I was sitting in a house that looked just like America. The bunny decorations were even on our napkins, and the smell of fresh coffee and rain lingered in the air. It was Easter and I was surrounded by 7 other Peace Corps Volunteers, all of us having chosen a quiet holiday with the Missionaries in Kondoa, Dodoma. When PCVs are together we naturally run around the track a few times discussing the same topics: life in America, challenges at site, the newest medical problem someone has, and various inappropriate things I would’ve blushed discussing two years ago. When Nan & Terry, our hosts, asked us about the problems we face with education in Tanzania, the question was ripe for a full-fledged, passionate conversation.
“If the government motivated teachers and actually made them feel valued, they would do a better job. If they show up they hardly want to work and most are under-qualified to teach.”
“There are no resources. How do we expect to help schools when students are sharing desks and teachers have no access to electricity? Teachers don’t have access to trainings that are meaningful and use old methods of beating to create an environment of fear and hierarchy.”
“My students go to school with just a bowl of uji (porridge) for the entire day. How are they supposed to stay focused? Kids with learning disabilities just get pushed through the to the next grade, hardly understanding any content.”
“No, no, no. The problem is they only teach the NECTA exams. There is absolutely no room for creativity or critical thinking. Just copy and paste whatever the teacher writes on the board. If you ask a student why they answered something correctly their only response is that ‘it’s correct,’ no explanation. Analyzing is completely missed on the education pyramid and it shows when you speak with adults.”
Then I stepped in: “Wait, are we talking about America or Tanzania?” Laughter ensued, but the parallels that exist really struck me.
Studying international development, I find that assistance, aid, allthatdogooderwork is often focused on health and education. Feed the hungry in Africa! Build a school in South America! Teach in Mongolia for a year! Give $5 a month to cover this orphans medical expenses! A picture of a malnourished child with few clothes and a dirty face often pairs this message, or a religious quote, or a sappy Melissa Ethridge song. I’m not saying it’s bad to get ‘sucked into’ that scenario. Heck, what drew me into Peace Corps was their highly effective marketing campaign, ‘The World is Calling, How Far Will YOU Go?’
My point is we have no qualms giving money or assistance to these sick looking children in Africa. We celebrate building schools, education for young girls, health education and vaccinations as the saving grace of humanity. And it is a FANTASTIC thing. No child should be left behind. In the words of my lantern Marian Wright Edelman, ‘If we don’t stand up for children, we don’t stand up for much.’
So why, I ask, do we not focus on health and education in America? Why does the elementary student in Englewood Chicago look any different from the 9-year-old in Honduras? Our children are failing and it’s because WE are failing THEM.
We have corporate schools that seek profit in education paired with corporate jails that seek imprisonment for profit. Yes, let’s make money by putting people into our already enormous system of incarceration while simultaneously creating a school that defines profit by providing something that should be given to all, not a select few. We still do not have a healthcare system that supports all children with free and respectable services. Yes, let’s blame the parents, ‘those lazy welfare parents,’ when a child has no choice as to whom or what situation they are born into.
A new bill out by a Tennessee representative punishes families on federal assistance whose children are failing in school. Yes, let’s continue to perpetuate the cycle of poverty and design bills that fail to see the complex concept of ‘being poor.’ Teachers are getting more pressure for their students to pass a test, or risk losing their job or getting more students with fewer resources. Yes, let’s promote a high stakes environment that leads to racketeering (also happens in Tanzania) and neglects and stiffens the statistical evidence of success behind a creative, analytical, and multicultural classroom.
Why do we see 'third world' children and think 'let’s help them get an education and good health services,' but we look at our own neighbors, our sisters and brothers, and not fight for them. How can we promote that in order to build the economy of developing nations we must emphasize education and health, yet when our economy is struggling those are the first programs cut?
It’s about time we do something about it. Children, around the world, should be the last people we fail. They should be the last people we ignore.
It’s funny when my Tanzanian students ask me about America. They truly believe anything is possible in the USA. Not like Tanzania where you have to be wealthy and go to school in Dar or Moshi. Not like Tanzania where some children have access to a clinic, while others depend on understaffed and overworked nurses in the village. Oh wait, are we talking about Tanzania or America?