Sunday, October 21, 2007


We have a child in the school who’s the first in his family to ever attend school. He’s a Bribri Indian, a beautiful child: gentle, quick, shy but curious. He’s 8 and in first grade. He has great motor skills, both large and small, good eye hand co-ordination, great balance, is ambidextrous. He’s happy, does his work, is proud of what he does. Yet after 8 months in school can’t count, has no letter recognition, only this week can he copy his name. His copied letters are often upside down and backwards. Clearly, in a western sense he has learning differences. He’s the first in his family to ever attend school, all his family are illiterate, or preliterate might be more appropriate. Are Erling’s challenges natural or are they part of his hereditary experience? In other children whom I’ve worked with who share his challenges, there is often a balance or motor issue: they’ve missed something in their early motor development. This is not his case.
His parents have sent him to school, he’s on a full scholarship, clearly they want his life to be different from theirs.
I’m one of 3 teachers working individually with Erling. We met with his parents this week and told them that if there’s no change in his level by the end of the school year (December), he’ll have to repeat first grade. I don’t know that this is the answer. In a western sense we can’t serve him, he needs more help than we are able or trained to give, and there’s no way his parents can provide this extra support for him. Now his self esteem is great, he sees no differences between himself and the others, but to turn 9 in first grade: what effect will that have? Perhaps none. His parents reacted with simple grace, they accepted what we said in a way I’ve never seen before: no shame, no blame, no denial, just okay, this is life. There’s another Bribri boy in the third grade who’s also struggling, he’ll also repeat, I don’t know his family background.
For me this brings up bigger questions on education. In its current form education came out of the industrial revolution. A large scale, factory operation to turn out people who can perform basic operations as they’re told. Read, write, do math, listen to instruction, nowadays also work as a team, problem solve. But children today are different. The world is different, I think we need a different education. The root of the word means to raise. Modern schools produce.