Thursday, August 6, 2009

Questions of the Day

I'm doing research for a paper I'm writing, and the book I'm using right now is kind of vague and unhelpful.

Two questions that are either only tangentially related to my topic or completely unrelated:

1) Why didn't the Philippines seem to connect more with their fellow Spanish colonies in North and South America? The book I'm using doesn't seem to mention anything like that at all, and it seems weird to me. The residents of all those colonies would have the same experience of being put down by the peninsulares, and the Manila Galleon put Mexico and Manila in direct contact.

2) Why don't people make fun of Spain the way they make fun of France? People mock France all the time for constantly losing wars, but Spain seems to have lost just as many and probably had a far greater fall from their vaunted heights than the French.

Inquiring minds (well, just mine) would like to know.

Monday, August 3, 2009


I went to a private school while I lived in the United Arab Emirates. It wasn't just private, though. It was a corporate chain of private schools.

It's a difficult concept to wrap one's mind around, that schools could be chains in the same manner as a local Pizza Hut. But that's how it was. My school had four branches in the UAE, and many more around the world. The original branch, the flagship location, if you will, was located in Lebanon. For this reason, the school's primary language of instruction was English, but it also had rigorous French and Arabic components.

At least, that's what I assume about the Arabic classes. I was never able to take any Arabic there, because the class was limited to native speakers of Arabic. Conversely, only one native Arabic speaker was in our French class, and she told us that the school gave her mother a hard time every fall about enrolling her children in French instead of Arabic. From her mother's perspective, her kids already spoke Arabic fluently, so she wanted them to learn a new language. My friend was a strong pupil and did pretty well in French, so I assume the school's problem with this was that it violated their system of severe rigidity.

This rigidity came from the chain's underlying philosophy, the SABIS Educational System. SABIS came complete with propaganda in the main offices about how awesome it was, and how we were all going to be better students because of it. They would hang up the university admissions of various students to make their point in display cases.

The point of SABIS seemed to be giving us students lots of tests. Supposedly this would alleviate our test anxiety in the future, but I still have text anxiety, and the effect was that our teachers would teach for these multiple choice tests, and we never did any projects. We never wrote papers, or did research, or presentations. I'm not even sure if we could have, because our school library was so limited. It was just endless tests. There was the AMS, which was three times a week, and multiple choice. There were the weekly examinations, starting in Gr. 5. For younger students, there were monthly exam periods, which came as quite a shock when we first moved to the Middle East when I was starting Gr. 3. I still question the logic behind testing such young children. We spent so much time doing exams instead of learning.

In Gr. 3, I was firmly turned against this system by an English exam. The topic was Cinderella, which we'd been reading in class, and we were supposed to answer the crossword-style questions about it by filling in the crossword. In this version, Cinderella wore wooden shoes that the fairy godmother turned into the glass slippers. The clue was, "Material of Cinderella's shoes before the fairy godmother changed them." The spot on the crossword had six blank spots, but the answer was wood, right? Her wooden shoes were made of wood. But wood only had four letters.

I wrote wood, erased it, and then wrote it again. I stared at the question in confusion, not really knowing what to do. Eventually time ran out, and I'd gotten that question wrong when it was handed back.

My mother has always put undue academic pressure on my siblings and I, and she was very angry about my ostensible poor performance on this test. (I think I got 19/20. All our grades at that school were out of 20.) She complained, and she wasn't allowed to speak to the actual teacher, because that just wasn't done at our school. So the staff in the main office informed my mother that the correct answer was wooden, not wood.

My mother accepted it because English is her second language, and I'm sure that they were pretty condescending to her for reasons I will write about later, but I'm still annoyed about it. The text from the story referred to her wooden shoes, but how did it not follow that the shoes were made of wood? It now seems symbolic of their general rigidity that they wanted the students to directly quote the text at the expense of linguistic accuracy, instead of making the very simple mental leap from wooden to made of wood.