Science Class, Or How I Reconcile My Educational Demons

I’m $$36,711.73 in debt.

It is a huge issue for me and my life.

I made a huge mistake. I believed what people have always told me about education. I went to grad school. I went to grad school in London. Big, big, fat mistake. Maybe.

I cried a lot a couple of nights ago thinking about it. The conversation started because I felt conflicted; I am a teacher now, and yet I feel like I’m a victim of the infiltration of for-profit policies that have infiltrated every single level of education. Around the world. But perhaps especially for my little students.

I taught a class about the Muffin Man today at 10:45. One of my students, Dong Dong, had already been there since before 9:00. Two back-to-back English classes in the morning, during the summer. Did I mention Dong Dong is four? He was tired. Bored. Understandably.

I said bye-bye and let the students out of class at 12:15. I needed to eat something, but didn’t manage it in the forty minutes before my Science class. I’ve been pretty hungry since summer intensive courses began; it’s difficult to plan lessons in a few spare minutes and also have time to stuff some dumplings in one’s mouth. Dong Dong headed out of class.

Five hours (or ‘whores,’ as my students often pronounce it) later, Dong Dong was in class again. I saw him looking confused and bewildered, on his grandpa’s hand. He was too tired to even say, ‘Hello.’

Why. Not a question. Just. Why. What possible benefit could little Dong Dong get from being in English class all day every day, when he is FOUR? Eventually, he’ll have a graduation ceremony for each level of English classes. Someone will play Pomp and Circumstance (Land of Hope and Glory) and give him a certificate. He’ll be preconditioned from the age of four to believe that he’s only accomplished something academically if he does those two steps.

Enter his teacher. For all that debt, I’m not going to get that closure. My graduation ceremony would be next week, if I had the money or the government clearance to attend it. As I’m barred from entering the UK at the moment due to a lack of a family visa, and I can’t get the time off in Shanghai, and I don’t have the money to make the trip since I have to pay off that fucking $36K….I won’t be there. I’m very upset about it. Russell can attest that I cried about it only two days ago for approximately an hour…that’s only one of the many times that I’ve cried about it since I realised what my reality would be in this regard.

But I’m teaching science this summer. I have six teenagers, in a classroom that sometimes cooperates and sometimes doesn’t. I force them to read a shitload of scientific readings. I force them to recite the steps of the Scientific Method at the beginning of every class. I made a compass with a stolen magnet and two paperclips today, and showed them the ionosphere under attack from a solar storm. I made this Earth out of playdough that I semi-drunkenly threw together last night. We talked about magnetism, the Earth’s resources, and BattleBots.

I made the playdough. I bought the supplies. I put together this complicated lesson plan. I am a sucker.

I’ll tell you why.

I’m $36K in debt to a system that constrained me, and constrains my students, to complete a series of educational goals. Worldwide, more people are graduating from high school and college than ever before in human history. More people are literate than have ever been so privileged at any point before now. It’s great! We need this. But the inevitable monetisation of education has taken over everything from my story class to my Master of Arts in Linguistics.

We are collectively making education into a commodity. Hours (‘whores’) over content. Time over substance. Brute, overpowering pressure to perform at age four and at age 26. And graduation ceremonies only for those who are able to pay enough, or jump through enough hoops.

No graduation ceremony for me. No MA hat, so coveted five years ago when I graduated from my BA. No recognition in public. When it comes to my current work, no prestigious letters after my name.

But not in my science class. This is my work. This is my passion. I want those kids to see how exciting science can be, and to learn English by proxy. I want them to get gross thing on their hands. I want them to develop survival skills, like making a compass out of a small magnet, some water, and a paperclip. I want them to yell and scream over scientific notation of the Earth’s weight. I want them to see the videos in class and be inspired to do real science in their own lives.

This is one small step. I may have had to buy the materials myself. I may have not control over how much this course cost their parents (hint: a shitload). I may never be able to afford to send my own child to Science Class at a private academy. I don’t care.

The light in the eyes of my students today was all the reward I’ll ever need. They were running around, screaming, at age 12-13. That, in itself, is a major victory.

I can’t undo my own path through the abusive education system. I can’t make it so that the same system doesn’t crush four-year-olds under it’s profitable wheels like poor Dong Dong. I can’t undo my debt, except through putting my head down and working off my mistake in wage slavery for the next ten years.

But I can teach science. I can bring that light to their eyes.

And that was all education was ever supposed to be.


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