Friday, November 27, 2009
Starting From Scratch
I have recently realized that there is a definite value in explaining things that normally I assume people understand. There had been several instances that have illuminated this fact for me lately. So I like to start my classes with an activity that is stimulating and requires critical thinking, making the students exercise their wee minds in ways that their regular school teachers neglect. Recently I posed the question: What is a good leader? Can you be a good leader and do bad things? The students wrote about what they thought and then had a debate. Afterwards they still wanted to discuss this question and I was happy to let them. The thoughts then turned to Chinggus Khan and the fact that he is Mongolia’s greatest hero but also murdered may people. One student then raised his hand and asked me “Teacher, what about Hitler? Isn’t he like Chinggus? People really like him now, right?” My stomach lurched at the question. The kid who asked this isn’t a skinhead and probably doesn’t even know what a neo-Nazi is. He likes football and girls, not racial purity. I took a deep breath and explained the basics of how Hitler rose to power and that he killed so many innocent people. I told him of seeing Hitler’s grave and how Berliners now take their dogs to go to the bathroom there and people vomit on the spot. After I was finished I could see that he still wasn’t quite convinced. His eyes betrayed the fact that he thought I was bias somehow and that I didn’t know the whole truth. He seemed confused as to why someone with so much power could be that bad. I don’t quite know if it’s scary or sweet that he couldn’t wrap his head around the past and present of the Third Reich. Another more comical instance happened during our huge international Thanksgiving on Wednesday night. In place of our weekly international dinner club of sorts at a local bakery, I had everyone over to experience Thanksgiving. I think at one point 25 people were crammed into my apartment. Just about everyone brought something, from horse sausage and Russian mushrooms to wine we had to bang against the wall to open and homemade gnocchi. I had made apple pie and pumpkin pie in the traditional Thanksgiving spirit. Before everyone ate there was a portly woman hanging around the food, judiciously sampling a bit of all the dishes set out. When people were finishing getting their dinner, I strolled back into the kitchen to check on the flow of traffic. It was then that I noticed in horror the aforementioned food sneaker and a friend were going to town on my apple pie with their forks. I got there just in time to see them scraping out the last bit of filling, leaving a forlorn and battered pie crust in the bottom of the pan. Apparently I should have cut it before setting it out and not assumed that they knew pie protocol. The pie desecration wasn’t a big deal and with further reading the boy will learn more about Hitler. These experiences have just served as a reminder to me that while I am getting more comfortable, patience and understanding of cultural differences are thigns I should never forget.