Violence (Thursday, 2012 February 2)

February 2, 2012

As you probably know, I follow most or all of the Volunteer blogs that I come across. Most of them don’t impress me at first but some of them are really good. Eriika is from one of the newer stages and she’s a pretty good writer. Here is her post about a ghost story that I never got to hear in full. I read this on Tuesday night when the power was out and freaked the fuck out. I’ll note that I always thought the word sounded more like "Macaque", but it’s not my patois so I’ll leave it to them.

Rosalie posted lately about discipline. I really admire Rosalie’s spirit and gusto and idealism and willingness to take a stand for her beliefs and all that, but my values aren’t the same as her values. Before I came to this country, I probably would have said, as she does, that corporal punishment is just unacceptable and hitting a student is bad, but this is one of those things that Cameroon has changed in me. When students annoy me — and they usually annoy me — I can make a dry remark about their intelligence, I can yell at them, but they tend to just brush that off. I can tell them to get the hell out of the classroom and they drag their feet and take their time, or they’ll just stay there and look at me with puppy eyes or beg forgiveness. But once you start kicking a few of them, man, you get your way fast!

Timothy said last year that all our non-violent methods of discipline are so laughably ineffective on our students because they aren’t calibrated to our culture. They don’t really understand that you’re angry or that they’ve fucked up until physical pain (or the threat of physical pain) is applied. This is certainly not optimal, but it is one of the realities on the ground.

Rosalie says she doesn’t have problems of discipline in her classes and she doesn’t use any punishment more painful than docking points. Rosalie is a heroine in my book and watching her manage a class is one of the best things you can do in this country, but I’m not having that kind of success, especially outside of the classroom in contexts like Club Informatique. Since I installed a bunch of SNES games on my computers, the kids have gotten utterly bloodthirsty. They will crowd around the lab door for hours waiting to see if I will open the lab or not that day. They will stay in the lab and play until dark. Students have told me that I need to stop opening the lab because the other kids won’t even go home any more, they just want to play on the computers all the time. I said if a child didn’t want to go home that’s the problem of the parents, to instill that kind of responsibility in their children, and students have said, "Yes, monsieur, the parents hit them every single day but they still prefer to stay here."

The point being that now I am faced with children who may one day stab each other to get into the computer lab. EVERY single time I open the lab door there is a mosh-pit of squirming little bodies all trying to get through the door at once. It’s my second year coping with this kind of thing and I thought once the novelty of the lab wore off, they’d be a little more blasé about it, but no such luck. Last Friday I refused to let them in until they formed a line and could only let a few in before it became the familiar type of mess. I closed the door and waited for them to calm down and order themselves again, and while I was waiting I identified a couple of my Terminales who wanted to actually work on the computers. I told the mass of kids that I was letting my Terminales in and the rest of them were going to stay outdoors until they were calm. But when I opened the door, they all rushed in! Open defiance! This is what the old-school authoritarian Cameroonian teachers would refer to as "insolence".

Of course, like Rosalie I don’t want to hit the students, not least because it’s technically illegal, so I turned off the power to the computers and screamed at them to all leave until Monday. That led them all to standing outside the door, periodically begging "Please, monsieur, forgive us!", basically making noise and being nuisances, and even dragging benches over to the windows so they could peer in at what was going on. Eventually they came into the lab without permission AGAIN. So out you go again, no computers until Thursday. But they KEEP coming in and they KEEP playing video games so now I’ve started dragging kids out of the lab by their ears. Their behavior is frankly unacceptable, and the forms of discipline I have been trying to impose just aren’t taking. But you know what worked really well? When a strapping lad from première grabbed a meaty-looking switch and brought it to the lab door with a certain expression on his face. They cleared right out, then.

We’ll see if they behave any better tomorrow, when the punishment is formally over. If not, I’m deleting all the games off all the computers. It shouldn’t be this hard.. So remind me, Rosalie, why I shouldn’t just slap ’em around a bit? She writes that it never occurred to her to have to explain why beating kids is bad, but I don’t have too many reasons not to.

Ultimately this is the story of all development work. It’s easiest to work within the constraints of their culture, to limp along with them using the tools available. It’s way harder to fight that culture, to go outside it and bang on it until it works better, and it’s not what I’m good at.

A bunch of villageois kids sitting on what should be a fountain, but doesn’t work. Among them is Kamgang Basile, easily the worst student in the school. Somehow he graduated 3e and he’s in me 2A4 (Séconde Arts) class, which is probably my worst class. They’re raising their hands and shouting "No, no, no!" because I didn’t ask permission to take their picture. (Obviously the polite thing to do would be to ask first, but these are the kids who have never been polite to me and thus do not merit politeness.) Afterwards they asked me if I was going to use it in my "reports" or to show "the behavior of blacks". Then they said that the only fair thing to do was to pay each of them 200 CFA.

This is the kind of bread we call "gateau". It comes in rectangular bricks like these. This particular one is getting mustard and tomatoes to make a sandwich out of.

Timothy’s library. (We’re using it for a regional meeting.)

My Terminales are learning HTML. "When it’s good, it’s really good, but when it’s bad, well, you know how it goes.."

Babies! This is the baby of a German woman and a Cameroonian man. He can be described by the word metise, which is something like "mulatto". (Describing the race or color of someone in Cameroon is not inherently rude as it is in the States.)

We decided to refresh ourselves at Air Force One, which is either affiliated with or at least neighbors with Denver. (These are bars, naturally.)

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