Tuesday, April 17, 2007

The Art of Questioning

Last Saturday, Levi and I went to my office so I could work on some projects and he could escape the monotony of hostel life for a few hours. I finished my preparations for an upcoming teacher’s workshop while he read encyclopedias and played typing games on the computer. Around 16H00, we started to close up the centre. Levi has closed with me many times and knows what it entails, so he went to work locking all the windows and switching off the lights while I packed up my things for the evening. I had only turned my back for a second (something I should know better than at this point, even with the usual suspects) when I heard a loud pop and a yelp from Levi. I turned to find him and the better part of my office floor and walls covered with white fire extinguisher powder. Ever the curious one, and not knowing what the fire extinguisher was, Levi had pulled the pin on the extinguisher in my office. After a fair amount of scolding and a detailed explanation of what exactly a fire extinguisher is and what it is used for, we got to work sweeping and mopping the office. “You see, miss,” Levi said as he mopped, “This is why I like staying with you. I’m always learning things.”

This sort of thing happens a lot. While I often feel that I have failed them as a teacher in the classroom, it seems I teach my kids many more basic and fundamental things just going about my everyday business. The fact that they are with me nearly ever minute that they aren’t in school exposes them to things they perhaps would not be exposed to otherwise. They’ve certainly learned more about the habits of American women then they will probably ever need to know, including the fact that we (well I, anyway) shave our underarms and our legs, don’t often wear wigs, and don’t necessarily know how to cook. A wealth of information, indeed.

Bringing out questions and debates with and among our learners is a universal problem for PCVs. In Namibian culture, young people are taught to respect their elders and any authority figures, including teachers. While in America asking questions would not necessarily be considered disrespectful, here it is a very fine line and most kids choose to keep their mouths shut and play it safe. This situation becomes difficult not only for those of us who are used to teaching in the states, but for all of us who were schooled in a free and democratic society. If my learners aren’t engaged, aren’t challenging me and digging deeper and refuting this claim or that one-- not only do I not know how to teach, I don’t even really know how to converse with people in such an environment.

From very early on, I have pleaded with my kids to speak up and ask questions when they are confused or to argue with me when they don’t agree with something, whether it be inside or out of the classroom. Though it took nearly a year, they’ve gotten a lot better and I’m at the point now where most days I can’t get them to stop with the inquisitions. I have two question boxes, one that I keep in my office for my daily visitors and one that I keep in my grade 7 classroom. I’m not sure if it’s that they’ve never felt comfortable asking questions before, or if they’ve simply never had an adult in their lives who they could ask, but for one reason or another I’ve gotten some pretty fabulous questions over the past year and a half, ranging from honest and profound to hilarious and totally absurd. So, without further ado, I’d like to present...

The Best of Miss Caitlin’s Question Box!
(Gr. 7, 8, 11&12 learners, unedited):

Miss do you cut the hair under your arms or do you just not have any and if you dont have any y dont u?

miss when you say that we can be anythig we want to be does that also includ my brother becaus i realy don’t think he can be anythig

Why is the sun coming in the day and only the moon in night? When will that chang?

Why do boys say they luv u when they realy dont mean that?

Can miss pleas tell my mother about the thing when the peoples die and you burn them up insted of puttin them in the ground becas i told my mother and she said thats not true

Does miss having same orgins on the insid as me?

I just want to ask why dont miss drink beers?

Why do American men not hold hands?

Miss is too soft with the nauty boys. U must beat them. They wil respet u then.

Somtims when I lie to sleep in the nite and my brain wont stop running does this also hapen to you also? or no?

Has miss ever been in love? Can we talk about that?

miss I do NOT undarstand this

why is miss no having hair on your face?

Why did they select your language to be the language of the entire earth? Don’t you feel you got lucky with that?


I just want to tell u that i did’t know what mensies (--menstruation--) was before and i’m still a small bit confusd but i did’t rais my hand when you wer asking

Did miss bring for me food?

I just want to kno who invented english becas it seems you people are changing the rules alot so are you all the inventers? Or what?

miss are we frends?

Why does love hurt?

Even the peopl who are havin the good english here are not speaking the same english as you so who is the most correct is it you or him?

Miss do I stop brething when i sleep?

miss are you having favrites and i think you are having favrites

Did miss wach alien versis predter?

so my grendfather told me people with tatus and holes in your ears wil go to hell but i dont think you wil

Why did’nt America have the apartheid?

miss when I try to study I can only pay attenshion with the ones I am undrstending but when I’m not Undrstending then i forget to pay attenshion and i just want to sleep. this is why I fail. do you know that?

Is america having black peoples or only brown peoples?

Is miss ever feeling lonely?

Does miss dream in english?

I’m going to come visit you in America but i wont go on one of thos aeroplans i wil only go in the boat. And i probly wont swim in that river off yours. Ok?

Do miss know Jenifer Lopes? She is my sister

Can you tell the difrence from black peoples blood and white people?

Remember that day when i told you i was a small bit mad at you well really i was a very big bit mad at you but i did’t tell you but i am forgiving you now

Do people in America suffer?

Hi Miss. Levi told me you were covering your eyes in final destination, but dont you know those kind of movies are not for real? Or maybe do you believes in those things?

When people fight and i mean fight with their hands does this mean they are in love?

Why do the fish always swiming in the same derecshun?

I know it is your real hair but is miss also having a wig?

Do u kno that the grade 12 boys can see in your window from there block? I’m not saying they do but did you know

Why dont America have AIDS?

If I am hanging upside down will my sweats run up or still down? And my nose?

Do you think donkeys and goats think in english. i do’nt think so

Do you think Jesus is speaking in english and damara? Or is he speaking all the languages? Also is Jesus black or a white?

Miss what is phone sex? Is it like what it sounds like it is?

Why does english hav no reesuns for it? It would be more easier to learn if you just give me sum reesuns.

If I stare at the sun for long enough will it actualy burn my eyes out?

Is America really having enouf for every one and I mean every one?

Some time it feels like my brain has switched off. Is this physicaly possibl?

Why dont’ miss want to take a learner? Or at least take a man? It is better than for you to stay alone do you think?

Miss if all i eats is porige ever day will it somehow consume my stomak?

Why does miss no like donkey vleis?

You say that we must never lie but then also you said is not nice to say that Jaclyn is fat but that is the truth so what are you trying to say that I must lie to her then?

miss i have an idea for you to stay in Namibia. so let’s talk about that.