Thoughts on Education

Parental involvement 

When I am not listening to VeggieTales and other silly songs, I am usually reading the Onion, America’s Finest News Source.  One recent article on the Onion, (it’s a satire publication) was about a teacher by the name Jon Broderick who has been reaching out to promising kids that just need a little guidance since 1996, and to be honest, none of them has really blossomed into anything. Quoting the teacher, the Onion says that “Every year, I tell myself I’m going to be the reason a struggling teenager excels beyond all expectation, and every goddamn year, I’m wrong.”

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What of Us with No Fathers?

By Kariuki Dave

Now that Father’s Day is here, we are all obligated to honour that special old man in our lives whose efforts are least appreciated by the society we have today. Father’s Day is one of the little known international days. That is not my concern for now though. I am more concerned about those of us who were brought up by single mothers. Who do we salute on this day? You see, I belong to this group of people who, for one reason or another, didn’t get to grow up in a household with a father figure. Some of us had fathers who were just there to be seen, not to be heard nor felt, but we are here anyway like the rest and we do have a story to tell about those who took up the challenge and played the father’s role in our upbringing. My grandmother (God bless her soul) happens to be that person to me.


Teachers’ Strike

So everyone seems to assume that just because teachers were on strike, they were in bed sleeping. Well, they were not. At least the ones I know were not.

To them, teaching is a calling . Whether people think lowly of the profession, whether the government decides to treat them as lesser people, whether no kid growing up today wants to be a teacher, it still remains a great vocation. (OK, slight exaggeration. There are kids who want to be teachers when they grow up. My six year old sister is one.)

I was and still am raised my two high school teachers. They met in campus (I always smile at the idea of meeting my lifelong partner in campus. Clearly I did not pick that particular gene).

Every day, mum and dad leave the house to go give their all in school. Every day, they come back with interesting stories. Other times it is loads of papers to mark. Once upon a time, I spilt a glass of water on some papers dad had left on the table. I do not even want to imagine what dad told his students; all I know is that I did not even get punished for it.

Mum is the listener; the teacher counsellor. She wants to help and she always helps in whatever way. Mum bonds with her students. So much so that she has been maid of honour at a former student’s wedding.

Dad is the funny man. Once he taught me geography during some holiday tuition sessions. He is the guy who will teach about rotation and revolution of the earth and demonstrate it. Yeah, in this case, he assumes the role of the earth. He spins while at the same time going round in a circle. Get the picture? I would say I laughed at the demonstration like the rest, but I really did not. Inside, I was thinking ‘Oh God, dad is embarrassing me’.

Well, when I come to think about it, it is not always about me. I bet none of the students in that form one class ever forgot about revolution and rotation. He made it fun.

Through all this, I have always known that teaching requires sacrifice. Even when you are transferred to a school you did not want; even when you have to work with students who do not seem interested. The joy comes when you bump into them in future, full grown men and women, successful citizens, who still remember you.

Somehow, a teacher always remains a teacher to me. That teacher who took me home the day I puked all over the classroom floor. The teacher who ensured I could write and gave me the confidence to do so. The teacher who made a bet with me, that he would do something for me if I passed my exams.

A teacher remains a teacher to other people too. Many people do not even know my dad’s name. He’s simply ‘Mwalimu’. I may never be a teacher apart from the Sunday school teaching I do, but I appreciate teachers. I never thanked them enough though, maybe someday I will.

I celebrated when the government agreed to hike the teachers’ salaries. Not because I had something to gain from it. Maybe I wanted the kids out of the house soon. Whatever I wanted aside, the teachers deserve every coin. Even when you think that they already have enough from the tuition fees and all, they deserve the raise.

By the way, the teachers I am talking about woke up every day to go to school. Even with the strike, things had to be kept in check you know. Now that’s dedication.


Like a child

Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights before the dark hour of reason grows.

These words, by John Betjeman, ushered me into the movie The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas. Instantly, I knew that it was going be a movie about the innocence of a child. Then out of the blue, the infamous swastika sign is thrown at you. And it all dawned on me that the movie was going to be about a child during the Holocaust. I braced myself for the inevitable.

At the risk of spoiling everything for one who has never watched the movie, the movie revolves around eight-year-old Bruno. (The role is played by the stunning Asa Butterfield. That boy always gets me whether it’s in Merlin or Hugo. I guess it’s the blue eyes.)

Bruno is forced to move away from his home to a new one in the countryside as his father is a high-ranking soldier in the Nazi government. He has no choice but to move. The first thing he notices when he looks out the window of his new bedroom is a ‘farm’ where children wear ‘pyjamas’. He asks his mum and dad about it, but no one tells him it is a concentration camp and that the ‘strange people’ are Jews.

He meets a desolate boy called Shmuel who is unfortunate enough to be a Jew and on the other side of that electric fence. In a strange turn of events, Bruno ends up in the concentration camp in a gas chamber with his dear friend Shmuel.

Fiction or not, Bruno would not have ended up in that gas chamber if dad and mum had answered his questions. One time, he asked what the horrid smell that filled the air every now and then was and his dad told him that people at the camp were burning rubbish.

On another occasion, his elder sister tells him that what he thinks is a farm, is in fact, a camp for Jews; because they were bad people who needed to be contained. Bruno cannot, for the life of him, understand how there did not exist a good Jew. Shmuel was good! Surely!

I am not a parent yet. I am also of the opinion that I have a long way to go, but I live with kids every single day when I am not in school. (And that is saying a lot, now that I am bound to be home for seven months. I am still hoping it will turn out to be a bad rumour.)

When you hide things from children, they find out sooner or later. And what they find out may or may not be the truth. Bruno peeped into a room where his father and colleagues were watching a propaganda film, painting concentration camps as happy places for Jews. And he believed it.

We try to mask reality from children because we think they are safe without the truth. While that may be logical, it is one thing to tell a child that he or she was purchased in a market and it is another to tell him that he will learn about reproduction when he grows a little older.

Is something is indeed ok, why hide it from a child? When you think about it, the reason you hide most things from a child is because deep inside, you know it’s downright wrong. If something is bad for a child, isn’t it bad for you too?

If you read Billy Collins poem, The History Teacher, the folly of keeping children from the truth becomes clearer. While the teacher struggles to paint the dark parts of History pretty, the world teaches his students reality when they get out of class.

I know some situations may not necessarily fit into this argument. Nevertheless, think about it. While I cannot think like a child any more, I can learn from them. And so can you. A child will cry because of something you did and the next minute come sit on your lap. Because children are still looking up to you and becoming what you make them.

Like a child, do not hold grudges. And like a child, love. Love without letting reason and stereotypes jumble things up, so much so, that it is no longer reasonable.

Appreciate now, not later

Today I will be brief.

I spent a day with students who were paying tribute to a teacher they loved. A teacher who inspired them to be better. They talked of how he made them believe in themselves and how much they miss him.

The beauty of it is that he heard it all. He is alive and well. He laughed with them, posed for photos with them, ate with them and talked to them.

They miss him because he left for another school.

Today, I watched a community give speeches about a person they love while he listened. That was a break from the usual speeches when the person you are praising cannot hear you. Appreciate someone while they are still alive today.

By the way, the person they were appreciating is my dad. My dad will always go to a place and leave a mark. And it is not a show, that is who he is. I am living proof that he is a great dad. (Sometimes I think that is why I have very high standards set for my future husband. That is a story for another day.)

I realized that dad is a father to so many other people. He inspires me to be better always. I love him.

It also happens that this coincides with Father’s Day. I know someone will go like ‘Father’s day should be everyday, Carol!’ but this day could be one to help you appreciate your father if you have not recently.

Just in case you are wondering, I will show dad this post (even though he has no idea what a blog is).


Mother dear

(This was supposed to be published a while back but somehow I’m doing it now)

Right now, am seated on a couch in the dark because KPLC has, once again, decided that tonight will be a candle-lit night. (And the company has, yet again, appeared on my blog! And it is just my 5th post! Damn, the company is such a part of my life) Oh well, before the battery runs out, I have 45 minutes. So am back for the long holidays. A whole sophomore year closed. I am aging alright. The white hair that people are so careful to point out is evidence. Apparently I got the genes from my dad’s side since mum got her first gray hair when she was heavy with my kid brother.

Now mum is asking what I am writing. For some reason I cannot answer her because she will not understand. My silence has made her start a conversation about how i claim she bores me and how they both hope my kids will not say that to me. Ha!

Fine. I have told her. My mum is awesome. It is just my rebellious nature that tells me to do some things. Ati now I should set my alarm clock for 6.00 o’clock because I need to be up for an interview. She has set it up. Mum is just sweet.

A certain Kikuyu artiste sang that his mum was his second god and he would never insult her. In Kikuyu language, mum is ‘maitu’ which, when separated ‘ma’ ‘itu’, is ‘our truth’. That tells you a lot. My mum is that and much more. I might say she is always on my case when I do wrong, but that is why she is there.

(Yaayy! The lights are back! Where’s that charger?)

I should get out of here and sleep now. I know my holiday is going to be awesome. Here at home, I scream so much everyone complains. I like thinking of myself as having a multi-personality disorder. Around other people am totally different. Anyway, this was not about me.

I love my mum and I have this feeling I will turn out to be an exact copy of her when I get my own kids, uptight and all. I turned ok thanks to her and dad. That should be something to go by. Let’s wait and see.