I Don’t Want To Say It, Sir!

My story comes from about twenty-two years ago…

I was about eight when my family decided to move to Greece from Canada. I remember not taking it very well, but there was nothing I could do about it. When I first saw the school I was going to attend, I saw this old, gray, stone-built construction. “This is your new school!” my mom said enthusiastically. I thought it was an old church the way it looked.

So school started and apart from the occasional teasing I got from classmates about my broken Greek accent (which has been rectified now, even though some friends of mine say that there still are English sounds in my Greek!), I liked school. I remember having a wonderful teacher, a very open-minded gentleman who taught us not only to the subjects but also values which would accompany us later as well.

When there were national days, our school (and all Greek schools) organized celebrations during which students recited poems, performed skits which were about the respective historical event that had happened on that day in the past and some teachers made long-winded speeches about how the Greeks had resisted any invaders and come out unscathed through the centuries. So, the 25th of March which is a national day in Greece arrived. Our class was to stage a performance of the women of the period who had helped that day. My teacher thought it would be a good idea for me to have the starring role in the play, as he thought it would also give me confidence in my spoken Greek.

The Entrance to The University of Istanbul

So the teacher gave us our scripts. Reading through it the first time at home, I found something very disturbing. I did not tell my parents but decided to directly tell the teacher. There was a line in my script which I thought (and was really) quite offensive to Turkish people (and in a children’s play!). I remember it to this day and it is not worth remembering, or mentioning, for that matter.

The first rehearsal came. When I had to deliver the horrible line, I got a lump in my throat and stopped. My teacher thought I had forgotten what I wanted to say and whispered it out. I still did not say it. The teacher, a very kind and caring gentleman as I said earlier, took me aside and thought I had a case of stage-fright. “Don’t worry”, he said. “You are doing very well and your Greek has improved a lot!” The moment of truth had arrived. “Well sir…” I said a bit hesitantly. “It is about that line.” “What line?” he said. “The one that says something bad about the Turks”, I answered and I remember how frightened I was that he would scold me or even throw me out of the play; I was quite proud to be the star, I must admit and was happy about the confidence he had in me to perform in front of other people in Greek! In addition to that, I felt terrible about delivering such a line. “Well”, he said, “don’t worry. It is an expression they used to use back then and we all know you do not mean it. Let’s try it again tomorrow.”

I went home crying after that (scaring the daylights out of my mom who thought who knows what happened at school). After my parents coaxed me into telling them what had happened, I finally told them: “I don’t want to go back to that school again.” They were still asking me why, because I was not telling them. Finally I blurted out: “Because they are making fun of the Turks at that school!” (It took them a lot of persuasion to get me to go back the next day, telling me not to worry and always to remember that everyone is equal no matter where they are from.) Next day: rehearsal number two. The time of the dreaded line arrives again and this time I break into tears in front of everyone and I remember raising my hand and saying: “I don’t want to say it!” (This time certain that my teacher would be furious with me and tell me to leave the school play. But I was determined not to let this pass – a tough little eight-year-old!). My (very patient and kind) teacher took me aside again and told me he would leave out that line altogether and I would just say the rest. My first little victory against negative comments against other countries!

Thankfully incidents like this have disappeared from schools today. Or so I hope.

Ataküle Tower in Ankara (Taken from flickr.com)

I see this now in my teaching. No child is too young to grasp notions like this. Kids understand and they know what is fair and unfair. For this reason, to all teachers, please do not hesitate talking to children about issues of multiculturalism and racism and diversity and so on. Please do not think that they might not understand. Their minds are fresh to accept new ideas and to understand that people are different and it is okay to be different. They will both accept other people and will feel more comfortable about who they are at the same time. The classroom is a place where this can be implemented but first of all children’s primary education must be based on these humanitarian notions. It is the best kind of education they can get.

Note: When I wrote this post, I was not out to criticise the specific system, as I think that unfortunately in many educational systems in the world notions like these are perpetuated. It is just an example of such notions. My teacher demonstrated that he chose not to do so. We can all do the same and show our students the beauty of being different – the beauty of all cultures.

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29 thoughts on “I Don’t Want To Say It, Sir!

  1. Beautiful story and very well told.

    My first major encounter with racism came when I was 15 – I grew up in the Caribbean to “white” and “black” parents but most of the kids in my school were just like me:different shades of brownness: from champagne, milky tea to caramel and on to shiny tar…

    When I arrived at boarding school in the US, in the whole school there were 3 black people.

    Of course, seeing as how they looked most like people I knew, I naturally wanted to become their friends but alas, all “they” saw in me was a tanned white-looking person…and rejected me.

    The whites, who also saw the same color in me, never felt any need to hide how they felt about the blacks and the way they referred to people who looked like my father, my cousins, my family frightened the living daylights out of me and kept me very lonely.

    I agree with you – this is a subject that should be taught from day one.

    Bravo.

    Karenne

    • Hi Karenne and thank you for visiting my blog, very nice to meet you!

      I am very sorry you had to experience racism and and all its abhorrent consequences at first hand. It must have brought on very unpleasant feelings.

      That is the reason why I insist on teaching students about multiculturalism and all the beautiful things that come with it – I might sound like a broken record all the time, but I don’t think that teaching stops when the kids know the present simple, or the inversions, or the conditionals. It goes further than that.

      Thank you for sharing your experience on my blog.

      Kindest regards,
      Vicky

  2. Great post, Vicky, thank you!

    An impressive lesson on children’s sincerity and sense of justice, I loved it! And you’re so right, children should be encouraged to speak their minds and should be supported in their decisions when they take a stand against racism!
    If the world took the model of how children, unbiased by their parents, play together irrespective of their colour, nationality or ethnic background, the world would be a lot better!

    Melania

  3. Good morning Melania and I wish you a beautiful week!
    How right you are – children are born unbiased and it would be ideal if we helped them remain that way.
    The most beautiful picture was just described by you – children playing all together regardless of color and ethnic background!
    Thank you very much Melania!
    Vicky

  4. Wow – what a brave little 8-year-old you were!! I didn’t realise when you wrote about your education on my blog that you went to Greece at such a young age. Does this mean that your only experience of the Canadian education system was up the age of 8? It certainly had a profound effect on you.

    • Hi Ken!
      Yes, I stayed in Canada up until the age of eight (Grade 2), but I remember so many things so vividly and a lot of things I learned remain with me today! And I try to use them in my teaching too. I was very much influenced by the educational system and even when we went to Greece our parents used to take us back to Canada and buy us books and educational material from there all the time. Not the same as being there, but…we never lost contact. Thank you very much, Ken!

  5. I just wanted to say how moved I was both by Vicky’s and Karenne’s stories. There is still a long way to go in understanding, but hearing individual stories of how people have coped with their own personal experiences is an important part of that. Thank you for sharing both of you. As educators we certainly can make a difference by making sure we embed these experiences into our classrooms wherever possible.

    • Hi Sara and nice to see you on my blog!
      You are absolutely right, there is still a long way to go, but I am sure that there are a lot of people who have an abhorrence to racism and can all work together to deal with it. And look at all the wonderful educators who have voiced such great opinions on this blog!
      Thank you very much Sara!
      Have a great afternoon! Vicky

  6. Hi Vicky,

    Racism in any form is wrong.
    I come from a country that exerienced it a lot during WWII.
    In my case, a visit to a concentration camp at the age of 13 made me fully understand what consequences it may have.
    In my view, it is crucial to make kids aware of that issue as early as possible.

    Thanks for writing about it :)

    Anita

    • Hello Anita and nice to see you here!
      Your visit to the concentration camp must have been a very moving experience; I would like to hear more on the topic in the future if you have time, as I have only read in books about the camps (“Night” by Elie Wiesel for instance). It would be interesting to read how you felt, what you saw there and anything else you remember. You are right – the earlier the kids are exposed to positive thinking and feelings towards other people, the better.
      Thank you very much!
      I wish you all the best! Vicky

    • Hi Anita, thanks for pointing that out!
      I must add that to the blog. I must get round to doing a lot of things on the blog actually – ha ha!
      My e-mail is: vickyloras@yahoo.ca
      Twitter account: vickyloras
      Skype account: vicky.loras
      Feel free to contact me wherever and whenever you like!
      Thank you very much!
      Vicky

  7. Bravo to the brave eight-year-old you were then and the person we are finding such great delight in getting to know better.

    Stories like yours are becoming more frequent in Greek schools today, where children are learning side by side with children from various nationalities without any problem, until parents step in and ask teachers horrible things, like “don’t let my child site next to that child from Albania, Turkey…etc”

    Things have got so rough that even in state school entry examinations (ASEP), teacher candidates are asked specific questions on how they would deal with such issues in multicultural classes.

    I have recently been having similar problems at my centre. I offer free language classes to anyone who wishes to take advantage of them. Most of our students are refugees from Afghanistan, Iran, Albania, Congo and are learning side by side with Greek adults.

    These classes are a delight to teach and learn from as so many issues of how to deal with content and methodology arise out of the teaching but some Greek people would phone up, register then comment about how unhappy they were to be learning along with these refugees! Of course, they were sent packing immediately!

    Eventually, I was forced to state clearly on my website that “if you have any issues with the nationalities of our learners, you are kindly requested not to apply” and then wrote a pretty angry blog post about it in Greek (for your benefit, Vicky, here it is http://celt-athens-tefl-courses.blogspot.com/2009/10/blog-post.html)

    It saddens me that there are still feelings of racism in my country or in any country in the world and we do need more stories like yours, Vicky, and educators who can say, like you ” The ELT classroom is a place where this can be implemented but first of all children’s primary education must be based on these humanitarian notions. It is the best kind of education they can get.”

    Indeed, primary education is the key but everyone needs to embrace humanitarian ideals and values, not just policies, which promote peace, collaboration and equal opportunities.

    • Hi Marisa and thank you very much for your wonderful comments, the experiences you mention and the link to your blogpost which made me cry for two reasons:
      The first one is the way you treat the students who come from other countries: English lessons free of charge, becoming friends with them and spending time with them outside the classroom. The ELT (and not only) world needs more educators and humans like you.
      The second reason: that there are still people in Greece (unfortunately we know that very well) whose behavior is racist.
      I am very sorry not to have met you while I was living in Greece but I would definitely love to meet you in the future.
      I wish you and your wonderful English centre (www.celt.edu.gr), an example of education and how it should be, every success!
      Thank you very much for your contribution!
      Vicky

  8. Inspiring story. The teaching of cultural tolerance is so important. Since I generally teach adults, the thing I find hardest is dealing with already ingrained prejudices. In many countries racism is still built into the coursebooks and things like school plays as your story is a perfect example of. I find it incredibly difficult. In countries I have worked in, I’ll have students say things like “All black people are smelly.” or “I think Hitler was a great man.” and, by the time they are adults, these ideas are so ingrained they become almost impossible to remove. Especially when the teacher advocating multicultural ideas is teaching English and is a foreigner whose ideas are considered to be unimportant. As teachers, we are told to be respectful of our students beliefs, but this is one point where I’ve always found it unacceptable. Sometimes the students should be given the same advice, respect the beliefs of others.

    I tried to start a post a couple weeks ago raising similar issues on my blog, but it never really took off. Oh well.

    Keep up the good work.

  9. Absolutely agree Vicky. I will happily support any effort to fight racism wherever it is encountered, and do so frequently both in my personal and professional life. My comment was not, in any way, meant to detract from this, simply to point out that as educators we have a responsibility to include such issues in all our work to bring about equality sooner. Personal stories and experiences are a very powerful way of doing this. Hope that’s clear now!

  10. No no, not at all, your comment was fantastic!
    I was just happy to point out that you and everyone else who has commented here are admirable people and educators!
    And thank you very much for visiting.
    Hope to meet you soon!
    Vicky

  11. Γεια σου, Βίκυ! :)

    Πάνε κιόλας έξι χρόνια από τότε που συναντηθήκαμε. Εγώ φοιτήτρια Παιδαγωγικού στην πόλη σου και ήρθα, δειλά, με τη θεία μου την Αλέκα να… μάθω Αγγλικά. Είχες γελάσει πάρα πολύ με τις “θεσπέσιες” περιγραφές μου για τον καιρό της πόλης σου. Παρόλα αυτά, μια χαρά πήγαν οι εξετάσεις μου, αν και τα Αγγλικά δεν ήταν αδυναμία μου… Έξι χρόνια μετά, διορισμένη δασκάλα στην πόλη μου, είμαι ιδιαίτερα χαρούμενη που… έπεσα πάνω σου, εντελώς τυχαία! Τι σου είναι το Δίκτυο!

    Φιλιά και να ομορφοπερνάς!
    Η… μαθήτριά σου,
    Μαριλία

    • Μαριλία μου!
      Δεν μπορείς να φανταστείς πόσο χάρηκα που είδα το μήνυμά σου στο μπλογκ μου! Και που επικοινωνούμε μετά από τόσα χρόνια….έξι χρόνια ε; Πω πω!!! Τι ωραία είχαμε περάσει! Πολύ χάρηκα που διορίστηκες (και στην πόλη σου κιόλας!). Η Ευγενία σου στέλνει υπερβολικά πολλούς χαιρετισμούς και χάρηκε πάρα πολύ μόλις της είπα ότι μου έστειλες μήνυμα! Να είσαι πάντα καλά κι ελπίζω να συναντηθούμε κάποια μέρα (στην Ελλάδα, ή στην Ελβετία, όπου έχουμε μετακομίσει και η Ευγενία και εγώ)!
      Σε ευχαριστούμε πάρα πολύ και να είσαι πάντα καλά! Σου ευχόμαστε ό,τι καλύτερο.

      Πολλά φιλιά και από τις δυο μας!

  12. Φιλιά πολλά πολλά και στις δυο σας!!!!

    Προημερών σας σκεφτόμουν πολύ έντονα. Έκανα εκκαθάριση στη βιβλιοθήκη και βρήκα τις… καρτουνοπροσκλήσεις σας για… παρακολούθηση βίντεο με υποψήφιους, θαρρώ… :) Ναι, όμορφα ήταν και έχω εντονότατη την εικόνα της Ευγενίας να ξεκαρδίζεται και μόνο στη διατύπωση της ερώτησης περί καιρού, καθώς και του χώρου του φροντιστηρίου, με τα ατέλειωτα χρωματιστά ερεθίσματα. Το ίδιο προσπαθώ να κάνω στην τάξη μου, αν και δεν τα καταφέρνω πάντα…

    Διάβασα και διαβάζω τα ποστ σου, πέρασα και θα περνώ, αλλά ίσως αθόρυβα. Τα… αγγλικά μου… είναι μόνο για να με εκθέτουν! :) Το διάβασμα το ‘κανα πάντα πιο άνετα. Έχω το χρόνο να επεξεργάζομαι ό,τι διαβάζω.

    Να ομορφοπερνάτε!!! ΠΟΛΥ! :)

  13. Να’σαι καλά και πάλι, έχουμε τρελαθεί από τη χαρά μας που επικοινωνούμε και για τα καλά σου λόγια ευχαριστούμε πάρα πολύ!
    Θα τα λέμε τώρα συχνά, που ξαναβρεθήκαμε!
    Σου στέλνουμε όλη μας την αγάπη και θα χαίρομαι να σε βλέπω εδώ στο μπλογκ! Είμαι σίγουρη οτι μια χαρά είναι τα Αγγλικά σου, τέλεια!
    Φιλιά και ευχαριστούμε και πάλι!

  14. Pingback: What You Can Learn from my PLN Quiz #5 (July 9th) – Teaching Village

  15. Hi Vicky
    Growing up in South Africa means that racism follows you wherever you go even after 1994. The generation that grew up in that period never want to forget, we don’t want our children to forget because we never want it to happen again.
    I am however not unhappy about having grown up on this period or the persecution that was experienced because it has sensitized me to bigotry in any form and shape. We can laugh at jokes that point out and celebrate our diversity and quirks but that very fine line between offensive and funny optimism can and has to be negotiated. I am sometimes quite amazed by the amount of bigotry inherent in the world today. I prefer to celebrate diversity which means acknowledging rather than pretending that diversity does not exist, which can be insulting in itself.
    I applaud your efforts to cast light into the shadowy corners of racism!

    • Dear Fadia,

      Thank you so much for sharing your story on the blog. It is great to hear how you have faced the whole issue and that you also celebrate diversity! That is great and we should all do so, passing it on to our kids.

      Best wishes,
      Vicky

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