Monday, November 24, 2008


I’ve been working for nearly two months now at the youth program of a social services agency on the northeast side. I’m the literacy tutor, teaching predominantly Somali kids to read at an afterschool program. I like it pretty well so far, but I still don’t think I want to work with kids as my career or anything. They can be fun and all, but it’s not exactly intellectually stimulating for me.

These kids, who are “disadvantaged youth”, are pretty different from my experiences with kids in the Japanese classroom. These kids don’t try to grab my boobs*, they raise their hands rather than shouting answers, and they aren’t paralyzed and rendered dumbstruck by the presentation of two choices. In Japan, we always tried to foster a fun and interactive classroom that’s main purpose was for the students to develop positive schema associated with English so they would be more open to learning it for real in the future. This had its benefits and drawbacks, among which was little discipline. Young kids were almost encouraged to be crazy, because at least they were having fun. Even though the kids in my current program come with their own set of challenges, behavioral problems, and variety of language backgrounds, the classroom is still comparatively orderly.

I’m continually faced with how poverty fucks you over on all kinds of fronts. During our training that included a bunch of new volunteers and staff members, our supervisor talked extensively about kids living in poverty almost like they were anthropological subjects. A lot of staff and volunteers are well-versed in the subject, and a surprising number grew up on the northeast side, but it was weird to hear it presented like poor kids were so different. We even got a handout:

Laugh when disciplined: A way to save face in matriarchal poverty.

Argue loudly with teacher: Poverty is participatory, and the culture has a distrust of authority. See the system as inherently dishonest and unfair.

Inappropriate or vulgar comments: Reliance on casual register; may not know formal register.

It’s an odd juxtaposition that I’m working with these kids who have so many challenges, and while I grew up privileged, I now have no money, probably even less than the refugee families I tutor. I’m constantly confronted with all the things I can’t afford, simple things like going to a coffee shop every once in a while, anything at the store that isn’t generic, food that I didn’t personally prepare, and it’s fucking oppressive. It’s on my mind constantly. It doesn’t help that everywhere people are freaking the fuck out about the recession, and those people have infinitely more money than me. I want to get out my frustrations about this, but complaining about having no money is a pretty bourgie thing to do. I think about class, about what it means to be poor, but not enough to form a post about it. I don’t have the energy.

*Sidenote: I talked to this girl who had taught English to elementary school kids in Bolivia for a summer, and I asked her if they ever tried to grab her boobs. Her response: WHAT?!


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Soooo. Boob grabbing is NOT related to poverty, but to Japanese preschoolers who are fixated on boobs. I thought so. Love ya. Mom

2:41 PM  

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