Why I No Longer Hate 10th Grade Health Class: Part 2

Carlos Fonseca, leader of the Nicarguan Revolution in the late 1970s, concluded his speeches with “Y tambien enseñáles a leer,” or “and teach the people to read.” After the Sandinista’s victory in 1979, the new literacy campaign aimed at just that. In a matter of months, illiteracy was reduced from about 60% to 20%. So it’s no surprise that when contra-revolutionary forces sought to collapse the Sandinista government in the early 1980s, students were among the first to fight back. While the 1980’s saw student movements across the globe from Mexico to China, the Nicaraguan movement was rooted in defending the fragile platform of public education they had only so recently won. As a result, many students lost their lives in peaceful protests and bloody battles. Even once the Contra War ended, the boxing match between governments continued. It still continues today.

This brief history lesson gives us some answers and opens many more questions. The infancy of federally administered MINED (Ministerio de Educación) as an authoritative force is certainly the result of different values and attitudes towards public dissemination of information (whether through public school systems, free WIFI in parks or loosely enforced copyright laws). But it also raises the question, why are students in 2015 not so concerned with their rights to education? If there is a long history of valuing literacy and knowledge, shouldn’t high school students today be more concerned with the future of their schools?

In the last blog I ended by asking “Would you invest in 15 years of schooling without the solace of sports or electives for the chance to make $2400 a year?” Some of you probably thought yes immediately because you value education so highly. I commend you. Other, more fiscally minded individuals, probably thought no way. I don’t blame you. Most of us were probably caught in between. We were caught in the land of “I know advanced calculus is important in theory, but I probably wouldn’t really need it.” So now I ask: Why do we as foreigners to Nicaragua care so much about the direction of education? Why did Carlos Fonseca finish every speech touting the importance of literacy?

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For me, the answer is critical thinking. It is about abstract problem solving and high level conceptualizations. For us as Americans, this is why we storm the local school when funding threatens to cut after school programs, health, art, music and tech classes. The experience of learning in classroom and the experience of connecting interdisciplinary ideas through electives, sports and clubs is what we are so afraid of losing. Nicaraguan public school students have such little access to these.

I know my students want to learn. It’s just a matter of inspiration. Just the other day, León was playing in the finals for the Championship of the National Baseball League here in Nicaragua. It’s no overstatement to say the entire city was excited. So I introduced a baseball themed review game to practice our English vocabulary. Now I’ll admit, it was a little sad by US standards. Rather than game boards or computer programs, I drew the diamond on the board and colored in or erased bases. The defense team asked English questions while the offensive team answered. If the team at bat answered they got a single, if they answered in a complete sentence, a double, if they impressed me, a home run. And if the team on the field didn’t want to ask a question, the team at bat got a walk. After 3 incorrect answers, or outs, we switched it up. I thought the game was okay and reinforced what I wanted the students to learn. But by the end, I had students begging to play extra innings! Let me rephrase that, begging to practice their English rather than go to recess! So, it’s not that they don’t want to learn, it’s that they need help finding inspiration!

Unfortunately, we volunteers certainly can’t provide all of the computers and teachers and paint and musical instruments that would provide the physical resources necessary to create an obvious interdisciplinary learning space, but we can provide a fresh face. We hope our enthusiasm to write silly songs or plan extravagant lessons like our teachers did for us can re-inspire teachers and can re-inspire students. We hope our work will be sustained by the teachers who are open and willing to include more dynamic learning activities to better the experience for their students (and probably for their own sanity too!). Meanwhile, school here reminds us every day of the things we take for granted. I will never again complain about that 10th grade health class or any of the other classes I felt forced to take because I know that for each of those classes, at least one of my students would find themselves re-interested in school if they had the opportunity to learn about it.

Moving forward, I remember now to check my privilege at the door and work with my teacher to offer as many various perspectives and techniques as possible to create practical and realistic implications of differentiated learning in the classroom. I do this in hopes of inspiring a few more Nicaraguan students to love learning again. In hopes that we can remind them that education is worth the investment. The future is changing and they do not have to be stuck in one box or path. For them it’s about having the opportunity to live a childhood. It’s about finding themselves, pursuing their passions and gaining confidence through creations. It’s about constructing something tangible from abstract ideas. It is how a community develops. The old “our children are our future.” And it all starts with encouraging different thinkers in the classroom. To me it’s the skills gained, not just the curriculum learned, that make 15 years of education worth the investment.

Rebecca Duffy ’16
Nicaragua

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