Friday, September 24, 2010

Reflections on Peace Corps and Survivor

DISCLAIMER: the views expressed are my own and not that of Peace Corps

This week I suddenly realized why I like Survivor... OK, so it's only been a guilty pleasure for the past 2 years - I only got into it in Season 19 after catching 2 episodes in season 18. I was very anti-reality show prior to that, and mostly I still am. And Season 19 of course was the first Samoa ("Russell Hantz") season, so for me it was as entertaining as a train wreck. Still, I came away from each episode thinking that it was a kind of cool idea to be somewhere without technology or any sort of luxury, meeting new people, getting excited over possibly getting a hamburger at the end of a reward challenge. Well, maybe that inspired me to apply to Peace Corps, and it was somewhat prescient since I haven't even seen a hamburger since May!

Anyway, so I could not resist the temptation to stream the first two episodes of Survivor Nicaragua. That was very interesting to watch, since we saw a few players melt down somewhat dramatically on camera. And I can now say that short of criticizing anyone, I totally get it. The challenge with that type of situation is the social game, not the physical hardships.

Case in point: On Tuesday, I had a breakthrough and got my two classes into line by promising them reward if they behaved. On Wednesday, my first class did not respond to the same thing in any way. So I denied them going to the computer lab. And they just continued, actually pointing fingers at each other while continuing to misbehave themselves. So I eliminated them from reward next week too. Next week I will have to escalate to the discipline master, and butts will (probably) be spanked.

The second class started off calm and respectful and remained that way. Happily, they got through all the material in 45 minutes it took me 2 hours to get through with class #1. So I agreed to take them to the lab. Yet because there were 60+ of them and only 20 computers, I split the class and asked the "chef de classe" to copy some text on the blackboard for others to write down while the first class went to the lab.

What followed was a horror show. The first group was really into getting to use computers (some for the first time ever!) and they were sooo excited. So I told them to practice using the mouse and/or keyboard with two simple exercises. I returned to check on the classroom, and found half the remaining students were gone already! The few that remained were all girls, diligently copying the text the class master was copying on the board.

Once they had finished, I took them to the lab. But the first group WOULD NOT LEAVE! They just refused to go. Some of them looked me right in the eye and told me they were part of the second group - a total lie! No one moved and I was forced to cut off power and chase everyone out. Then I identified the second group and brought them back in, having to physically lock the door to keep the others out. Yet the first group lingered outside the door, most of them boys, claiming they were in the second group. Well, that's a simple problem to solve. Next time, girls go first!! That will be MUCH easier.

Yikes. That got me thinking ahead to next week. The Seconde class was not much different, and I had to cut power to get them out of the lab also. They also refused to do the homework I had left on the board, so Monday I will send a message by giving them a test over that material. IE, "too bad for you". If you had done the homework you would have passed the test. As it is, unless you have a computer at home (and only 1/3 do) you will probably fail. Very sad, but I'm running out of options without having to bring in big guns like "failing" and "discipline master".

Anyway... it's all relevant to the Survivor episodes I watched because it's all part the social game. The manipulation, the lies, trying to get out of work, trying to force their own advantage at the expense of everyone else... it's incredibly draining to witness. Especially since I know a lot that they don't. Example, if they actually paid attention and taken advantage of this rare opportunity of having a former Microsoft software developer teaching them computer science, they would have opportunities in the future that they wouldn't otherwise.

So I really related... and appreciated the Holly/Jimmy Johnson peptalk. I realize that it's important to treat these setbacks like any other challenge, not lose heart, stay confident/sane/consistent throughout this and to learn from my mistakes. I am representing the entire U.S., and I feel (probably not inaccurately) all white people as well. So there's no room to react inappropriately, and at the end of the day no real reason to either.

I have to say that all the other challenges: the lack of consistent electricity and water and internet, the lack of furniture or most luxuries, the inability to order a pizza if I'm out of food... none of that counts for anything at this point. The social game is the killer here. Yet I already see that it's soooo much more rewarding a problem to solve. Teachers are the people who can have the greatest impact on your life, outside your immediate family, so just that knowledge alone is a major inspiration! Even if it's just one kid that comes away with something s/he wouldn't know otherwise.

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