to make a first grader realize the magnitude of the physical differences that separate us - the Atlantic Ocean, or the Chihuahuan Desert - or the cultural?

This picture was taken in México, I don't know where. Doesn't it look run down? Accurate.

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