At this point I have been at my placement here in Dharamsala for about a week and a half. I am working with the Gamru Village School, and like Natasha I was surprised with my role at my placement. I am teaching English, which I feel extremely underqualified for. As you will soon find out by reading this post, my grasp on the English language is somewhat lacking. It has been a whirlwind experience going into this school, but it has been so lovely to see the depth of the community at this placement, and how everyone knows each other in one capacity or another. However, I want to discuss something I experienced in class today while teaching the students in first standard who are around age five.
I was teaching opposites today using a set of flash cards for the first time. One set of flash cards was displaying ugly and pretty. The ugly character was the classic green witch, popularized by The Wizard of Oz. However, it was the figure used to depict the word pretty that gave me pause. Pretty was represented by a white women, whom I suppose you could describe as ‘traditionally pretty’. This made me realize that all of the flash cards that are being used in Gamru School, which is attended entirely Indian children, use white people to depict various words and activities.
It had been pointed out on a separate occasion that the presence of flash cards in the classroom as resource was a rarity. As it turns out, the flash cards used at the Gamru School for the entire English curriculum were made by a woman from the UK who is heavily involved with the school. I mean no disrespect to her, as the number of flash cards and resources she has painstakingly created is incredibly impressive. However, I realized that today I felt supremely uncomfortable as I went around the class repeating pretty, and ugly while pointing at this image of a white woman.
I think that previous blog posts here have done an excellent job of discussing concepts of power and privileges and how those are intertwined with skin colour and race. This is especially true of posts where my classmates have discussed fears of perpetuating the notion of a ‘white expert’ at the front of a classroom. In that moment in class I became very worried that I as a white volunteer with this specific flash card was really engraining and perpetuating ideas that ‘white is beautiful’. I do recall a day last week where one little girl came up to me with her Disney Princess pencil case, and pointed to Snow White while telling me how beautiful she is.
This situation has also made me think about how representation is so important with the other flash cards, and the curriculum itself. I think that the kids in this school should be using resources that reflect who they are, and that they can relate to and see themselves in.
Gamru School, Dharamshala, India