Aside from these, I had another couple of return culture shock moments yesterday during a PC Goal 3 presentation. I went to my mom's elementary school to talk with her fifth graders about Peace Corps, living in Georgia and the like. Just walking into the school was an experience. I kept blinking at the brand-spanking-newness of the building (her school is only a few years old) and I was amazed at all of the computers and books and posters and the cleanliness of everything. It was such a warm, welcoming environment, and made me realize how fortunate many American school children are to have such facilities and resources.
My mom and I often talk about school and our students together when we Skype on weekends, and share stories of successes and bad behaviors. I've written her class some emails about Georgia and she tells her kids stories about what Sam and I have been up to. Since I was free yesterday afternoon, I agreed to go to talk with the 5th grade about my experiences so far. My mom had warned me that her class this year doesn't listen very well and can tend to be rowdy sometimes, but that they were really excited to have me come in to show them some pictures and tell them a little bit about what I've been doing and seeing. It might be true that her class can be difficult at times, but to my mind, they were a bunch of precious angels whose behavior couldn't have been better. They listened attentively, asked lots of questions and were all seriously disappointed when I wrapped up and they had to go catch their buses home.
When I'm asked about the differences between American students and those that I see in Georgia, I tend to emphasize the similarities. Really, a kid is a kid wherever he is. Kids in Akhalkalaki like a lot of the same things, listen to a lot of the same music and watch a lot of the same TV shows as kids in America. Their behavior in a lot of ways can be very similar, and especially given similar circumstances, I think the majority of kids will make the same decisions and act in similar ways.
Yesterday, it all hit home for me, how much circumstance and opportunity makes a difference. The way I see it, the American school system (although it has its own drawbacks and failings and is certainly far from perfect) has the human and physical resources to educate children well. I know that there are exceptions and problems, but in general there is an effort in America to work to give each kid a fair shot. Learning, developmental or behavioral problems aren't swept under the rug or ignored or undiagnosed, but are brought to light and then dealt with. We have technology and resources and facilities and teachers and principals and parent volunteers and coaches and other support networks that work together to make a conducive learning environment. It's a real shame, I think, that teachers and others in the education system here have come under attack lately in America. The majority of them are doing some amazing work and we should be encouraging educators to continue striving for the best possible results and development of children, not attacking them for shortcomings, real or imagined.
In short, seeing American schoolchildren in an American learning environment helped me realize again how much there is still left to be done in Georgia. Things are improving there, but there's still a long way to go. I think (and I hope) that I'll return to my school with renewed energy and patience to help my students overcome the disadvantages and lack of resources that makes learning even that much more of a challenge.