I kicked out my entire Thursday afternoon class. Immediately. They were the one class that I have ever assigned homework to. Their assignment was to defend their answer as to why the sky was blue in the last exam. There are over 30 people in this class, though I only run at about 2/3 attendance on any given day. Not a single one did their assignment. I kicked them out. At first I said it nicely, in english and kiswahili. Nobody moved. Then I said it again, more sternly, nobody moved. So finally I had to stand up and practically shout, “GO NOW!” and then they moved, but not with the expected energy I had hoped, they just sort of shuffled out. They did not seem dejected, and they were laughing quite loudly in the hall. The Mzungu made a spectacle.
I am not saying what I did was correct. I was actually not even overly frustrated, half expecting this to happen, considering it’s kenya. But at the same time, if I am to prove to these kids that I seriously want to teach them, and they should take that seriously as well, words just are not enough. I needed an action to substantiate my claims to caring. This is why I settled on kicking them out. It was not a knee-jerk reaction. I am hoping, as terrible as it may sound, that this will serve as an example. I have had a professor do this to one of my classes in college and it worked. For the rest of the year, us bratty, spoiled, disrespectful college kids did our reading.
Of course, in retrospect there are some things I would have done differently. First, I would have given them a bit more reason as to why I am kicking them out. Of course, they would not have understood most likely, and I would have been unable to convey it in kiswahili, nor would it have sunk in because I think there is still a factor of “Oh wow, he’s speaking swahili,” whenever I talk, and it overrides their actual listening-comprehension.
Second, I would have told them to do the assignment again. I did not. That is my mistake. I doubt they will do it on their own volition. I should have also made the ultimatum that class will not continue for them until they do their assignment. But I did what I did, and I am ok with it.
I talked with Dai Kato about it and he was 100% supportive. He said that if they were in Japan the teacher would have done the same thing. Words we looked up in the dictionary for this conversation included: disrespectful, correct, reflect (student’s don’t reflect on their performance, he said it, not me).
I also talked with David and Frida about it. To clarify, they have pretty good english, and are much better at at least listening and comprehending what I am saying, if not speaking with an articulated vocabularly. At first they thought it was a bit funny, but that’s most likely because I was gesticulating wildly when describing the situation. Afterwards though, they also agreed, saying that now the student’s will know that it I am no joke and they need to take my class seriously.
Hopefully they will. As my second and third week experience proved, I know students want to be in class. But I almost wonder if schooling is affected by the same appreciation for superficiality that affects many other aspects of culture. That going through the motions is enough, but substance doesn’t really matter. Sure it looks great to dress up an entire village of children in their uniforms and march them around, proudly proclaiming they are getting and education. Sure an 87% literacy rate is great! Especially for this region of the world.
At the same time though, are students being taught the value of their education. The lifelong impact knowledge has on one’s life? Or is the value of the education simply the cost of purchasing books and a uniform at the beginning of the year and hoping learning just falls out of the pages of the books and into your head. What is a literacy rate of 87% if your fluency rate is nothing (an exaggeration to be sure, but an interesting study to be conducted)?