On Tuesday, Kindergarten sign-ups began and it has been CRA-zy! Last year I was really proud to be able to help as my language skills were weak, but I could only do simple things. However this year, despite hoping to take a backseat role, I ended up in the forefront when Madre Clara asked me to help her hand out numbers to people Tuesday morning. That turned into me being the only one who knew what was going on Tuesday afternoon and so I became all of sudden in charge of who got accepted and who got rejected. People got desperate and pushy very quickly as we filled all 250 places in ONE DAY. Meaning I talked to 250 different people, and looked at that much paperwork in one day also. Unfortunately that was just step one as now we have to have each parent come back and do all the government paperwork with us. I thought, well I’ve done my hard day, I’ll take a backseat on Wednesday but instead I ended up doing the hardest part which is filling out this from called a RUDE. It’s basically a census of the child, asking about where they live, do they work, how many times they went to the doctor last year, does their house have water, electricity, what level of school their parents completed, etc, etc. I went from last year, only having to say “Sign here please” to now having to use all the vocabulary I know, and some I don’t know. Some of the questions ask what kind of water the family has and options include: household tap, village tap, personal well, village well, lake, river. It then asks what type of sewage system they have, options being: sewer system, septic tank, cesspit, in the street, in a ditch, in a river.
There’s a whole form also about illiteracy, where you have to point blank ask people: are you illiterate, were your parents illiterate? Also there’s a big focus this year on what language they grew up speaking because Bolivia made it mandatory for everyone to be fluent in an ‘indigenous’ language besides Spanish and there’s fighting over what languages should be required for which regions. Imagine I have to ask with a straight face, “How do you get rid of your sewage? Do you have pipes or do you dump it in a ditch?” “Are you illiterate?” “Did you complete grade school?”
But as scary as the questions are, the answers are scarier. Though I haven’t encountered someone this year yet, last year I had a grandmother come in to sign up her granddaughter and she was illiterate to the point she could not even sign her name. (In talking to the other Professors at the Institute, the sewing professor said she’s had students arrive, ages 30-40, not being able to recognize numbers.) This afternoon I had a mother come in with her baby-in-arm who was born in 1990. She was signing up her 6 year old for Kindergarten. Do the math. She dropped out after 7th grade, her husband finished school up through 9th grade. Another mother who seemed especially overwhelmed by the whole process, had finished up through fourth grade.
I often get frustrated at the Kinder because the children come in knowing so little, as if there had been no instruction at home. I mean, how hard is it to teach numbers and letters to a child? And I tell you, when I get a book out to read to these children, they are so excited you’d think I was giving away barbies and hot wheels. They are so hungry for learning. But when I get a chance like a today to learn a little about their home lives, their parents, it does give me pause. So many of the parents are young, under-educated, working long hours. How could they understand the importance of early-childhood education? To understand the importance of reading to child? To have the money for books? To take the time to do it? These people don’t just need parenting classes, they need education period. Think of what you learned after fifth grade, critical thinking skills comes to mind as a biggie, not to mention biology, chemistry, algebra, now imagine living without ever having learned any of those things. So many things I count as basic knowledge in US culture: germs cause disease, education is valuable, the ability to read is essential in life, things in nature are made up of atoms and molecules, the five food groups, how a vaccine works, I could go on. I interact with people, almost daily, that do not know these things, because they were just never taught them. And the resulting reality a culture that I define as “illogical” and “ridiculously ineffective” or sometimes just plain “wrong.” But what I have to wrap my head around is that you can’t ask of someone what they can’t give. People are a product of their own lives and situations and you have to work with them from where they are, not from where they should be. I have no right to judge these people’s life choices or dismiss them when they can’t function at the same level that I can. I was afforded the privilege of education, they were not. What is my responsibility then to the uneducated masses, as a member of the 5% of the world’s population with an advanced degree? I’m finally starting to understand what Reading Rainbow was on about, “Knowledge is Power.” Scientia potentia est.