So, I finished up my observation at the Aeronautical High School on Friday. I saw three classes. The first one was freshmen-aged students and the next two were the equivalent of seventh grade. The first two were chaos. For the entire 40 minutes, the students talked to each other constantly. The teacher talked over them, but did little to even try to get them to be quiet and did nothing effective to shut them up. I would have lost it as the teacher. The classes got so little done, it was amazing. Still, there was something different about the students that confirmed my hypothesis about teen-agers in Ecuador. The room abuzz in activity: some students drawing, some trading notes, several just talking to each other. There was even a paper airplane. But I didn’t see many – or any, really – withdrawn, hurt, timid loners. The obvious picks for social outcast status were not outcasts. The certainly laughed at each other; a few of them craved more attention than others, putting on brief performances, like a solitary dance move or something; they made fun of mistakes; but they didn’t make fun of identities.
I’ve tried opening up my own classes with some informal discussion in Spanish, just to get some of my new students warmed up to me before everyone shows up. I make sure to act like the ignorant gringo, asking lots of questions about high schools and whatnot. I’ve conveyed my surprise over the way adolescents here treat each other and the public in general, how they seem to be pretty kind to each other, how they don’t single out losers and worship the cool, popular people. Of course, my students, consumers only of Ecuadorian education, have no foil. They don’t know anything else, but they did say that yeah, the high school students here are pretty tranquilo. Maybe it’s just that Quito is a little more relaxed than Guayaquil or other cities on the coast. The costenos have a reputation of being a little more aggressive and boisterous.
Today, I was talking with Luis, our landlord, about my theories about American vs. Ecuadorian teen-age-dom. He said that his high school was not at all like the one I saw. There are academies, military schools, religious schools, and financial schools. I don’t know to what extent they all really differ. Military schools feed into the actual military. Religious schools, obviously, have a mass as a part of their school day. They’re all private, pretty much. The academies are college prep schools, as I understand, and in fact, COTAC, the Aeronautical school I observed, has the rep of being one of the top five schools in Quito. The colegios fiscales, Luis told me, are much worse. He went to one called Mejilla, which has 4000 students in grades 1-12, and whose campus takes up two full city blocks. There, he claimed, the students made fun of everyone – the teachers, other students, administration. For example, on Mondays, they had their “minuto civico,” which is basically a sort of pledge of allegiance to the flag. An awkward man with big glasses would lead the anthem and some kid would shout out an insult, so he’d start it from the beginning again. “We’d do this for two or three hours every Monday,” Luis said, stopping half way through and beginning again.
So I guess I should maybe go to one of these fiscal schools to see just how bad things can get. Thus far, pretty much every experience I’ve had with adolescents has just confirmed my hypothesis that US teenagers are basically brats whose main concern in life is to be cool and who step all over their peers in striving to achieve this end goal; and because “cool” is paramount, the general public kind of fears adolescents since they’re capable of being very disagreeable, obnoxious jerks in their quest for “cool.”
So the next objective is to try to get into Mejilla and see if the students there are as jackass-ish as US students can be.
Oh, one other thing. There was an article in the paper this week about these parents who banded together to stop some gang members from intimidating/robbing their children. Apparently, in the south of Quito, there was this gang who would wait outside of school and mug students. They’d tell the students they would kill their parents if they didn’t fork over ten, twenty, or thirty dollars. Well, the kids told their parents and the parents came to the school gate after school to find out who these gangsters were. In this way, the parents ended up meeting other parents of other kids who had been mugged. They met up and decided they would capture the gangstas. So one day, they carried out their plan. They went to the school, caught two of the gangstas and beat them up a little, and then stuffed them into a trunk of a car and took them to the police.
I chose this article for a Spanish assignment this past Thursday and at the end of my summary of the report, I included a little commentary. On the one hand, I said, I admire the parents and I would want to be a part of such a group, not necessarily so I could kick some gangsta ass, but because to go to such an extreme for the protection of your kid is kinda cool. But on the other hand, this whole situation illustrates the rampant disorder of Ecuador. The parents didn’t call the police because people don’t really have much faith in police here. Nor did the police punish the parents; apparently taking the law into your own hands is okay if there are enough people. Without any sort of system in place to handle such a thing, you can be sure this sort of crime will happen again.