My First Day of School

Caroline Blanchard - Senegal


January 25, 2013

The fact that it’s called “school” pretty much ends the similarities to any American school I have ever seen.

My sister and I walked up to school and saw the children of Boussoura just waiting to be let in to the two locked rooms. When the teacher showed up, I went into the class with the older kids and took a spot in the back next to a 10 year old boy named Alimou. The teacher is in charge of two classes, kids ages 5-13, because the government didn’t send enough teachers to Boussoura, so it took a while to get everyone settled.

They started working on grammar, the kids understood, I felt pretty proud of myself because I understood what was going on in French, it felt like school. But then the screaming and crying from the adjacent room got louder, and he did nothing. It was good that he was focused on what he was doing, giving his attention to one class at a time, but I have seen these kids fight, it could’ve ended in broken bones. But he continued on for 30 minutes before he went to the other classroom. He came back 15 minutes later and he had them do a dictation. And here is where my total American mindset switched on and I sat frozen in horror. After they corrected each other’s papers, the teacher went around and for every mistake the student held out their hands and were hit with a stick. At first I thought the stick was a joke, but seeing their faces drop as the mistake count got higher was in no way funny. These kids are all skin and bone, the sound of them getting hit and them being on the verge of tears after 8 hits was terrible to sit through. I didn’t know what to do.

I sat through class, not wanting to intervene and question his teaching methods. It sounds crazy when I’m writing it, that I could have second thoughts about stopping someone from hitting a child, but culture is not something that I can stop or change. In Senegal, hitting a child in school is against the law, but we are so far from anyone of authority that there is no one to enforce the law. Then I thought of how much worse it could have been, and this, compared to other examples of corporal punishment I have seen, was nothing more than a pinch. Then I thought of how this would NEVER happen in America. From what I have seen, kids in the US are motivated to do well in school to avoid disappointment. They fear the red pen; kids here fear the possibility of blood.

And this was me being the over-reacting outsider, because 2 minutes later everyone had completely moved on and they were happy and singing because the teacher canceled their last lesson of the day.

Caroline Blanchard