Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Day One

So today marked the first day of the second half of my dissertation data collection. I worked with the children in Singapore all through our time back home last summer and it's now time for the U.S. half of my study. It was actually my first time in an actual U.S. classroom (well, three classrooms, specifically)- I've been in and out of preschool classrooms the past six years but until today, I haven't stepped into an all-American K-12 school.

Some things are different from home- architecturally for one, schools in the U.S.-- or at least the ones I was in today-- are more enclosed. I'm so used to schools being constructed around a quadrangle, classrooms arranged along open corridors, sunlight flooding in from everywhere and things just being really open. Here, classrooms open up into labyrinthine indoor hallways, with exits only at specific points at the end of them, and little outside light except from main entrances, designated nooks, or one wall of windows in the classrooms. I know this paints a picture of schools here being dark and depressing, but quite the opposite. Every wall is covered in children's art-- and there's A LOT of wall space, teachers' decorate their classroom doors, handmade public service posters are everywhere and it's obvious that children are encouraged to personalize their school in ways that extend far beyond school-sanctioned notices or sanitized, laminiated displays of the multiplication table.

Children everywhere are fundamentally the same though- a ten-year-old in Singapore and a ten-year-old in America may wear different things to school, have very different choices of food for recess, and are educated in some very profoundly different ways, but at the end of the day, they respond to humor, they think celebrities are more famous than politicians, and when given the choice, they will happily choose to welcome a researcher into their classroom and subject themselves to her crazy questions than do any actual real schoolwork.

If today's an indication of anything, the next six weeks look like they're going to be fun :)


Noor said...

Your post reminded me of my own experiences first attending American schools. I spent half of my childhood in the Middle East and the other half in the US. Middle Eastern schools are designed very much as you describe schools in Singapore. They're fairly bland and devoid of any personality. Compared to American schools, I liken them to prison yards ;). My first year in the US I absolutely LOVED school - it was so different (and so much more fun) than anything I had ever experienced before.

Oh and good luck with your research!!

serene said...

thanks noor! :)

i think schools in singapore-- and maybe the middle east too-- strive more for conformity and uniformity and that comes across in the way that the schools are designed. depending on which side of the fence you're on, it could be a better or worse way of educating children, but maybe it's just different.

on a somewhat unrelated (or maybe not) note, have you seen Persepolis? it's a different generation and a totally different part of the middle east, but your comment made me think of the book/movie for some reason...