Storytelling for Change
School has mostly been a positive influence in my overall development, but there have been a couple of frightening episodes in the scope and sequence in which I have brushed up against another kind of school entity, one I call El Diablo, or the devil.
I was six years old when I found a cursed black pearl. My family was living in Mexico. My father had quit his supervisor position as head graphic illustrator in the art shop at Hill Air Force Base. The pressure had become too much. He was experiencing a nervous break down. Why he choose Mexico as his destination, I don’t know. Here he became a hungry artist in oil painting Matadors and Rocky Point seascapes along the Sea of Cortez. We became the hungry artist and dumb blondes’s hungry children.
Living in Mexico along the shore was a wondrous adventure, a real delight for a child of six and her four year old brother. We ran and played on the beach from first light to sunset. We built sandcastles, we dug clams, we climbed the neighbors low wall, made collections of the cigarette butts we found here, along with shells and dried up starfish. Watched tourists and fishermen smoke, then when no one was looking pretended on these same cigarette butts.
We splashed in the waves, read comic books by the light of the kerosine lamp. Drank agua del Sol from giant ten gallon bottles of water that my parents washed dishes with and occasionally flushed the small toilet with. We jumped in, and on, and from bunk beds suspended from chains on the walls of the camp trailer. We laughed and carried on in being children and in racing along the shore in and behind a yellow, red flyer wagon pulled by our huge german shepherd, Zeke. And then things changed…
Mom bought a Spanish to English dictionary and decided I needed a more formal education. She didn’t know what she was doing in this thing. Public education in Mexico was nothing like Montessori, or kindergarten on the avenues of Salt Lake City. I was quite doomed from the get go.
She took me to the place in search of a cultural experience. Gray, white-washed cinderblock and dirt. Broken words, words, words coming out of mouths of dark roast faces. Small children with dark eyes and dark hair and greedy hands on my face and long blonde hair. My mother crudely attempted to communicate with someone in charge. I sat outside the small office on a folding chair of sort.
Then an anxious man approached me. He held a screaming, bleeding boy. The child’s foot was cut wide open and blood was flowing freely. I remember the excitement and urgency. Feeling afraid for the boy and afraid for myself. I remember my mother coming out of the office. She handed me the small dictionary, gave me a kiss and a hug and said, “ I will be back later to pick you up.” I said, “NO.” She said, “Yes,” and left me sitting there in the middle of all of the excitement. I think she needed a babysitter.
I took my place in the back of the modest classroom with that little book. I remember looking up at the teacher’s back occasionally, but mostly just looking down and bawling quietly. I remember the skrit, skrit, skrit of chalk on the blackboard, staring eyes, and whisperings as if in endless chewing of something. I didn’t know what this something was they held in their mouths…..this Spanish? I remember my mother returning and leaching on to her, never intending to let go. Then running back to the little trailer on the beach.
I swore I would never go back. We did a few more times though, only these times my mother stayed with me. She enjoyed this education I believe. She smiled and nodded incessantly. I fell silent with down cast eyes. Then this thing was over. We pulled up stakes and moved back to the States and to the American life I had remembered. Phew!
Importance: This experience raises the value of parenting in keeping focus on what’s best for the child. As a teacher I am frequently asking this same question. This experience teaches me empathy for children in our schools who are second language learners. There is always room to do things better in education. Room for growth for all involved: teachers, administrators, parents, and STUDENTS. 🙂