Freedom in Schools


Most of you know that I live in Costa Rica teaching English to second graders. I love having the freedom to teach how I want here. There isn’t the same type of politics in my school. I am allowed to teach how I want. We have a very basic outline of what we need to teach. They allow us to teach the core concepts however I want.

Last year, we were learning about scarcity. The students had so many questions about what it was and how it looked like in our world. Since I had been to Africa, I had some photos to show the children of what can happen when there is a scarcity of goods. I pulled out my phone. Opened up the photos of the children and things I saw in Africa. Some of the children didn’t have pants or underwear on. My students had so many more questions after this. I used what I experienced to create a conversation that the children talked about for days after. Which surprised me because they all live in a 3rd world country. I see scarcity and poverty in many areas of Costa Rica. Yes, none of what I see compares to what I saw in Africa. It still is here. The students were able to see the poverty and scarcity that we have here in a way they never could have before.

My point with this is…. If I had shown the same pictures to a classroom in the USA one parent would have complained about the children in the photos being “nude”. Or saying it’s child porn. I would have been in so much trouble that it probably would have cost me my job. Not one parent complained last year. I didn’t get written up or in trouble for the photos. Nothing happened because I was creating a valuable lesson and conversation with the children that will last them a lifetime. And the parents knew this.

This week, I sent home spelling and vocabulary words. One of which was god. I chose this word because we are learning about Greek gods and goddesses. Since most of my students are learning English as a second language, when I asked them to tell me what the word was, they said “good”. I knew this word would challenge their spelling skills. Every time I give the students new spelling words, I send an email home. As I wrote the email, I felt nervous about the words because the culture of schools I experienced in the US.  It has been 3 days since I sent the email. No complaints from the parents.

Now, the real point to this blog…. Back in the USA, my niece auditioned for her school play, Aladdin, Jr. She was cast as Jasmine. Last week, my sister said she was angry. I asked why. She sent me a letter, she received from the school (see picture below for the letter). There are a few parts from the letter that I have issues with, that could have been handled in a better way to teach the students how to think differently.

In short, the letter stated that they will no longer be performing Aladdin, Jr due to it negative stereotyping of the Arab culture. They want to “make choices that resist negative stereotyping, promote understanding and celebrate all people.” (taken from the letter itself) I understand the need to promote understanding and respect to all cultures and people. After living in a different country, I have an appreciation for different cultures. I may not agree with all the things other cultures do, I still see the importance of diversity. I have learned many things about myself and society that I appreciate since moving abroad. I have adapted my life and thinking to certain aspects of the Costa Rican and Spanish culture because I felt it was better and healthier than what I had known before.

I had conversations with different people in my community that helped me open my eyes to a new way of living. What if we used this opportunity to create a conversation about the Arab culture instead of just pushing it under the rug?

One reason they canceled the show was because they called Arabs “barbaric”. Why not create a conversation or activity to show why this is not applicable to every Arab? Why not show the community and students photos and examples of Arabs that are normal or extraordinary? Why not give them the opportunity to grow and see the Arab culture in a positive manner?

The letter also stated “After careful consideration and with INPUT from the perspectives of many stakeholders—teachers, PARENTS, and community member…” This did not happen because my sister had no idea there was any issues with the play until she received the email. So, where did these parents perspectives come from? It sure wasn’t from all the different perspectives. If it had been, my sister would have had a chance to speak her side. What are they teaching the children by cancelling a play without having a conversation with EVERYONE involved? When I showed the students what scarcity looked like they understood what it really was and how it influenced their lives. Why not create something similar to the environment in my classroom? My students respect me in ways I could have never imagined because I allowed them to ask the questions they had without pushing them aside. My student opened up to me about their lives so that I could guide them through a new understanding.

Lastly, from what I understand there was one student and his mother that had the biggest issue with the play. She is a lawyer and activist. Her son was upset about the word “barbaric” was being used to describe Arabs. I have two question from this. Why did this conversation not happen before the students started rehearsing? Did the students not have access to the whole script before hand? Why couldn’t they change the word “barbaric” to something else? Why is everyone else having to do something because one person is upset? Why not teach them something greater from this experience?

I may not live in Maryland or the USA any more. I do know what happens there from family and friends, news and Facebook. I don’t say much about what I hear or see because I feel that it is not my purpose in this life to do so in that way. When I have something I feel led to say, I express what I need to say. I know I may not make a huge difference with this post, yet I know I am putting something good out into the world. If one person can understand the need to have conversations instead of pushing things under the rug, the way I am trying to express, I would be happy.

As a society, we need to have honest and open conversations with our children about the tough subjects. I know this is hard to do because I have to do this every day as part of my job. I know this is hard because not everybody is willing to listen and be open to what is said. I believe if one or two people benefit from the conversation than we did our job as leaders. The compound effect will multiple and eventually the majority of people will become enlightened and open.


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