Saturday, 17 November 2012 – Parent meeting
We almost scared them off. Not by the way we dressed – all three of us were pretty nattily dipped — but our language – play, child centered, creativity, uncertainty, letting children/students lead…
When we were finished with our presentation, there was the polite silence Senegalese society is so good for. We swallowed. None of us – in our bigheaded optimism had anticipated that parents might just say no – they did not want their child to participate.
A hand rose. A father.
“Although I appreciate your intentions, and the project certainly sounds interesting, this year is an important one for students and…”
One of the eight assumptions of Appreciative Inquiry is that language creates your reality, and the language of the questions starting to emerge spoke of a reality fixed in a dichotomy of school versus play, serious study versus creative exploration.. Over and over parents asked us whether we had considered how important this year was? Why had we chosen a class concentrating on a scientific series, why didn’t we choose a class on a more literary tract? To students immersed in the world of sciences (four hours of biology, four hours of physics-chemistry, four hours of math per week) didn’t our project seem nearly frivolous (my words, not theirs) alongside the importance of this year?
(A sidebar for those unfamiliar with the Senegalese educational system: Seconde is a year right after the ginormous tenth grade exams and right before the two year crunch that is the baccalaureate exam. While it would appear students have a year’s breathing room, in reality this is a make it or break it year for students. Parents and teachers put pressure on students to prepare, prepare, prepare. You can hardly blame them – formal education in Senegal so often is the difference between day-to-day survival and the priveleges of society. S – as in Science – series, is an academic tract destined for the best and the brightest, those that carry their parents and teachers’ hopes and dreams with them. Doctors, lawyers, businessmen; so many of this society’s success stories seemingly begin with brilliant students in S series.)
What were we asking students to do? Research? Talk to people? Visit the National Archives and premier collection of pre- and colonial artifact in the world? Exchange learning with young people in the United States? Integrate social media positively? Create and curate an exhibition? How could any of this contribute to the livelihoods of young people in a developing country?
For us it was real simple: If we do not teach our young people to create, we teach them to consume. And as great as the Senegalese program is (or isn’t, according to some critics), we are most certainly producing generations of young people who have heads chock full of theory, but are unable to transform these theories it into useful application.
The heavy emphasis on testing demands memorization first and understanding and second of subject matter. Learning where information is kept, how to access it, how to read it, how to preserve it, how to challenge it, how to integrate it, how to disseminate it – Africa needed that like yesterday!
We are not just planting seeds for today, we are planting seeds for tomorrow. The discourse on migration, on the contributions of immigrants, on West African history is a discourse dominated by a very particular worldview uninterested in honoring or priveleging young people as inheritors of this continent. What this project and their research offer is an opportunity to develop a different lens to see the world through, to understand themselves through. You are more than your textbooks and grades, you are an agent of change, able to construct narratives that serve you. You are creators and producers, not just consumers of yesterday’s educational policies.
Did we say all this to the parents? Yes. And then some. We also promised them that their children’s future and schooling was precious to us as well and that the project was a partnership with an open door and their concerns were always, always welcome. We at ImagiNation Afrika are interested in assisting young people to become lifelong learners and lifelong learning is built on the back of projects like these.
Another hand rose. Another father (there were mothers present and asking questions, by the way):
‘How can we contribute?’
A different language: a different reality.
What can we create together?