The PYP Exhibition, the culminating journey of the PYP, should only be taken by those wanting to learn more, wanting to grow as teachers. Of course, all teaching should be like that, and teaching through inquiry is especially like that. You don’t use the same scripts as last year. You don’t hand out worksheets. It’s new every time. And there should be some major perspective shift as you wind through your Exhibition journey.
We reached the 8th week of serious workings through our Exhibition journey this week, and we are all a bit burned out. There have been some groans from students when they’ve seen their schedule…and a few from teachers as well. When you’re diving deep and exploring the unknown, it’s exhausting. And, on top of that, you’re making sure to check the boxes, document learning and guiding students through documenting their learning and reflecting. All consuming. No doubt about it.
I was so ready for our 4 day break by Thursday this week, hoping just to make it through the day (we end our week on Thursday). We had spent the previous day popping in to everyone around school to ask about discrimination: from the director to the nurse. The day before I had taken another group through the slums looking at the local environment and asking people about water, air quality and sanitation.
The One that Changed Our Attitudes and Perspectives
So, I was about done. And then we had a guest speaker who changed our way of thinking, and I’m re-energized.
Thursday, we had a transgender person from Dhaka come in to speak to us. She was dressed in a red sari (to celebrate the Bengali New Year) and was beautiful. Before she got there, the kids told me they were going to try not to laugh, but they were silly. They were covering their mouths and talking about ways of holding it in. I know, we are practicing tolerance and open-mindedness in our IB school, but our school is a little different, and these are 11 year-olds.
When she walked in, the kids could barely look at her. She looked like a woman and talked like a man. She was shy, and one of our Bangladeshi teachers sat next to her. The students were shy, and so I opened up some questions like “Tell us about your life…what it’s like…” which probably should be the first question we ask anyone. It opened things up.
She is one of 81 transgender people living in this area. There are many more throughout the city. They are known as hijra in the Indian subcontinent. They can’t work in traditional jobs; they live in a separate community and rely on organized begging to procure money. They have a leader of each group.
Those are the facts. As she opened up, I began to get very heavy-hearted. My teaching partner, who had told me that the hijra are often mean and scary to most people, started to cry partway through. They have been oppressed forever. They have no rights, and they are people.
The students, including a 11th grader who joined us, started to ask a few questions but most were still staring at their paper, afraid of their emotions, I believe. The hijra go to each store owner and ask for money, and it’s expected that the shop owners give them 10 taka/day. They collect about 3000/week for the 81 in their community and use that for living expenses. Even though the government here recognizes a 3rd gender, which seems like a radical idea, organizations and everyone on the ground doesn’t recognize that. Transgender people are ostracized, belittled and live apart.
The transgender person who came to talk to us left her family when she was 10 and left school after 8th grade because she was bullied. I asked her what she wanted the students to come away with. She started to cry and said that she wants them to know that they are people. I really wanted to leave the room, aware my emotions were out of control, but I forced myself to stay and listen because it was important.
Listening to her was hard for me because I come from a place in the US that is progressive. My friends are open-minded and thinkers. I couldn’t understand how people could treat others like this. In my lifetime, I thought I understood discrimination and racism and I’ve lived in communities where it exists, and I have a daughter who is Nepalese. But I don’t think I really understood before the inhumanity of it all.
I happened to watch a sweet film that same night called “Hidden Figures” about the African-American women who worked behind the scenes at NASA during the first launch of humans into space. There was so much dribbled through the movie about segregation: separate bathrooms, separate coffeemakers, separate doors–and the acceptance of so many whites at the time that it’s just the way things were. The US was and still is definitely a discriminatory, intolerant culture in many ways. It took this transgender person in Bangladesh to really open my eyes to that.
By the time we left the talk, the students were sober. Wow, said one of them. Another one ran to get money to give her. One of my students, who gets pretty silly and immature sometimes, said that he had started off feeling like he was going to laugh, and by the end, he was felt very serious.
The 11th grader said it was the best conversation he had ever had.
When I talked with my kids later who are focusing on discrimination, they already had their action plan. They all want to hold a social experiment where they separate people based on something like shoe size, gender, height. Through probing I was able to understand that they want everyone to feel what it’s like to be discriminated against. They don’t think it’s fair, and they don’t think people can understand unless they experience it.
I’m still recovering from the guest speaker. I feel like I’m still about to cry. Words of advice are to stick with your Exhibition journey. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Don’t give up. If something hasn’t made such a big impact yet, keep digging, keep learning…It’s so worth it for everyone.