Monday, February 21, 2005

A School of Songs and Singing

My junior high students are always singing. I am not usually present to observe this phenomenon, but singing has been an integral part of school life at Kazamaura Junior High School for many years now. When the students arrive at school in the morning they go to their designated areas for fifteen minutes of morning choir. Before they disperse to their club activities at the end of the day they return to their designated areas for fifteen minutes of “after school” choir. In music class they have choir. Always choir. When there are visitors, they have choir. When there is a school ceremony they have choir. The most important event in the school’s Culture Festival is the choral competition. As my teaching partner once commented to me, “They like to sing.” This seems odd to me. They do not strike me as the singing type. Viewed inside their crowded habitat we refer to as “school” they give every indication of being sullen, indifferent, and entirely opposed to all that might be construed as constructive participation. Truth be told, I do not like the student body. This is harsh, but there is a great chasm separating us. I cannot remember how to stand in their shoes, or even what the world looks like from where they are standing. I remember my early childhood in incredible detail. Perhaps that is why I enjoy my elementary school students so much. But later on things grow fuzzy. I appear to have killed Adolescence somewhere along my way. I used to be on the other side—fighting adult supremacy and teacher-generated crimes against young humanity. Now, when I survey the classroom; watch the dozen unchecked conversations that die a little, then spring back to life again as I pass through the isles; observe my teaching partner’s voice dissipate into the heavy air; a feeling of mild contempt swells through me. A recurring realization sickens me: at some point I switched sides. An epiphany of sorts, akin to Winston Smith’s dying thought: “I love Big Brother.”

The Kazamaura Board of Education's Annual Report

A couple of days ago, this year’s sixth graders came for a one day orientation to see where they will be spending the next three years—possibly the beginning of the end of my bond with them. They were seated in the gymnasium and sung at by the first year class, the second year class, and the third year class in succession. For an instant my heart softened toward the singers, much like on those odd occasions when we meet on neutral ground, when I exchange smiles with one of them at the mall, or a few words with some of them at a village event. For a moment, they were performing—faces in motion, almost pious—performing something meaningful. Then they clambered down the stairs and insolently commenced with their interminable civil strife.