The Clash of Civilizations and Cultures: from a 6 year old’s perspective
They say that the first day at a new school is the hardest. Well, try the first day of school in a new country. It was difficult to say the least- I had to not only speak a different language, but apply myself to this new social institution. On the first day of first grade, I had my first experience with the clashing of civilizations and cultures.
I came to the U.S. from Burma when I was 6 years old. My little brother was 3, and my older brother was 7. My older brother and I waited for the first day of school to begin in our new country; we wanted to meet other kids. My little one was too young to go so my mom brought my older brother and me to school on the first day of classes with Htet,( my younger one) in a stroller. My brother, Kyaw ( the older one) and I were too proud and too excited to meet new people. I attended preschool, kindergarten and 1st grade back in Burma; my brother went all the way up to 2nd grade already. We were veterans at school- we knew what school was all about…until we walked into the classrooms.
In the U.S. classrooms, there were no green and white uniforms that were worn. The students wore whatever they liked. The desks were not in grid like rows; instead they were next to each other formed in groups. The teacher did not yell or hit the students with a ruler to punish them; instead she sent them to a corner until they learned their lessons. The students were loud and yelled so often that it was sometimes difficult to hear the teacher. Students, I learned ( after a while), in this country, had the control; whereas in Burma, the students had to behave and were very respectful of their teachers. The teachers controlled your existence in the classroom- you were punished severely in front of the classroom, and they were given that right by the students’ parents who would often say to them, “ Please teacher, I give you permission to hit my child if he or she misbehaves.” If a teacher had hit a child in the U.S. , it would be considered child abuse- but not in Burma. In Burma, you would often see children standing on chairs as they had their pants down, while the teacher hits them with her ruler. ( From what I recall, boys were more often punished than girls.)
After attending a school in Burma, and knowing how to be obedient, I thought the same rules applied here in the States. When a boy stole my Snoopy pencil with my matching Snoopy eraser, I didn’t know what to do. I knew he took it because I saw my pencil and eraser on his desk, but with the language barrier, I didn’t know what to tell him. As I was concocting all these notions in my head on what to say and how to explain my scenario to my teacher, I began to think about what the teacher would do to me if she thought I was lying. As it was my first day at this new school, I didn’t want to get punished – especially not get hit with a ruler with my pants down in front of the whole class. As these thoughts took over, I began to cry.
I learned after a while that the school systems in the U.S. were drastically different from Burma. I remembered being relieved for not getting punished by teachers. In Burma, even to this day, teachers are bribed by students’ parents. Whether a child does well or not, does not necessarily depend on his or her merit, teachers make the decisions. ( I will write about this story another time…)
Although the Burmese educational system lacks a lot of care in facilities and services, the students in Burma do outstandingly well on standardized tests. Students obey the teachers’ commands and do what is asked of them. It is instilled in a child’s brain that they must do well or they will be punished. That is a child’s duty.
Is obedience a great thing? Although tests and statistics have shown that Burmese students do outstanding on placements tests in Burma and in other countries, do you think that the teaching system in Burma is still justified? What are your thoughts?