If Walls Could Talk…

My kids want to be heard. I realized it the other day as I was sitting in one of our classrooms, looking at the insane amount of angry or silly writing ALL OVER the walls everywhere. I mean, the walls are literally covered with words. At first, spastic writing on desks and walls was just one more weird thing the kids did in this unfamiliar world I now live my daily life in. But then I started thinking about it, and I realized that it didn’t match up with the rest of their behaviors in this structured, uniform, respectful, “everyone must perform well” culture.

In fact, collectivism leaves a huge mark in the Korean classroom. If I write an instruction on somebody’s paper, then I’m overwhelmed with requests to do it to everyone else’s. If one person’s paper is shaped different than somebody two desks down, we need to remedy it with scissors. We need to match, we need to use polite and formal language forms, and we need to have safe, secure boundaries of what we are learning so that we never stray from the path and make fools of ourselves. Kids that know incredibly advanced vocabulary might speak with more confidence than somebody with less training, but they often use the same words as the beginners. Why? Because they don’t want to experiment and assimilate based on individual experience. Standing out as different is against the cardinal law of what it means to be worthy and acceptable in this land of high yet uniform standards. 

The crazy thing is, I’ve been trying to get my kids to appreciate self-expression for a while now. You know, use their imagination and stuff. I will ask them to choose a word that expresses what THEY think about a topic. More often than not, everyone wants to agree on the same word. Meanwhile, these kids are whiny and antsy day after day in class, making clear that they are deeply frustrated little beings. I’ve noticed patterns in the complaints, especially by the older ones. Why do we need to study ten hours a day, why does my mom hit me with books if I don’t get good grades, why can’t we just play in class…

It’s broken my heart many times during the last four months, and today when I looked at the walls and read some of the writings, something clicked. There were lots of things, from “this is pants”, “so and so is crazy” or “Mr. Park is @%$#” to “I am a handsome guy”. Then I realized that this same thing that I want for them… well, the kids want it too. They want to be heard. They’re tired waiting to see a response from others that means something to THEM, and so they dirty my classroom walls with big, sprawling letters shouting frustration, disappointment and sometimes even a twisted shot at hope that maybe what they feel will be known.

In that moment I had looking around the classroom, I realized that I’m fighting for something that my kids DO want as well as need. In this culture where very little is left up to them to decide, they do have an ally and it’s me. Ha. Why not, though? God loves them; I guess He knew what He had in mind. Josh and I. Sweet.

I actually came to these same kids with a proposition not long ago in hopes that they might speak out more, and now that I think about it, my realization was confirmed by their response. The proposition came out of the glaring need I saw on the faces in front of me every day in one particular class. Some had dull, lifeless expressions and some hopeful ones. Either way, I felt like these kids deserved to be acknowledged. I knew that more important than my ability to drive their little brains crazy with increasingly extensive vocabulary to add to their useless reprotoire was that they were MY class, and they needed something that I was aware of. They needed to be told that they were special and important.

So I pulled up a desk, sat on it and asked them. How would you like to tell people what matters to you? What if you could tell people in America AND Korea how you feel about studying too much, or bullies? It didn’t take more than a few minutes, and the stone wall was gone.

Everyone perked up; everyone wanted to know how we could make it happen. Even my too-cool-for-school teenage boys faces softened. I was exhilirated. So we made a plan. I’d help them write about what they wanted to say, they’d use a secret name, and then they’d tell the world whatever they wanted. Mom and Dad and every teacher in Yeosu could read that blog, but no one would ever know who wrote it. It took work, and it wasn’t easy, but they fought hard and they did it. The last day of the writing, we had a pizza party and movie in class. But only because the best part was about to come. They were going to be heard.

I have five blogs of different sizes and English levels, but they’re finally posted. Click Here for link I hope you get to read all of them. Comment if you have time, but more than anything, just take the time to click on the link and read for a few minutes. The kids will see how many hits they got and that will make them feel better than anything else they’ve done in the past to try to be heard. I’m hoping that it will make them feel much better than getting relief from the thought that someone will read the magic marker on the wall behind their desks.

** I especially recommend the writers The Pretty Girl and StagBeetle

***The image I used today is not mine , my awesome pal Katie Dickinson took this photo on the walls at her school and shared it with us!

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One Comment on “If Walls Could Talk…”

  1. tiainkorea February 10, 2012 at 2:53 pm #

    This is a great idea! I just had a read through The Pretty Girl’s blog. It’s beautiful.

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