22 October 2008

A class visit to a college Spanish class

A few days ago, I did a guest speaking gig in an undergraduate Spanish class taught by my brother. I was assured that this being a 200 level class, the students were passed simple things like introductions, asking directions, colors, etc, in Spanish. The point of my visit was to share with the students my own experience of the utility that knowing Spanish and having knowledge of various South American cultures has served me over the course of my career. I didn't tell them immediately what my career was. I was supposed to be prepared to talk about cultural, political, and geographical topics in Espanol. I wouldn't say that my expectations were high but they weren't low either.

Then I started the discussion...in Spanish...or tried to. Then I tried to start in English...or tried to. I quickly realized that maybe I should have stuck with basics such as "what is your name", in English no less.

I did a quick survey of the class and found that most understood the words I was saying but they had absolutely no idea about geography, culture, politics, other current events nationally, much less about areas that spoke Spanish. I took another quick survey by a show of hands to get an idea of what degrees the students were seeking. I should have guessed. Education. No offense to the folks out there studying Education and I know this group was a small sample. I'm not claiming that this was proof obtained by flawless sampling methodology. But, talking to this group of kids sort of reaffirmed past experiences with Education folks, not a hope inducing experience. I asked how many had backgrounds in science, math, chemistry, geography, English, etc beyond a couple of 101 level classes. Maybe 2-3 out of a class of 20. So, color me "not hopeful" for the future of our public education system. I was bummed to think that many of these folks, if they even finished college, would be teaching the next few generations. My impression is that they're studying HOW to teach without having a real solid foundation about WHAT to teach, such as the aforementioned topics.

What added further to that bummed feeling was the conversation we ended up having in Spanish: "What's the grossest food you've eaten in SA?", "Is Brasil a cool place to party?", "Which country has the prettiest girls?" Important questions if you're worried about spring break but not if you're interested in really learning about a place.

So I answered their superficial questions and ended with how the Army is doing good things around the world and to ignore the silly tv shows and movies and explained to them that I was in the Army and had seen first hand the many good things US MIL folks are doing to improve the lot of many people around the world. Things such as hurricane relief in the US, disaster relief in different parts of the Americas, and other things such as demining operations and projects to improve health and welfare of remote populations.

We ended on a positive note. What gave me a glimmer of hope at the end was a couple of kids came asking where they might find more info about how to join the Army. I told them to visit the recruiter and, oh, by the way, put my name down as the one who referred them if they did end up joining. So I'm hoping...

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