Déjà Vu?

Our second day in Bangalore was so busy I actually heard my bed cry out, “Aeriale!” at its conclusion. It was perfect, though! The activities included an enlightening school visit with a lively, honest debriefing; an introduction to the Indian school system by our lovely and smart hosts from The Teacher Foundation; a talk about the history, culture and politics of India by former Indian ambassador to UNESCO, Chiranjiv Singh, who is a genius; a successful shopping trip (I bought a sari!) and another delicious Indian dinner.

I have pages and pages of notes. The journey could end here and I’d have enough material to post on this blog for months. I’m obsessed with so many of the topics we discussed today – high quality instruction, history, culture, colonialism, decolonization, etc., etc. And I really want to share the heartening small moments I experienced during our school visit. (It was such a wonderful experience I actually got chills!) I, however, think I’ll start with what we learned about the Indian school system.

As I wrote yesterday, our hosts are very open and forthcoming about the challenges India faces. Their presentation of the school system was equally rooted in hope and concern. They introduced us to the structure of the Indian school system, including the roles of the union (federal) and state governments and public and private schools. Some facts (and perhaps some could be interpreted as opinions) that resonated were:

  • The union government’s expenditure on education is 3.8% of the GDP in India ($140 per child per annum) compared to the federal government’s 5.2% of GDP in the US ($12,401 per child per annum).
  • The number of private schools is increasing astronomically causing the “systematic emptying of government schools, even in rural areas.”
  • Education is a fundamental right protected by law for children ages 6-14 and is the government’s attempt at “social reengineering” to combat the effects of the caste system, which is legally abolished but still exists.
  • Most Indian schools are simply “coping with poorer kids.”
  • Language is the single most divisive factor in Indian education.
  • There is a huge shortage of teachers in India due to the systematic undermining of the profession and disempowerment of teachers, including poor remuneration and lack of teacher voice in policy making.
  • Many teachers are inadequately trained both pre and inservice. Professional development is required, but often just skims the surface of what teachers actually need and is not ongoing or classroom-embedded thus ineffective.
  • The Indian school system has a systemic absence of vision, purpose, and urgency. There is a culture of convenience wherein schools are not action-oriented and fail to create collaborative, professional environments.

This information resonated with me for a reason. What do you think, US colleagues? Does any of this sound familiar? I don’t want to lead the witness, so I’ll just leave this here for now and wait for your comments below. Reflections later. . .




Bangalore: Reflections on Day One

I spent the majority of my first day in Bangalore exploring the back of my eyelids. After two long flights and near hour-long drive, we arrived at our hotel in the wee hours. I thought I’d collapse, but instead I tossed and turned in bed until I did what any good American would under the circumstances:  I watched the Indian equivalent of QVC. That 10-function chopper-dicer-slicer thingy was really tempting, but I managed not to pick up the phone. I eventually did slip into slumber as the sun rose at the start of a new day.

Ding dong. It was the doorbell that woke me up at 10 AM, two hours after breakfast began. I thought it might be my fellow travelers beckoning me to join them on an adventure, but it was a kind man asking if I had any laundry for him to do today. I didn’t, but I decided I’d like for someone to stop by and ask me that question every day in Kalskag! Any takers?

Since I’d missed breakfast, I decided I might as well sleep until my body woke up, which was when the same man rang the doorbell to offer cleaning services, after lunch and just before I needed to attend our opening session. I hurriedly showered and just barely made it before the first speaker began. So. . .yes, on the other side of the world, I’m still Aeriale. Sleep trumps food; I’m on CP time.

Our opening session and dinner were delightful gatherings chockfull of intriguing information and intimate conversations. As I returned to my room, I found myself excited for tomorrow because I want more! We talked about so much in our formal classroom setting and informally around the table of delicious food. But there was a common thread in all of our interactions:  honesty. Our brilliant host from The Teacher Foundation set the tone by presenting India to us as a set of paradoxes. She, for example, discussed how Indians are incredibly clean when it comes to their bodies, meticulous even, but some cities are incredibly filthy. As she spoke about her country, I could hear both how much she loves India and how much hope she has that it will outgrow itself, becoming a better place for all of its citizens. She didn’t mince words and her straightforwardness set us all free to continue speaking with veracity during dinner.

Racism. Police brutality. Politics. Colonialism. Being biracial. LGBT, “hey, don’t leave out the Q!” issues. No topic seemed to be off limits on our side of the table. It was glorious. If all Americans were having the kind of open and honest dialogue my cohort had tonight, we could solve many of the problems we face. If we allowed one another to express our frustrations – and, yes, even anger – with the paradoxes of our country without crying, “unpatriotic!”, we might be able show some empathy. If instead of listening to respond, we listened to one another just for the sake of listening and continued to listen over time to understand, we might just be one nation under (no) God(s) – whatever your personal convictions are.

I am not perfect. India is not perfect. The United States of America is not perfect. We all have some incredible strengths and plenty of room for improvement. The truth is that every human being is an individual paradox existing within collective ones as citizens of our nations and the world. I personally believe we’d all be better off if we ultimately gave ourselves and others the freedom to embrace the reality that perhaps our truths are not dichotomous after all, but spectral. Let us empower one another to move toward whichever end brings us all our own beauty for ashes, whichever end is humane. . .whichever end is love.


Killing Me Softlier

Nearly eleven years ago, I was purging, selling, and packing up my life in Florida to begin anew in America’s Last Frontier. That single decision has changed my life’s trajectory and me in ways I couldn’t have visualized then. I had a little background knowledge and even fewer experiences. I moved above the Arctic Circle and I had never even seen snow! This is the kind of thing I do. It’s my shtick. I like to call it pulling an Aeriale. I discover something that piques my interest and chase after it with all my might without considering the potentially negative consequences until I’ve crossed the finish line, after I’ve already said yes.

I’ve pulled many Aeriales over the past decade and every single time, I recycle the same emotions, though with a bit more maturity each time. I wrote the blog post below on July 29, 2005. As I revisited it tonight, I thought, “yep. That’s it right there! Not quite as intense, but that IS it.”

As I prepare to embark on the last leg of my journey as a TGC Fellow and my newest adventure as a Heinemann Fellow this summer, I can’t help but be uncomfortable with leaving my comfort zone. Today I read an article about India’s current extreme temperatures and imagined my Alaskan body sprawled out on the ground, half dead, while the brilliant folks in my cohort shook their heads. I’ve pored over my Heinemann Fellow application ad naseum since I got the invitation call wondering why they selected me, asking myself if I’m worthy. I agonize over these thoughts until my body is in distress and I become. . .sad.

At this stage in life, I know it’s just fear manifesting itself as anxiety and depression. As a vagabond, it is my plight. Perpetual movement and constant growth require that you bulldoze yourself sometimes in order to expand. I also know, without doubt, this too shall pass. My life is about to change for the better, in ways I am presently unable to visualize. I’m going to have to tear some old things down in order to give rise to the new. And I will because I want it. Whatever it is. . .

Eleven years from now, I hope I’ve pulled many Aeriales and that doing so continues to kill me a little “softlier” each time.

(I hope you can endure my e.e. cummings phase below. . .)

killing me softly

july 29, 2005

overwhelmed. yes, boys and girls, that is the word of the day, the week, no actually, the month. my equilibrium is off. i am suffering from emotional vertigo. save some sort of divine intervention, i am undoubtedly about to tumble gracefully into the doldrums. it is not so much the leaving, for that was my choice, but the stress of the process of changing that has catapulted me into an abyss of sadness.

as an experienced special educator with undergraduate and graduate level training, i am privy to the symptoms of a myriad of disorders. such knowledge makes one a clinician who is apt to diagnose both others and self. i’ve labeled myself with just plain crazy disorder. it’s a combination of adhd, acute anxiety, and a heart that’s empathic to a fault. generally, people with such issues need to have structure in their lives. though this is mostly true for me, in an apparent attempt to make reparations for inflicting me with emotional disturbances, the cosmos gave me a brain that i love, the kind that requires continuous stimulation. hence i am in a perpetual predicament: in order to prevent enduring the misery of intellectual ennui, i must suffer the ephemeral pain of demolishing and rebuilding my life’s structure. me, myself and i are currently in the demolition phase. and it’s killing me softly.

in a nutshell, it is not the change itself that vexes. it is the process of disconnecting, trading old for new, familiarity for the unknown, stagnancy for kinesis (and jon stewart for going away gatherings) that is so painful.

Do Better, Teaching Vagabond

After a twenty-four hour journey home to Alaska from DC, I should be beyond exhausted. Instead, I am energized. From my fantastic TGC Symposium roommate to the amazing IREX staff, from the motley crew with whom I’ll be traveling to India to my dear friend, the New York Times, my weekend was filled with overwhelming brilliance. The fellowship went from being a distant abstraction to an intellectual, spiritual and physical adventure in the making. This was my first lesson. . .

I’m a wannabe yogi. I’m a student of the history of colonization throughout the world. I thought I saw India. After this weekend, however, I realize that I was just another person who’d victimized her through cultural appropriation and patronizing sympathy. I’m ashamed of myself. I know better. I have traipsed so many paths as a woman, teacher of indigenous children, and an African American who has taken the long journey home to Africa, back through the “door of no return”that should have prevented this. But knowing something intellectually and doing it deliberately are, indeed, two different things. After this weekend, I am cognizant of my need to spend more time with India. I need to get to know her by transferring all of the skills I’ve used in other contexts to our budding friendship. I need to listen to all of her stories, not just the ones that interest me.

Thank goodness I got a wake-up call. I’m thankful the TCG Symposium sessions provided me with the opportunity to self-reflect and self-correct. In the short time since I departed DC, I have already closely read several articles I would have skimmed before. I am about to lay out my plan for more reading, viewing films, and exploring music and food prior to our July departure. Maya Angelou advised, “when you know better, you do better.” Do better I shall. . .