Justine's white person travel blog, of which the contents are mine personally and do not reflect any position of the U.S. government or the Peace Corps.
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Before and after
People always say how much the Peace Corps changes you when you apply. At this point I’ve been here a little more than 4 months, so I can’t say how true that statement is or will be. However, I can compare the chain of events that transpired when I went to visit a friend of mine in a nearby village yesterday with how they would have happened in the US!
US Justine: Wakes up in the morning, gets ready, texts friend an hour or so in advance of planning to leave, but definitely doesn’t head out until hearing back.
Cameroon Justine: Wakes up in the morning, gets ready, texts friend 15 minutes in advance of planning to leave, barely checks phone for response since friend knows she’s planning to come at some point.
US Justine: Meticulously plans transportation, has purchased bus/train/whatever ticket in advance, arrives to the station with time to spare, texts friend again to make sure they know she’s on her way.
Cameroon Justine: Motos up to the gare, shouts Dimako, chooses the first of seven different moto drivers who materialize, hops on moto without even taking a good look at it.
US Justine: Rides to location while listening to ipod, has a largely uneventful experience.
Cameroon Justine: Hops off of the moto halfway through the 45 minute trip to allow the driver to untie the sack of rice on the back which he is delivering to a family on the road, realizes that two live chickens have been hanging on the back by their feet the whole time, feels horrible, tells the driver in broken French that it’s not nice for the chickens to ride like that and insists that they be allowed to ride in her lap the rest of the way, puts two most likely disease ridden chickens into her tote bag and carries them on her lap to Dimako, ponders how crazy the driver must think she is during the rest of the trip.
US Justine: Arrives at destination, makes contact with friend who has been waiting for her, proceeds to friend’s house either with iphone directions or with friend.
Cameroon Justine: Still has not heard back from friend and does not know where friend lives, starts to wander in what is hopefully the right direction, stops to ask random denizens of Dimako if they know where the white woman lives, is escorted to friend’s house by a random child procured by the denizens of Dimako, bangs on friend’s door in hopes that friend is home.
US Justine: Drinks wine and eats pancakes with friend.
Cameroon Justine: Drinks beer and eats pancakes with friend.
Some things remain constant.
Rule #4: No hitting
I teach English at a secondary private school in Cameroon where they hit kids who misbehave. It’s not so much a ruler smack to the knuckles as it is adults whipping children with pieces of rubber tubing. And it’s not confined to my school. Corporal punishment, from what I’ve been told, is the standard in the Cameroonian school system. Now, since two of my favorite pastimes are being offended and complaining about the things that offend me, let’s have a blog post!
In the interest of full disclosure: YES, I am one of those hippie freaks without children who thinks that parents should never spank their children. And while we’re at it, I realize that Cameroonian culture is different than American culture, and that I am an outsider with no right to impose my own mores, etc. etc.
This post is merely about how and why I’ve concluded, from the experiences I have had, that corporal punishment is dumb.
The first time I witnessed a student being hit was during my first week of classes. I was co-teaching a class with another English teacher, making a list of student-generated wildlife vocab words on the board, trying to get the rowdy 4eme class (think 9th grade in the US) to cooperate quietly. I turn around, and my co-teacher has lined up three of the students and he starts hitting them.
Of course, no one wanted to pay attention to the lesson in progress at the front of the room while there small scale whipping to behold.
Since I’ve begun to teach on my own, I’ve had other teachers or administrators come into my class multiple times when the students were misbehaving, berate them in French and hit multiple students. While I appreciate that my colleagues want to help me out, I really do wish that they would allow me to handle things myself (or else wait to intervene until I ask them to), because rule #4, clearly displayed on the chalkboard everyday, is no hitting.
In the short term, corporal punishment is distracting. When students stop paying attention to me so they can watch someone else get hit, that forces me to pause my lesson to get their attention back, and wastes valuable time and energy. When they see the rubber tubing come out, everyone just HAS to start pointing fingers and naming names, to the point where I couldn’t tell you whether or not half of the people being accused have actually done anything wrong. There doesn’t seem to be a process for figuring out who actually has misbehaved at this point, and the selection of students to be punished is more luck of the draw than anything else.
Pausing a lesson for corporal punishment is, in short, the best way to plunge my class into total chaos.
Then there is the issue of respect. When many of my colleagues give directions the students know to follow them or else they risk suffering the physical consequences. With me, they know that they’re not going to get hit, so when I give directions they sometimes pay attention but often drag their feet or ignore me. I’ve threatened pop quizzes and points off from tests or homework and am met with little concern, even after translating the warning into French. Then, the next week when they receive their test back with a big -3 points (out of 20) for talking during the exam, they get upset and they don’t understand why. I explain to them that, as was written on the board during the test, the entire class lost three points for not following the instructions, it seems to click, but the next day when I try to use the same disciplinary tactics they still don’t get it.
The only warning I’ve seen them actually respond to is the threat of being hit. It’s not their fault that they’ve grown up in a system that maintains order by threatening physical security, but it seems to have left them with no concept of self control or of longterm consequences, such as poor marks, for their actions.
Quite frankly, I think corporal punishment is more of a shortcut for teachers than a solid disciplinary philosophy for students. If their most compelling reason to pay attention in school now is the desire not to get hit, what’s going to happen when the graduate and move on to university or the workforce? No one is going to come hit them to keep them on task once they’re adults.
And there’s also the part where no one has the right to touch or inflict pain/injury on anyone else in an unwelcome manner, so for those reasons alone I would argue that corporal punishment is a fundamentally immoral practice. But, you know, culture.
In conclusion, I don’t hit my students because I think it’s counterproductive in a number of ways, and I would prefer it if no one else did either.
In other news, I feel like I’ve been neglecting this Tumblr. Why, you ask? Because I’m currently writing for a really awesome global education NGO called Reach the World. If you are an educator or a person who wants to see how I frame my experiences when trying to be school appropriate check out their website (reachtheworld.org).
One month later…
About a month ago I was sworn in as a real, grown up Peace Corps Volunteer and released into the wild to fend for myself. What have I been doing since then? Well, I’ve been doing a lot of reading on my couch.
My house was fully furnished by the volunteer who lived here before me, so I haven’t had any big house-related projects to undertake. And school has only started this week so I haven’t had classes to prepare for/go to either.
Last week did include both a day trip to see chimpanzees at Belabo and a second trip to Abong Mbong to pick up my kitten from another volunteer, but day-to-day activities have mainly consisted of hanging out in Bertoua and going to the market to buy vegetables every few days.
Among my victories from this time:
I successfully exchanged my empty gas bottle for a full gas bottle at the gas station.
After a week of lighting my stove with matches because I for some reason thought the pilot light was out, I established that the pilot light was not actually broken, and I now possess a surplus of matches.
I took my kitten to the vet for three shots and the entire visit cost a total of 7 USD. (Yes I realize that prices are all relative and things cost less because most people make less etc. but still, that’s super cheap compared to the US.)
Although said kitten has some skin issue that is believed to be ringworm, my now daily post-shower ritual of Ringworm or Bruise? has not yielded any fungal infections.
Kitten is almost officially litter box trained after soiling the welcome mat beyond salvation.
I’ve gotten some new pagne while here, although I’ve noticed that the majority of the pagne I buy tends to be black. When did my highschool sense of style decide to reemerge?
Two of the five postcards I’ve sent through postcrossing last week have arrived and one of the recipients complimented me on my “really good” English. At least I know one language!