Saturday, September 12, 2009

Someone Explain This to Me, Please

I don't get it.

I see this often on my way to work. Young men, with their pants hanging down below their behinds walking down the street with one hand holding them up enough so they won't fall down, but not enough to cover their underwear! And I just don't get it.

I work in their neighborhood. I am the foreigner. I'm the one who doesn't belong. I am the one on the fringes of society every day I turn into the parking lot of my school.

The irony lies in the fact that when they step foot onto the school grounds, just a block from their homes, they become the strangers; they are the foreigners.

How do I teach them? I don't know their language.

How do they learn from me? They don't understand me.

I remember when my husband and I went to Italy. Florence to be exact. I understood and could speak only a few phrases in Italian, and had prepared to be able to do so months leading up to the trip. I was aware that Europeans held low opinions of Americans and I didn't want to alienate myself more than I already was by virtue of my nation of birth.

"Mi dispiace. No parlo Italiano."

"I am sorry. I do not speak Italian."

After all, I couldn't help where I was born. I wanted to fit in. I loved Italy and wanted to be a part of it - me with my fair skin, red hair and freckles. The natives appreciated the gesture. They were accommodating. They translated for me what I didn't understand and were patient.

What can I learn from this as a teacher? Can it help me understand the boys with the droopy drawers?

Can I overcome the language barrier? Can I overcome the cultural differences? Is it even my job to do that, or should they be the ones to try to understand me and fall in line with my culture?

Provocative questions. . .

In Italy I was a visitor, a tourist. I was on a plane on my way home to the U.S. a week later.

These kids live here. They are residents. And yet, somehow, we treat them like visitors. But who is the real visitor in this place?

I don't have any answers. I still don't know how to make myself understood. And I doubt they know how to make themselves understood to me.

One of my favorite books is PRIDE AND PREJUDICE - I wonder which of these ideas has dominance.

And yet, the words that keep springing to my lips are. . .

"Mi dispiace."

Just some thoughts as I plan for the upcoming week of teaching.